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.hack//G.U. Last Recode

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Developer: CyberConnect2
Release Date: Nov. 3, 2017


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PC Review - '.hack//G.U. Last Recode'

by Cody Medellin on Jan. 15, 2018 @ 4:00 a.m. PST

.hack//G.U. Last Recode collects the three .hack//G.U. action-RPG titles; Rebirth, Reminisce and Redemption with updated 1080p, 16:9 widescreen picture, and 60 fps frame rate.

Buy .hack//G.U. Last Recode

As the blurb at the beginning of the game would tell you, it's been 15 years since the .hack series began. At the time, it was notable for being a multimedia franchise since the anime, games and manga all came out around the same time. They all contained their own stories but were connected through the fictional MMORPG called The World. It captured a great deal of fans, and the original four-episode PS2 game was successful enough to bring about a three-game follow-up in the form of .hack//G.U. It is the latter that has become the subject of a remastering with .hack//G.U. Last Recode, which arrived on the PC for the first time.

Set three years after the events of the original .hack series of PS2 games, G.U. introduces players to a new version of The World that's started anew after the big data loss that wiped out the original game's servers. You play as Haseo, a player who's new to the game and has had the good fortune of being led around by some helpful players. That turned out to be a trap, and he was subsequently killed by those same players. Fast-forward eight months, and we see Haseo as an infamous Player Killer Killer who's hoping to find a Player Killer known as Tri-Edge, someone responsible for killing one of Haseo's friends in the game — an event that somehow put her in a coma in the real world. After failing to kill Tri-Edge, Haseo returns to The World with a reset character, determined to return to his original status and exact his revenge on Tri-Edge.

One of the more fascinating parts of the story has to be the conceit around "the real world" in the game. MMOs haven't changed that much since the series began, so The World and its ideals and mechanics seem quite modern. Outside of the game explaining things like friend cards and different servers, there's nothing that feels too futuristic. The same goes for the game's world, as we're already living out the hyper-connected future the game hinted at, though it still didn't account for the rise of the smartphone, as it has computerized glasses in that role instead. What's also fascinating is how deep the developers made the real world, with tons of news stories and fluff pieces that are designed to make the world similar to ours instead of simply packing it with data that's only relevant to the game.

Despite the treatment of their dual worlds, the story suffers. Haseo still comes from an era where having a confrontation hero was the norm in a JRPG, and it takes a very long time before he's close to being likeable. His boorish attitude makes you wonder why there are so many characters that seem attracted to him, and the trope of him being the most qualified one to save the day simply makes you groan that it was wasted on him. It also doesn't help that the game starts off at a glacial pace. The first episode is the slowest, and when you consider that it took a few months on the PS2 for people to finally reach the better-paced second episode, it's no wonder that a number of people failed to stick around to see things get better.

There's also the matter of pacing. The game loves to throw cut scenes at you, and the scenes can be quite lengthy. Sometimes, you're rewarded with long stretches of gameplay, but a good chunk of your time is spent watching a scene, walking to the next location, and then watching another scene before you get to do anything. With these scenes varying wildly in their beauty, being forced to watch them can get tiresome.

As far as gameplay goes, .hack//G.U. is a pseudo-action/RPG with MMO trappings. The combat system feels like any of the recent Tales of titles, as you'll swing away at enemies in real time, and a minimal amount of time is spent in menus to use items or unleash special solo or team-based attacks. Even with the pseudo MMO stance, the action pauses when you navigate menus, so there's no need to rush through it. Also, the game restricts you to an area, so there's no chance of one monster party mixing with another because you ran from a fight and the enemy is in pursuit.

Compared to the first series of games, the combat here is much more accessible to those who aren't familiar with MMO combat. Aside from some of the battle elements mentioned earlier, the game favors more direct contact with a monster, so you'll no longer be able to damage anyone from afar. Blocking becomes an essential tactic, as some enemy attacks have tells, and newer tactics like surprise attacks become rather important, especially if you're grinding for XP. Boss fights are where the combat shines, since they're involved affairs where tactics and quick reactions go hand-in-hand.

Outside of combat, the game plays out as expected for the genre. There are towns to explore and shop in, a number of pseudo-players to chat with, and dungeons are multi-level affairs with some secret areas to explore. There's nothing new here, but the activities related to the game's real world make things interesting. There are times when you'll need to log out of the game and go into your system OS to gain more info and advance the story. There are also times when the party members you want aren't available, forcing you to use some low-level characters for help and serving as a constant reminder that balancing everyone's levels is a good idea if you don't want a sudden difficulty spike.

