CyberConnect2's PlayStation 2 trilogy of RPGs is back and remastered for gamers who may have missed it the first time around. Plus, this release comes with a new volume and other goodies to help immerse you in its intricate universe.
.hack//G.U. has you play as Haseo, a seemingly selfish and whiny guy that used to be a well-known player of the online game The World. That is, until all of his power was stripped and he was forced to start again at level 1. He runs into some players at the start who he has little to no respect for because they simply want to have fun. People actually want to enjoy a game that they're playing? How dare they. There is a reason behind Haseo's grumpy demeanor, however. Before he was forced to start all over again, he was playing with his good friends Ovan and Shino. Shino's character was killed by another player (referred to as PK'd) and in doing so, the real life Shino was put into a coma. That's right; what you do in the game can sometimes affect what happens in the real world. This is a continuing theme throughout .hack//G.U. and as events in The World escalate, so do real life events outside of it and eventually, the real Earth is brought to the brink of apocalypse.
Each volume takes Haseo through various battles with other players in order to fulfill a goal. Initially, he wants to take out someone who he thinks was the cause of Shino's coma. The second time around, his goal is to take out another player who's gone rogue and been infected with AIDA, a mysterious evil entity that is continuously growing in power throughout the story. By the time you make it to vol. 3, Haseo is fighting someone who's leading the arena battles in an unjust way as he praises players who randomly kill other players (including within towns) and rewards them with a spot in the arena fights. In between these arena battles, there's an interesting and engrossing story where Haseo and the friends he makes (grumpy guys can make friends, too) fight AIDA and continue to protect both the game world and the real life internet from destruction.
There's quite a collection of characters to play with in The World. Atoli is one of the most interesting as a high-pitched talking young lady who Haseo brushes off and frankly treats quite terribly due to her striking resemblance to Shino. Their bond continues to grow to the point where you could potentially even choose her as a marriage candidate after completing vol. 3. Ovan is a tall man with broad shoulders that maintains an air of mystery as to whether he's one of the good or bad guys and when you find out what's really going on with him, you'll want to hug and hit him at the same time. Other characters I enjoyed are the quirky twosome Gaspard and Silabus who just want to have fun, the gung-ho blade wielder with a thing for Haseo (Alkaid), and of course, the creepy Endrance who puts Alkaid's doting over Haseo to shame. It makes me wonder why all of these people are attracted to someone who's so rude all the time but I can't ignore that it gives some levity to the story's serious subject matter.
Even though .hack//G.U. has received a new visual treatment in this PlayStation 4 release, the graphics still leave a lot to be desired in terms of variety. You'll only spend time in four different towns throughout the story and although each one has a distinct style, they're all so small that the developers didn't even need to put that much effort in. The dungeons are a lot larger than the towns but you'll regularly find yourself running through an area that looks exactly the same as another one. Even putting this aside, the layouts of the dungeons barely change with each clearly coming off as being slapped together without much thought. The enemies in the dungeons have a little more variety with over three hundred types. However, so many are just re-skins of others and I'm quite sure there are only two sounds that they make; one for small enemies and another for large ones.
Speaking of sound, the voice acting is quite well done with each actor managing to bring something fresh. Background music in towns and in the dungeons mostly just sets a tone without doing anything interesting. That being said, there are a couple tunes that I enjoyed such as when certain silly characters appear and the soothing tropical music in one of the towns. Finally, the same sound effects are way overused with the exact same one representing completely different things in the game. This put me off quite a bit and gives the impression that the developers didn't pay much attention to the details.
Next, let's discuss the gameplay. As I mentioned earlier, you spend quite a bit of time in the arena taking on other players. This makes up most of the gameplay in vol. 1 and gradually decreases in frequency as you continue into the later volumes. The arena battles can be challenging as they limit you to no items and the AI for the players that you're fighting is surprisingly tough. When you're not in the arenas, you'll most likely be leveling up or searching for something in a dungeon. The dungeon designs are quite poor as you essentially run from room to room, fighting monsters and picking up loot on the way. With the graphics being so samey between each room, you'll get bored quickly. I often found myself just running away from enemies in an attempt to end the monotony faster. When you find a new dungeon style, you'll enjoy it for the first time you run through while looking at the differences in the enemies and items but the novelty wears off as you replay what looks like the same dungeon over and over again.
Unfortunately, the regular battles with monsters don't offer much in the way of variety either. As you play, you'll unlock up to four different weapons that you can swap between as well as special moves that go along with them. A little bit of strategy can be applied such as using the large two-handed sword to smash enemy shields or dodging out of the way and avoiding a side of an enemy that only attacks from that side. Most of the time, you'll find yourself mashing the attack button. The bosses are more interesting with the bigger ones having two forms where the first is a regular battle and the second has you play as your epitaph (a large persona-like entity). While in this phase, you have to use your wits to dodge attacks and unleash melee or ranged attacks at the right moment. Some of these are quite enjoyable and others are relatively simple to complete.
In between romps in The World, you'll log off and see your desktop. Here, you can check emails, read forums or the news, play a card game, and change settings. Looking at this extra content is all optional except when an important email comes in that points you to the next story task. However, if you take the time to read through news articles, you'll find out about how The World is affecting the real world and if you browse the forums, you'll pick up names of dungeons where you can find special items or uncover more mysteries about the game. It's quite unique and I highly recommend paying attention to this content to complete your full .hack//G.U. experience.
I should add that this Last Recode collection includes an exclusive fourth volume. If you'd like to read more about it, head over to my vol. 4//Reconnection Plot Summary. Anyway, this collection also includes a parody mode where you watch silly versions of serious cutscenes from the games as well as the "terminal disc" that aims to provide more back-story to the .hack//G.U. universe.
.hack//G.U. Last Recode shines in its engaging story, eclectic cast of characters, and unique ability to handle the concept of a game within a game. In the end, I would recommend it to JRPG fans who are looking for a unique universe to explore as long as they're prepared for generic dungeon crawling and a less than stellar combat system.
- + Engaging story with multiple layers
- + The "game within a game" concept is thoughtfully implemented
- + Endearing cast of characters
- - Dull and unvaried dungeons and monsters
- - Mostly disappointing graphics and sound
- - Feels repetitive far too often