Reviewed by Kerodohi for the Playstation 2
Rated T for Language and Fantasy Violence
Released in October 2006
Developed by: CyberConnect2
Published by: Namco Bandai
.hack//G.U. Vol.1: Rebirth is the first volume of a three-game series. It’s a third-person RPG with a unique premise – you play the game as someone who’s playing a game. A complex story, fitting soundtrack, and excellent voice acting are some of the perks. However, there are some substantial flaws to be addressed, namely the sub-par graphics, recycled level design, and a few moral issues.
The World, a popular MMORPG, has been revamped as The World R:2 after the original game’s data servers were lost in a fire at the CC Corp. headquarters. The main character, known in-game as Haseo, is a notorious Player Killer Killer, also called the Terror of Death. Really, all he wants is to become as strong as possible in order to hunt down and destroy an entity known as Tri-Edge. Any Player Characters killed by Tri-Edge fall into a coma in real life. Haseo’s close friend Shino is among the victims, and he is determined to find a way to save her. A mysterious organization known as G.U. approaches Haseo and tells him of a power hidden within his character data that can give him the strength he wants so badly.
Note that the storyline of G.U. is split into three games. This summary only covers Rebirth, the first volume.
Gameplay – 18/20
.hack//G.U. plays as one would expect. While ‘in-game’, it plays almost identically to a typical MMORPG. You have HP (hit points) and SP (skill points, somewhat akin to magic or mana points in other RPGs), visit instances, defeat bosses, take on quests, and level-grind. There’s also the battle arena, which becomes integral to the story later on, where you fight against other players. You can also invite other players into your party if you have their Member Addresses (though this is pretty strictly regulated by what part of the story you happen to be at).
The World is structured across different servers, and instances are reached with Area Words. By combining three words together, you determine the level of the area, whether it’s a dungeon or a field, and what the final objective is (defeating the boss, opening the Beast Statue treasure chest, etc). There’s also the Quest Shop, which allows you to take on a more specific task in exchange for a reward.
The combat system is fairly easy to master, consisting mainly of mashing the X button to attack or the O button to guard. When approaching enemies in the field, if you’re careful, you can perform a sneak attack. This allows you to get in some extra damage and also gives you bonus points at the end of the instance. Once you’re engaged in battle, a force field will block you into a smallish area, and will not disappear until the enemies are defeated (or until you use an item that lets you escape). The only thing I had a bit of trouble figuring out at first was how to use items (your Skill Trigger gauge must be full).
Once you progress a little ways into the game, Haseo gains the Skill Trigger ability, which uses Skill Points. These Triggers change depending on what weapon class you have equipped, and are mapped to the face buttons. Pressing either shoulder button during combat, followed by the appropriate face button, will allow you to unleash a special attack. Once you use a Trigger attack, you must wait for the gauge to fill back up. If you use a Skill Trigger ability after dealing a certain amount combo damage to an enemy, it will unleash a Rengeki – a very powerful attack that also adds bonuses to your gained experience. Be careful when using Skill Trigger abilities in the Arena, as your opponent can perform a Counter-Rengeki.
Awakening Mode can be unlocked by filling the Morale Gauge. Once triggered, your party will gain special abilities (such as increased speed or attack) until the Morale Gauge is depleted.
Later on, once you pass a certain point in the story, you also fight some battles with a powerful, mech-like being called an Avatar. These battles are quite simple, as the game prompts you with the correct buttons to push for certain tasks. Mostly, you just dodge your opponent’s attacks, stun them with ranged missiles, and then close in to do heavy damage with a slashing attack. Once you deplete your opponent’s HP, their Avatar will go into a state known as Protect Break. You then hold X (while avoiding attacks), which will fill your Data Drain gauge and allow you to defeat the enemy.
As with many RPGs, you can customize your weapons and armor for maximum effectiveness. There’s also the option to upgrade your weapon with the Alchemy lab in your @home (clan headquarters).
There are a very small amount of different level designs - a couple of dungeons, and about four fields. Many of the instance objectives are the same. It can get pretty repetitive after awhile, although Haseo levels rather quickly.
Outside of The World, Haseo has a fully functional computer desktop. There are options to customize the wallpaper and the background music. Checking email, reading forums, and saving your game data are the main tasks here.
Graphics – 7/10
While they didn’t affect the gameplay, the graphics were definitely underwhelming. The character designs are intricate and gorgeous. But the animations (especially body language and general motion) are unrealistic and often jerky, even for an anime-styled game. I noticed several instances where body parts such as hands would just randomly disappear. The modeling is quite blocky, and often the textures just look flat. As said before, there’s not much variation in level designs.
The battle animations, in contrast, are pretty nice. The Rengeki and Skill Trigger sequences in particular are fun to watch and look fairly epic.
The cutscenes are nothing special, either, despite their length. Often, they’re full of weird camera angles and the graphical quality is no better than the game proper. Both camera options during play are perfectly fine, however.
Sound – 10/10
The music, while not outstanding, fits the mood and general style of the game well. There are a lot of vocals and Eastern-sounding stringed instruments. Many of the tracks are either very similar or go off in a wildly different style (like the battle music), but overall it’s cohesive enough.