While the story is the main focus, there are a number of side activities to keep things fresh after the midway point. The bike can be customized, and it's useful for some of the timed side missions. You'll also have a chance to run a merchant guild and get your party into some side tournaments. Perhaps the biggest time sink is Crimson Vs., which is a card game where you have a General card supplemented by a few subordinates, and you take on other players with similar setups. For the most part, the game is hands-off, since it runs in the background and you can check on it to see if things are going well. At the same time, it can be quite engrossing when you start to modify your deck based on the patterns you see from the opposition.

There are a few things that stand out negatively. There isn't a wide variety of enemies to tackle, so the bosses become the sole source of enemy variety. The same goes for the environments, which look rather bland despite the availability of different themes. Even with the randomized nature of the level layouts enticing some exploration, the sameness exhibited in each room can diminish the desire to look around. While it's nice that there are mandatory moments where you have to leave the game and go to your desktop, it also slows down the pace since you have to drill down through so many menus to reach a small nugget of information.

If there's one thing that the game completely gets wrong, it's the lack of attention paid to loot. One of the major selling points in any RPG, especially of the MMO variety, is the amount of cool gear and weapons you can find in your journey. The game only pays attention to this in key parts of the story, so there's less of a wow factor. Most of the time, your character remains quite static, which feels odd for the genre.

Aside from the fact that the game comes with all of the previously released supplemental material and some parody cut scenes, there are two main things that series veterans will enjoy. The first is an all-new fourth episode, which is set almost a year after the events of the third episode. The gang gets back together for one last raid before a glitchy version of The World is shut down for good. While some will complain that the characters haven't changed despite the time gap, others will be fine with it since this episode comes has a rather snappy pace and a perfect length. It also provides some proper closure, with all of the previous loose ends finally tied up in a satisfactory way.

The other thing that fans will love is the Cheat mode. Though you have to start a new game if you're in the middle of a run without this enabled, Cheat mode makes up for that by giving you maxed-out characters at all times. The mode is meant as a way for you to enjoy the story without grinding, and it works perhaps too well. Bosses are the only monsters to present any challenge, and even then, the maxed-out characters allow you to blaze through rather effortlessly. Even though it's mostly recommended to those who have gone through the game before, it's also a perfect way for newcomers to focus on the story.

While it's good that we can play the later part of the series on the PC without emulation, there are some quirks. Those looking for extensive graphical options won't find any here. Beyond resolution changes and V-Sync, expect the most bare-bones options available. While the game supports the keyboard and mouse, the configuration screen has those peripherals mimic the controller buttons. For example, you're changing the key that represents the A button and not the key that stands in for Accept. Finally, if you wanted to check out the supplementary files, like the folders for the game's own OS, you have to use the keyboard since the controller support mysteriously vanishes.

It may be a remaster, but only some parts of the game feel like they've gotten any attention. On the audio side, everything is just as you remember it. The music is fine, and the effects are serviceable. Despite having a seasoned anime voice cast for the English language track, the constant irregular pauses in dialogue make everything sound stilted and laughable, so the Japanese vocal track is the better version, even for those who prefer English dubs.

As for the graphics, the game does a good job of running at 60fps at almost all times, though that's broken by the constant pre-rendered FMVs. Speaking of which, the switching between FMV and in-game scenes can be jarring because of the frame rate and the vast gulf in details. One minute, you'll see a character in the FMV with fully animated eyes and distinct fingers, and the next minute, the same person is depicted in-game with block hands and an immobile mouth. It feels strange for a PS2-era game to still sport these characteristics. Also, the texture work is quite messy, as there are many things in the environment and some of the major characters look like a blurry mess.

.hack//G.U. Last Recode is really for the fans. The ability to go through the whole trilogy with overpowered characters is perfect for those who want to reminisce without the grind, and the bonus fourth episode adds a natural closure to the series. It becomes a little harder for new fans to get used to some of the JRPG tropes and the meandering pace of the first episode, but things pick up later, so it's worthwhile to stick with it. All in all, those interested in a title that most likely influenced other anime like Sword Art Online should definitely check out .hack//G.U. Last Recode.

Score: 7.0/10

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