Rediscovering the World.
Back in 2006, CyberConnect2 released a follow up to the quadrilogy of .hack games on the PS2 by the name of .hack//G.U. Following the events of the original, it took the series far beyond the scope of its predecessor in almost every way with improved visuals, combat and a more intriguing story. However, after the conclusion of the trilogy of G.U. games back in 2007, the series rested dormant for all these years and I had all but given up hope of ever seeing it again. Fortunately, in an effort to celebrate the 15th anniversary of .hack, CyberConnect2 has decided to remaster the G.U. trilogy and release it in one complete package with new, never before seen content, much to my delight.
Platforms: PC, PS4
VA Selection: JPN/ENG
Played on: PC i5 4460, GeForce 1080.
Played: 24~ hours
The overarching story of G.U. takes place in a video game world in a video game (insert inception joke here) where the protagonist is playing an MMO using his avatar, which he names “Haseo”. It’s a tale of growth as Haseo is portrayed as cynical and highly aggressive due to his past, but throughout his adventures he encounters many other players that help change his outlook not only about the game, but about the world as a whole.
What I enjoyed most about the story in G.U. back in 2006 was in its meticulous world building. I wasn’t simply confined to the game world itself, I was able to browse through the internet checking on the latest news, reply to emails, look through forum posts of other players, watch ads for the newest in technology and much more. It helped shape the world that Haseo lived in and also fed into the illusion that the other NPCs that I was interacting with were also people on the other side of different computers. Within the game world itself, there were a variety of characters with their own motivations inside and outside the game as they also had lives of their own outside the virtual world. It harkened back to the days when I was deeply into MMOs like Ragnarok Online and World of Warcraft, and I found it easy to sympathize with Haseo and his insatiable drive to obtain more power.
Given that this is mostly a collection of PS2 games that were remastered, I was quite impressed by how well the game has aged, visually as well as mechanically. Playing at a 4K resolution which was downsampled to my monitor’s resolution, the game looked crisp and ran smoothly without any issues. Of course, it is still a PS2 game that has been bumped up with resolution, but as simple as the texture modeling was, the game’s distinct art and character designs shined through brilliantly.
This fact was highlighted by the expertly directed cinematics in the game that showed the budding CyberConnect2 as they were just starting to master the art of cel-shading, and if you’re at all familiar with their work with the various Naruto as well as JoJo games they’ve made recently, you’ll know the gorgeous animation work they’ve done and it really all started with the G.U. series.
On the side of combat, I would say that it is serviceable by modern gameplay standards, but it certainly won’t impress anyone. What was a marked improvement over the original .hack quadrilogy isn’t anything to celebrate in 2017. Combat is initiated by spotting the enemy on the map during exploration where they could be ambushed for an advantage, and Haseo is able to move in an enclosed area where he can attack, block, use skills or items. It’s a rather simple system without much depth, and even though more mechanics are added as the series continues in the form of changing to different weapon types, using epitaphs and more, it never gets too complicated.
What hasn’t aged well and is easily the weakest part of the experience are the randomly generated dungeons, which apart from a few small tweaks here and there feel the same and become repetitive rather quickly. Perhaps I had more of a tolerance for randomly generated dungeons of this sort back in 2006, but I found myself getting bored after diving into the same kind of dungeons a few times and rushed to the objective skipping most of the fights/chests along the way.
Outside of the visual upgrades, a cheat mode was included where all the characters are leveled up to the max and given all their best equipment to make combat encounters trivial for those who just wanted to experience the story without having to deal with the hassle of combat. While I did not use this mode for the purposes of the review, I found it a nice addition, especially for those who finished the original games back when they were first released like myself and just wanted to see all the great story moments without having to grind levels or farm for better equipment.
Last but not least, the brand new episode titled “Reconnection” takes place after the events of “Redemption”, where Haseo returns to the game world for the last time right before the game was set to go offline indefinitely to try and rescue someone very important to him and the rest of the Twilight Brigade. Even though it might be labeled with a volume number, this is most certainly not a full-length adventure like the other episodes, and meant to be a true epilogue of sorts to finally tie up a giant loose end that was left back all those years ago. It’s a bite sized experience lasting only about 4 hours, but does an excellent job of not only finally putting an end to the G.U. story but also as a way to celebrate “The World R2” itself.
Even though it uses the same engine as the previous G.U. games, it introduces a brand new form for Haseo with some great combat animations as well as a slew of brand new cinematics that are worth the cost of entry by themselves.
Unfortunately, I would be remissed if I didn’t mention that during my playthrough, I encountered several hard crashes, and given there are no checkpoint systems (these are a collection of PS2 games, after all) I ended up losing a good chunk of progress each time. The worst was where I just finished the final boss in the last volume and the game crashed, losing me about 45 minutes of progress. After doing some research in forums, it certainly seems to be an issue for more than just myself, so given the choice between the PC/PS4 versions as it stands currently, it would seem that the PS4 version is the more stable of the two.
The release of .hack//G.U. Last Recode is a celebration of what I consider to be CyberConnect2’s greatest achievement in gaming thus far. It’s an excellent way for newcomers to experience one of the most underrated JRPGs in the lengthy and excellent catalogue of PS2 games. As for those like myself who loved the original- a chance to say hello to some old friends and finally erase that last bit of regret that’s been lingering all these years.
FunTidbit – Sword Art Online is lame and .hack//G.U. is cool. Get over it.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.