I will continue updating this review as the game changes.
Yesterday's update considerably reduced grinding. Quests give a decent amount of cash now. I definitely saw a difference in enemy difficulty now that some enemies no longer have physical resistance. I defeated the boss I was stuck on, and it was still challenging without being too tedious.
So, I feel like the first two flaws listed in Dec. 30 are somewhat solved at this point. Perhaps hacked character growth could be closer to recruited character growth. Trioarch card drop rate increased. I can't give a fair assessment on that since I haven't dropped any. The Limit skill seems to be much stronger now. I confirmed that the escape option isn't available even in normal battles. Also, the game still has cramped maps.
I recommend Data Hacker: Initiation to anyone who enjoys classic RPGs, with hope that the developer will continue improving it.
I tried to enjoy this game, despite its flaws, but eventually it just wasn't fun anymore. Maybe some of these problems are nonexistent later on in the game, or maybe I'm just playing it wrong.
A few of the flaws are:
-Lots of grinding
-Slow growth/weak stats/weak skills
-Can't escape from battles(?)
-Small amount of equipment
First, the grinding. I think I was getting about 7-30 gold per normal fight, and maybe 50-100 in the arena. It seems like the fastest way to get cash is to do races which give 175 on the level 4 version. The reason this is such a grind is because each skill is 600-6000 gold. Most of my playtime is just me doing races, and I'm still stuck at the first(?) boss because he's like level 70. The Trioarch card game is a bit of a grind since I lost my first match, and now don't have enough cards to play. A guide says enemies have a 1/50 drop rate for cards. I don't think levelling takes as long, the main character is level 20 at this point, however it does seem to take forever because:
Characters are weak. Even at level 20 and with Jaque level 15 or something, a hacked party member at level 17, and the pet slime thing at level 20, enemies I've been fighting since level 10 can still quickly kill off the hacked party member and the slime. Fighting is a bit easier with skills, I guess, but the only ones that are useful are Vendetta and the triple hit skill for gunner. I thought Healing would be nice but it heals barely any health compared to enemy damage. Also, I grinded up cash because I thought Limit would help me kill the boss, and it only deals 300 damage, less than Vendetta despite costing more gold as well as TP and MP. Limit does target all enemies but I expected it to help me defeat the boss. Anyway, that's where I gave up, because I didn't feel like grinding up more cash for more useless skills. Oh and Jaque's skills are rather useless too. I saw very minor differences when using his attack and defense reduction skills. I should probably replace the hacked gunner with a recruit, but all of the NPCs I talked to refused so yeah. It would be nice if more of them accepted. And again, maybe later on there are useful skills.
Another thing that makes fights more difficult is that a lot of enemies have resistance to physical attacks apparently, which makes your already weak attacks even weaker. Perhaps this could be avoided by using magic, but I didn't buy any magic/elemental skills since the first one you get (fire) is extremely weak even against beginner enemies that are weak to fire. I would also have to play a lot more racing in order to afford each one. Regardless, I think the player should be able to get through the game with just physical attacks, if they choose.
Next, the game has cramped maps. For example, the forest maps have a ton of one-square tunnels. This wouldn't be so bad except enemy AI on the field is designed to relentlessly follow the player. You can count on starting a fight with nearly every enemy whether you want to or not. On top of that, there doesn't seem to be a way to escape from battles. Going back in the battle menu shows an escape option, like other RPGMaker games, but it's greyed out. Maybe that was during a "boss" fight, though, I don't remember.
Lastly, there's a low variety in equipment, at least for now. This also wouldn't be a big deal if characters weren't so weak.
So I have a few questions:
-How many NPCs in Strife can actually be recruited?
-Why do quests give much less gold than races? The quests are way more difficult.
I'd also like to note that if the game is intentionally hard (battles don't get easier as you level, no escape, etc.), that's fine, but grindy != hard. If I'm going to fight difficult enemies, I want some worthwhile rewards. As someone commented on another review, "it's based on an MMO." I enjoyed .hack, but it feels like Data Hacker's main inspiration is free to play MMOs. If these issues were fixed, Data Hacker would be a favorite of mine. I'm really interested in the story and it's a decent RPG otherwise.