When the .hack franchise launched back in 2002 it came out swinging with projects spanning all forms of media, from Anime, videogames, Mangas and novels all of which were interconnected. Taking place inside a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game where players would connect with a headband and go into the game as if they were truly their virtual counterpart, it was a huge undertaking for Bandai Namco and one that proved successful in more ways than one.
The .hack videogames in a way were the first episodic titles to release on modern consoles back on the PS2, with four titles in its original quadrilogy, and it followed up with .hack//G.U. The .hack franchise also influenced other projects such as the mega popular Sword Art Online and Accel World. It’s been ten years since the final chapter .hack//G.U. Vol.3//Redemption was released and on the videogame front the franchise just hasn’t seen the same success as it did over ten years ago. Thankfully, Bandai have decided to bring the franchise back with the .hack//G.U. Last Recode remaster.
.hack//G.U. takes place three years after the events of the original quadrilogy and focuses on Hasao, a PKK (Player Killer Killer) known as the “Terror of Death.” Hasao has built a reputation hunting down players that kill other players. Hasao is also after a notorious player killer known as Tri-Edge. In an encounter with Tri-Edge, Hasao’s friend Shino was defeated, when her in-game character died, she fell into a coma in real life. After tracking down Tri-Edge a second time Hasao is bested by Tri-Edge and is attacked by an unknown skill called Data Drain reducing Hasao back down to level one forcing him to start from scratch.
.hack//G.U. tells a fantastic story that I won’t spoil here. Volume 1 takes a while to get going after the action packed opening but the remaining chapters really pick up. It truly is a story that should be experienced. One of the best reasons to pick up Last Recode is the addition of a fourth Volume. The fourth title in the collection is an original creation made specifically for Last Recode. It picks up a few months after the events of the third Volume and one that again you shouldn’t miss and wraps up Haseo’s story pretty well.
You don’t have to play through the titles in order either. You can select whichever Volume you want to start from the main menu as well as watch a fairly lengthy recap of the original .hack quadrilogy to catch up on the story. You don’t even have to go through each game from scratch either. CyberConnect 2 have included a “Cheat Mode” which will max out your character’s level and will allow you to breeze through the game if you simply want to experience the story. Cheat Mode does unfortunately disable some trophies.
Last Recode is a remaster, so most of the things you would expect from a remaster can be found here. The graphics are sharper with better lighting and textures, and the game also runs at a smooth 60 fps. But graphics aren’t the big changes.
Combat has received the most improvement since the PS2 days. Balancing tweaks have been implemented allowing the party to do more damage to enemies, it’s also been sped up a bit allowing battles to run smoother. Unfortunately the ability to switch weapons using skill triggers which was implemented in Volume 2 was not brought into the first Volume. I understand that this ability is unlocked as part of the story but I feel it could have been implemented someway into the first Volume. Other big improvements come in the form of inventory management.
Hasao is now able to gain up to ninety items, and ninety pieces of equipment. This is a huge improvement over the original games thirty limit cap. While in dungeons you will also have to collect Chime Orbs by kicking small adorable looking creatures, who for some reason enjoy being kicked by you. When you kick them you will get Chime Orbs which are used for side quests and more importantly unlocking doors in dungeons and activating teleporters. Collecting Chime Orbs was a chore in G.U. but in Last Recorde it’s become more tolerable simply because the maximum number of orbs you can collect has been increased to 999 where before the limit was around 100. This has also been implemented to the Virus Cores which come into play in a different Volume.
Combat in G.U. is action based. It’s important to remember that this was originally released on the PS2 and for some, the game’s combat mechanics may seem a little dated but this was also the time that full 3D action-RPG combat was starting to become normalized. Thanks to the bump in FPS, combat runs a lot smoother this time allowing you to block attacks much easier. For those who remember, the input lag wasn’t always your friend back on the PS2 version of G.U. and that problem has for the most part been rectified.
You can’t control your party in G.U. but their A.I. is pretty good and they will know exactly what attacks to do and what skills to use against specific enemies. What you do have to worry about is repetition. Combat can get very repetitive really fast. Skills don’t unlock as often as you would like and you are constantly stuck seeing the same attacks over and over again. This is again why the Skill Trigger weapon swap would have been a nice addition in the first Volume as it opens up the combat to more attack variety early on.
Repetition can also be found in dungeons. In all honesty the dungeons in G.U. were as bland and boring as you can get. In the first Volume alone you only got about three verities of dungeons, A cave, a samurai castle, and field planes. You do unlock more in different Volumes and I wish they would have allowed you to visit these other locations from the start of Volume 1 but you can’t. I always liked how the .hack franchise handled dungeons. Using a three word system you would select the location you want to go, the types of enemies you will face based on elemental affinity, and the difficulty of the dungeon. Mixing and matching words can wield some great surprises in loot drops, but the lack of variety in locations and dungeon structure hurt it tremendously.
The other portion of combat comes in the form of Avatar battles. Avatar battles were never spectacular due to how long they actually took and for their lack of depth. Playing like a stripped and watered down combat you would see in Zone of the Enders, the Avatar battles put Haseo’s massive avatar Skeith against certain bosses. The Avatar battles unfortunately didn’t get much improvement outside of Skeith’s shooting attacks being a little faster. It’s a shame more attention wasn’t put into these battles as they are spectacular to look at but just not very exciting to play.
Another welcome addition to combat is actually losing in combat. When your party fell in combat in G.U. you would have to start back from your last save point. In an act of pure kindness CyberConnect 2 have implemented a “Retry” option in Last Recode allowing you to retry the battle you lost instead of having to return back to your previous save.
Last Recode is a great place to get into the .hack franchise. G.U.’s story is its strongest aspect and should be experienced. All the additions made to Recode are exactly what’s need to modernize older titles for this day and age. If you wanted to get into the .hack universe this is a great place to start, and if you’re already a fan, there is no reason why you shouldn’t pick this up.