The voice acting is incredibly well done. Haseo, in particular, is very believable. Other characters such as Pi, Kuhn, Yata, Sakaki, and Ovan each has very unique voices and were enjoyable to listen to. Atoli, on the other hand, reminded me of fingernails on a blackboard. It fitted her character and emphasized her neediness and insecurity, but I often found myself cringing whenever she spoke.
During battles, the weapon and attack sounds are quite good. Each weapon type has its own set of sounds, which are usually believable enough. The constant catch-phrases and grunts of your party members can get a little repetitive and annoying after awhile.
Stability – 5/5
Sometimes while using a Skill Trigger during battle (mostly just with a large amount of enemies present) the game would slow down a bit. Other than that, I didn’t see any problems.
Controls/Interface – 5/5
The controls are pretty typical for a JRPG. Press X for most things, O to go back. The menus and navigation are simple and easy for the most part. Many can be controlled with both the left stick and the directional pad. The camera is mapped to the right stick. Skill Triggers are accessed with the shoulder buttons and you can customize which ability goes with which face button. The left stick is used for movement and has several levels of speed (i.e.: the farther forward, the faster you run). In combat, X attacks, O guards, and the other two are used for Skill Triggers. Most of the time, the game itself will tell you which buttons to push while navigating menus, so it’s quite simple.
Appropriateness – 33/50
Rebirth is rated T and many gamers won’t have a problem with the content. Most of the issues are fairly mild, but there are enough of them to warrant taking a closer look.
Obviously, there’s fantasy violence. Most of it is just killing monsters out in the field. However, Haseo is a PKK (Player Killer Killer), which basically means that he kills those who kill other players. (You can choose not to intervene in a Player battle out on the field, but Haseo is shown striking down PKs without mercy in a few cutscenes). Also, your opponents in the arena are Player Characters (note that, in The World, the Arena is the only place where killing other players is sanctioned, due to the strict rules in place). There is no blood or gore in the game, however, and enemy bodies disappear after you defeat them.
The main menace of the game is something known as AIDA, and sometimes Player Characters can be infected with it. One has to use an Avatar to defeat it. If you squint at it the right way, it could be considered possession. Endrance, in particular, knows he’s infected. However, he won’t give up the AIDA (which has manifested itself in the form of his dead cat), and in fact allowed himself to be infected in the first place.
Haseo in particular tends to swear a lot, using d-mn, h-ll, and b-stard throughout the game. Other characters can usually be found saying d-mn on a fairly regular basis. God’s name is also taken in vain several times. A couple times it’s found paired with d-mn on the forums.
Kuhn is often seen with a harem of girls. Piros the 3rd usually addresses Haseo as ‘he of beautiful eyes’ and makes a joke with sexual overtones near the end of the game.
Several characters wear revealing outfits. Pi, in particular, is very well endowed and wears little more than a bikini. Bordeaux also wears barely anything. I didn’t have a problem with Atoli’s attire, although some people might object to the fact that she appears to be wearing bloomers.
It’s not stated explicitly in Rebirth, but it’s implied that Endrance is homosexual (supported by more obvious references in the second and third games).
There isn’t really a magic presence in the game, per se. Healing and combat abilities are considered skills, not spells. Negative status effects have names such as Curse. One of the Awakenings is called Demon Awakening, and it does unleash powerful magic attacks. Also, one of the three Arenas, and the one you play in for this game, is titled Demon Palace.
Haseo is a rude and rather socially inept player, often flouting authority for his own purposes and brushing off other players. He is seen a few times deliberately disobeying orders, even when doing so could cause catastrophic damage. However, he does eventually see the error of his ways (with a little help, of course) and begins to show greater respect for authority, as well as the dangerous power he wields. His kinder side comes through in some moments, often when talking to Silabus and Gaspard. However, he doesn’t get a chance to reconcile with Atoli before the game ends.
As far as I can remember, there wasn’t any terribly gross humor in the game. Some of it wasn’t in the best taste, but I don’t think there were any overt references to bodily functions or the like.
The only biases in the game are against job classes, usually the Beast types, as well as the Adept Rogue. I don’t consider this to be an issue, as it’s fairly acceptable to have preferences in-game.
Final thoughts: I personally enjoyed playing Rebirth for the most part, despite all its flaws. The story, while it could be confusing, was deep and engaging, and the game managed to keep my interest with its unique single-player MMO style of play. There were definitely some issues, enough to warrant some discretion before playing.
Game – 45/50
Gameplay – 18/20
Graphics – 7/10
Sound – 10/10
Stability – 5/5
Controls/Interface – 5/5
Appropriateness – 34.5/50
Violence – 6.5/10
Killing non-human, fictional beings (Ex. Robots or Aliens) (-3.5 pts)
Language – 6.5/10
Swear Words Acceptable for Prime Time TV are used throughout the game (-3.5 pts)
Sexual Content: 4.5/10
Sexual Jokes are made once or twice. (-2 pts)
Characters wear very revealing clothing such as bikinis or lingerie (-3.5 pts)
Fairy tale type magic is used in game by player. (-1.5 pts)
Cultural/Moral/Ethical – 8.5/10
Game portrays rebellion against established cultural norms. (-1.5 pts)