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Publisher: BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment
Release Date: Nov 4, 2017
Edited by KnightAvenger
The world and story of the .hack universe has become legendary in its own way, creating a cult following among its player base and a much sought after remastering of the games in some forms. While it has been a long while since the original game was released in 2002, word finally dropped that, for the 15th anniversary, we would finally get exactly that: .hack//G.U. Last Recode. .hack//G.U. Last Recode is a remastering of the action-based, anime JRPG developed by CyberConnect2, later released by BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment from 2006 as a collection of the original three volumes from PS2 with a new fourth volume that, while it rocks the same classic gameplay, intense story and new graphical update, did leave some gaps in its shiny new armor.
Warning: As this series takes place after the events of the original .hack, I will be spoiling a fair portion of the beginning from Vol 1, Infection for the sake of some basic story understanding.
Signing into The World after so many years, the story of .hack//G.U. Last Recode taking place over four volumes, our focus for this review will be around Volume 1, Rebirth. However, as I do not want to spoil that much of the story due to its chronological gameplay, I’ll first get into a little history time for the previous games that lead into G.U. The World started in 2002 with the game .hack Vol. 1 Infection when a new player to the game named Kite has his character data infected with a mysterious bracelet that lets him hack other characters’ data. This is important to note, as the story from .hack// G.U. Vol. 1 Rebirth does pull from this. Now, to the game being reviewed, we start out from the eyes of new player Haseo some years after the events of the end of .hack Vol. 4 Quarantine, and he meets, somewhat, seemingly friendly players who offer to show him the ropes of the game. This, quickly, turns south for Haseo, though, as the two turn out to be PKers or Player Killers who kill players for their own amusement. The young Haseo is saved, however, by a mysterious man with what seems to be a gun sword weapon, leading Haseo to become, nine months later, the PKKer or Player Killer Killer, Haseo, The Terror of Death. Haseo is informed by that same mysterious person from back then that a PKer known as Tri-Edge may appear at a very sacred location and, by pure luck, he does appear, as Haseo wants revenge for the death of a friend months before. Something strikes a bell, though, as the mysterious Tri-Edge looks very much the same as our friend Kite from the first .hack series, hacking bracelet and all, as the two begin the fight, with Haseo losing fairly quickly to the mysterious being. Just as Haseo is prepared to embrace death, his character data is reset, bringing him back to level one and setting him on his quest to get back his title as The Terror of Death and, ultimately, get revenge on Tri-Edge for what he has done. While the story does go much deeper than this, for spoiler reasons, I will be ending the story synopsis here, but I can say that the story, while interesting and game driven, does have some holes in it.
With enough holes that you could call it baby swiss, .hack//G.U. Last Recode has a number of story plots that are left rather open in the games, specifically Rebirth, that lead to some issues as the story progresses. My first big story issue is how tied to the story your progression is, something that, as a player, I was hoping we would get away from. JRPGs, as a general genre, have this nagging issue of tying the story to the progression of the player as you advance and, while some are more loose, .hack//G.U. Last Recode is very tight to this. This leaves many of the side events up to chance, as you have to stop doing story driven events to really get the full experience of enemy variety and types of locations the games have to show. This ties into my next issue, multiple story plot holes that stand out heavily. As a JRPG fan, I love when a game has a great story and, while I’m not saying .hack//G.U. Last Recode does not have this, it does show it, age respectively, with how many plot holes the games have, story wise. Being four games in one package, I can safely say it shows heavily here and is definitely an element I did not miss from PS2-era JRPGs.
