Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Release Date: September 10, 2007
Namco and Bandai joined forces to form a conglomerate of entertainment, ranging from children's toys to innovative, well-designed games that hardly ever reach the U.S. One of the greatest RPG series known, the Tales series (Tales of Phantasia, Tales of Destiny, etc.), has received international renown while the majority of the series remains in Japan. Countless RPGs, such as Baten Kaitos for the GameCube, Xenosaga for the PlayStation 2 and Eternal Sonata for the Xbox 360, are also good titles that have made an impact on the industry.
Both companies decided to continue the .Hack//G.U. series that Bandai had begun, based on anime that portrays the future. A virus known as Pluto's Kiss shuts down all operating systems, with the exception of a small program, Altmit OS; the company makes billions within several months of this incident.
During that time, the CC Corporation creates The World, the first working MMORPG since the virus, and it's so popular that over four million people flock to it. A set of events known as the Twilight Incident, where players fall into comas after playing the game, does not deter the ignorant masses from enjoying themselves. In an attempt to keep herself from becoming obsolete, Morganna Made Gone, the operating system of The World, tries to prevent Aura, a young girl who has been billed as the "Ultimate AI," from maturing.
In the original .Hack game series, the player took the role of Kite, a Twin Blade who lost his friend Orca to a coma. His fight to save the victims weaved around a mysterious bracelet, which he eventually brought back to save Aura and brought them out of the comas, heavily damaging The World in the process.
Seven years later, The CC Corporation released a second edition of The World, but the game is chaotic and filled with PKers — Player Killers — that terrorize the general player population and cause all sorts of trouble. The main character, Haseo, takes it upon himself and his allies to wipe out these players, eventually earning the title, "Terror of Death." He has received his own power: Morganna's will has manifested itself as a weapon. At later points, we find out the being is the Phase known as Skeith, the first entity sent against Kite in the original game. In .Hack//G.U. Vol 3: Redemption, the third installment of the series, friends become enemies, old enemies return with a vengeance and more of the mystery unravels.
As with the earlier series, the game plays very accurately to a multiplayer RPG. The player calls up friends; trades or gives items and equipment to help them prepare; enter a field or dungeon filled with monsters, treasure and special events, such as meeting other players or the comically pathetic Mecha Grunty; and then return to town with your earnings. Battles take place fluidly in real time, giving the player a more involved combat experience as he darts around the field, swinging his weapons and magic while blocking opponents' attacks. There is little variation to the battles, even when the team enters a battle area, where another player requires help in fighting a PKer or monster. Essentially, you're adding another member to your team so you can wipe out the enemies, although I wouldn't argue with collecting items.
Redemption maintains many of the effective qualities of the original series, while providing a lot more control to the player. Equipping an ally with weapons and armor, customization of those items to provide added effects and general item distribution are all controlled by the player. This is a double-edged sword, however; the original .Hack series allowed the player to make specific commands to cast a spell on the party, or focus solely on an enemy without using any special abilities. That no longer exists, and it's been replaced with four simplistic AI functions (free will, rage for heavy attack, peace for no skill use and life for heal-only) that burn up power and waste critical resources. There are also special effects based on morale, shown as "awakenings," that can either heavily improve the party or attack the enemy using blasts of magical power. Avatar awakening, which invokes the power of the avatar to extract Virus Cores from enemies while causing damage, is a new addition to Redemption.
The game also retains a save data feature where the player, having completed the first two games in the series, incorporates his file for the same levels, items and abilities he had before. Although not completely necessary — I didn't — the title is clearly more enjoyable as a forward focus for completion and progress, which makes the player more assured in his overall victory. Despite the repetitive nature of the gameplay, the collection of items, finishing quests and defeating other players is rather fun. A surge of new additions to the existing elements provides more interest to the repetition, such as an arena where you fight teams of players, boss battles that resemble platform shooting games and reaction commands that reward extra damage to an enemy.
The graphics are a pleasant improvement from the original series, which makes a great deal of canonical sense, since development allows for graphical changes in a game. The desktop is much the same; a "ring" of programs swirls at the touch of the directional pad to a backdrop that you select from unlocked wallpapers. Instead of a blocky, blotchy look like the characters in the original series, a character's avatar is far more detailed in Redemption and rendered to look like a living being. Even NPCs have distinguishing traits as you watch them run around the city, which has no lack of viewable horizons and landscape.
Music and sound will be addicting to players who find themselves humming songs from most RPGs. There is no real composer for the tunes, and since the game has a focus on fast-paced combat, sounds for swings, spells and abilities are more defined. With forced lines and little emotive quality, voice acting was a problem in the original series, but .Hack//G.U. completely fixes that problem with voices that fit the personalities portrayed by their respective avatars. When I listen to Atoli, the main healer, speak in gentle and soothing tones that become desperate when reacting to dangerous situations, I find her more memorable and interesting. Each of the characters, including and calm and collected Haseo, has a distinctly different and noticeable personality trait that slowly develops as the player builds on these relationships through their actions by giving gifts and sending greeting cards.
A definite improvement over the original .Hack series of games, the G.U. series is rather good for something that defines progress. A fan of the series will not be disappointed, although a new player should likely buy the two other parts of the series before buying this portion. The recap does a splendid job, but it's no replacement for the experience of the full universe.