All Grown Up
Most gamers out there have franchises that, for one reason or another, mean a lot to them. For me, it’s .hack. Well, okay, it’s not the only franchise that’s important to me. But it’s certainly one of them. The .hack series as a whole was partially responsible for defining my early-mid teen gaming years. Not only did I love the video games, but it was the also the first series of any kind that I followed across different forms of media. Does anyone remember .hack//Sign? Remember how confusing and dry it was? Well, imagine watching that as a 13-year old. It didn’t always make a ton of sense to me, but I loved it anyway. As I did (and still do) with all things .hack.
To say I was excited about .hack//G.U. Last Recode was an understatement. As much as I love the series, I never assumed that any part of it would be getting a remake. Needless to say, I was ecstatic when I first caught wind of Last Recode. Maybe not quite as ecstatic as I would have been had it been the original quadrilogy being remade, but ecstatic still nonetheless. And that excitement didn’t leave when I finally got the game, either. .hack//G.U. Last Recode is an excellent remake of the G.U. trilogy and successfully makes the leap from the mid-2000s into 2017. And it’s all the better if you’ve been a longtime fan of the series, like me!
While Last Recode is comprised of 3 (technically 4, I guess) games, they all come together to tell the singular story. G.U. follows the exploits of a player named Haseo who, after being PK’d (player killed) during his first day in The World R:2 (the MMO that G.U. takes place within) decides to spend the rest of his days as a PKK (a player killer killer) in order to make others pay for doing what was done for him. Unfortunately, his glory days as an edgy PKK weren’t destined to last forever. At an undisclosed point in time, Haseo’s then guild member Shino is PK’d by a mysterious player known as “Tri-Edge” (who bears an uncanny resemblance to the quadrilogy’s protagonist, Kite!) and, as a result, falls into a coma.
Driven by grief and spite, Haseo beings his hunt for Tri-Edge. He eventually finds him and rushes in to finally extract revenge. But that’s where things stop going well for our protagonist. Although Haseo’s character is incredibly powerful, Tri-Edge seems to possess abilities far beyond what the game would normally allow. Try as he might, Haseo is absolutely no match for the Kite look-alike. He quickly finds himself completely and utterly defeated at the hands of his adversary and, if that wasn’t bad enough, gets blasted with a healthy dose of Data Drain — resetting his character all the way back to Level 1. And thus, Haseo’s quest for revenge began anew — and this time, it would take him to places he would have never imagined possible.
I love the .hack//G.U. trilogy. I really do. But man, this game is seriously edgy. This isn’t something that I’m just realizing now, either. As much as I enjoy this game’s story, I can’t help but think it’s a bit much. After all, the entirety of Last Recode takes place within an online game. An online game that doesn’t even include full sensory immersion. Certain elements of the story, such as players falling comatose, I can completely understand the players getting worked up over. But other parts — especially many of the parts where Haseo is concerned — I’ve never been able to understand. It’s just a game, right? Why involve yourself this much? Isn’t this kind of weird?
The answer to that question is, undoubtedly, yes. It is weird. But, after playing through G.U. again, I think that that was the point. For those of you who may not know, the “G.U.” in .hack//G.U. stands for “Grow Up”. Yes, this is basically a coming of age story. A coming of age story that, in many ways, concerns the very real dangers that digital addictions can pose. All of this is even more impressive when you consider the fact that G.U. originally came out back in 2006 and, despite that, manages to accurately reflect certain problems that are actually happening in 2017. It’s an excellent narrative overall, which, considering that this game is about 75% plot progression, is a good thing.
Life’s A Grind
There’s no denying that Last Recode features a serious, complicated, and surprisingly on-point story. But that’s the only thing that’s complicated about this game. In contrast with its narrative, Last Recode‘s gameplay is incredibly simple and straightforward. Attempting (with moderate success) to emulate the feel of an actual MMORPG, gameplay primarily centers around one thing — that sweet, sweet endorphin rush that you get when leveling up and finding loot.