Swinging into battle, the gameplay of .hack//G.U. Last Recode is the heart of the series’ fondness to players and, while the combat is not perfect, it does show how strong these elements shine in an era of free roaming games. Since .hack//G.U. Last Recode has quite a few elements in the combat system, I am going to limit it to the few I think really separate this game series from others, starting with the armor and weapon systems. The armor and weapon systems in .hack//G.U. Last Recode is based on a chance of luck from trading with other characters in the game’s world as well as drops from the chest you get from completing dungeons to the end and receiving the reward from the statue. This system rewards players who are actively trading, as this allows the player to get really strong equipment as you progress in the game, and Haseo’s ability allows him to use more than one type of weapon in his kit. Following this is the field and dungeon system, which are generated by a certain usage of words in the town portal. One of the best elements, by far, is how unique and different each field or dungeon you go to will be, based on your word choice, as these areas are generated by the words you use, not preset levels. Thus, one time you can go to an area and it can be easier with a smaller amount of XP, and then come back later in the game and fight stronger enemies with a better item from the end reward. The last feature of the game I want to talk about is one very unique to the .hack universe of games as a whole, the ability to exit the game and work with the user’s computer desktop. This is one of those things that makes the experience of .hack//G.U. Last Recode so memorable, as you’re able to play outside of the game world and go back to the user’s desktop, where you can check email, change their background, catch up on news from the game’s outside world, and even check on things from the game’s forums where you can learn new code words to use in the game itself.
Now the gameplay is not perfect, and this is very true for any game in .hack//G.U. Last Recode but there are two things in particular that stand out as negatives. The first is just how fast the adjustment to Haseo’s movement speed was in some of the titles. Haseo, in the PS2 version of the games, had a fair default movement speed, giving the game a good challenge for some of the minigames, but, here, he goes too fast. This was something CyberConnect2 added intentionally. While I feel like it was not intended to make some portions of the game too easy, it ultimately did. The second issue is a tad more of an issue, the combat becoming repetitive. This has always been a problem with the games, even on the PS2 versions and yet, it sticks out here because the system only changes a little between each of the four story titles.
Remove those vintage glasses, as the presentation of .hack//G.U. Last Recode is beautifully executed with a cleaner and slicker art style and a soundtrack that keeps the player on their toes. Visually, I have to give it up to the development team at CyberConnect2 for this remaster, as the game looks amazing in new generation graphics, running clean at 60 FPS, even with some of the most bog-downed screens in the game. Backgrounds here are fully rendered in 3-D with the buildings sprawling up like large set pieces in towns or the wide open fields of the adventure zones in full detail. Character art is a dramatic improvement since the PS2 version with the characters being less pixelated and the faces giving a much better focus on the emotion of the events going on. Finally, let us talk about the monsters, which have never looked better than they have here. The monsters before were okay but not marvels, as the pixelation of that era was still strong, but, with the remaster, the monsters can, sometimes, look downright scary and give the player a sense of anticipation of what’s to come.
Coming in with the classics, the soundtrack to .hack//G.U. Last Recode keeps the spirit alive of the originals with the very familiar soundtrack of classical pieces mixed with some more offbeat style of instruments. Musically, .hack//G.U. Last Recode did not change much of the soundtrack, which was a very welcome choice from the development team, as the soundtrack always felt used in the right place, at the right time and never out of place. The use of the piano and strings was pleasant and didn’t feel overpowered with some of the horn and other instruments provided. The sound effects were top notch, though, always chiming in when needed as a danger sense and making the player feel responsible if they missed that chance at a preemptive strike.
Overall, I found .hack//G.U. Last Recode to be a great throwback experience to a series that offers a solid story, interesting characters, diverse locations and one of the more interactive JRPGs of its time with a new graphics overhaul to top it off but not perfect in execution. The solidly told and presented story, diverse world full of interesting characters, quick and flashy style of gameplay, access to a desktop in a video game, beautifully updated graphics for backgrounds, characters and monsters, welcome choice to leave the game’s original music intact and impressive sound effects make for a JRPG collection that is worth over 90 hours of gameplay.
- A solidly told story with good presentation
- The diverse world used with interesting characters all around
- A quick, but flashy, style of combat
- The ability to play a game within a game
- A beautiful update to graphics for a new generation
- Use of the original soundtrack from the game
- 90 plus hours of gameplay between the four titles
- Amount of story progress tied to the game can feel like too much
- The over-adjustment to movement speed
- Gameplay can get repetitive quickly
DarkLunarDude gives .hack//G.U. Last Recode a Drastik Measure 7.9 out of 10.0 (79)
For the price of $49.99 (USD) on Steam, I can highly recommend .hack//G.U. Last Recode to any classic JRPG fan as well as anyone interested in the lore of .hack as a whole, as this collection of games will give many answers but also leave new questions for the player to unravel.