Of course, before you start leveling and looting, you actually have to go somewhere where that’s actually possible. Rather than featuring a world with many interconnected areas, each area in the G.U. trilogy can be reached by inputting a set of 3 keywords into warp points known as Chaos Gates within each of the game’s towns. The areas that the Chaos Gates take you to may seem random, but they aren’t. Both the town that you’re currently in and the keywords that you enter are responsible for your destination, with the keywords being the most important thing. The keywords that you choose are responsible for things like area type, enemy level, and treasure level, so make sure to check the preview before actually warping.
While there are many different area types within G.U., they can essentially be divided into two different categories — fields, and dungeons. Fields (my personal favorite) are outdoor areas, categorized by their small size, and the fact that they have a lot of monsters and treasures clustered together. Dungeons, on the other hand, are… well, they’re dungeons. You’ve played video games, you know what dungeons are, right? Right! In contrast with fields, dungeons usually take quite a bit longer to complete. They also, however, always have a nice treasure waiting for you on the last floor. Outside of storyline dungeons, it’s ultimately up to you to decide where to go. The amount of variety that G.U. offers to its players in terms of area diversity is dated by today’s terms, exploration is still a lot of fun.
There’s something kind of ironic about all of the exploration, though. True, Last Recode does feature an impressive amount of areas throughout its four games. An incredibly impressive amount, even. And they are fun to explore. But it doesn’t ever give you much reason to go to most of them. Thanks to some of the tweaks that Last Recode underwent, leveling up is incredibly easy. The game also doesn’t offer a whole lot when it comes to treasures. Sure, you can get powerful weapons and armor, but most of what you get is common stuff that you can trade other players for or buy in the shop. I’m a little late to the party in saying this, but G.U. missed a major opportunity to make exploration exciting by offering players plenty of hidden and rare items for them to venture out and collect.
Playing with Power
Remember when I said that the story was the only thing complicated about Last Recode? Well, guess who was wrong? …Not me, because combat’s really easy, too! Best described as “mostly hack-and-slash, but also kind of a little beat-em-up-y”, G.U.‘s combat is all about mashing buttons. And really, that’s about 90% of what you’ll be doing. Fortunately, there’s still that other 10% to spice things up. Throughout each of the volumes, Haseo will be able to undergo job upgrades, allowing him to equip a variety of weapons, such as twin daggers, scythes, and, eventually, guns, which provide for greater combat diversity. Still, I’d be lying if I said that the usefulness of each weapon wasn’t limited. Despite the number of weapons that you’ll eventually be able to equip, some are just flat out better than others. Personally, I never used anything other than the daggers most of the time.
Along with the hacking and slashing that you’ll be doing out on the battlefield, players also have the Rengeki and Awakening features at their disposal. Rengekis are essentially just powered-up skills. By attacking an enemy enough you’ll break them, causing them to flash and become surrounded by black and purple rings. By using a skill on a broken enemy, you’ll trigger a Rengeki. While Rengekis don’t offer much outside of additional damage, the extra pain that you’ll inflict upon your enemies (not to mention the EXP bonus that you get by performing them) is more than worth making sure that you can pull off as many Rengekis as you possibly can.
By executing Rengekis (and using items), you’ll also charge your Morale and, once the gauge is full, you’ll be able to unleash your Awakening. The effect that your Awakening has differs depending on which one you have set, but the end result is always the same — massive damage to your enemy. Unlike Rengekis, Awakenings take a while to charge up. Because of that, it’s a little more important to choose when and where you use them.
You’ll also, on occasion, run into Avatar Battles. I won’t spoil the story by telling you what Avatars are exactly, but I will tell you that Avatar Battles aren’t like normal battles. Instead of typical hack-and-slash combat, Avatar Battles shift focus toward evasion and counter-attacking. You Avatar adversaries often have the upper hand when it comes to raw firepower, so rushing in head-first is almost never a good idea. Pelting your opponents with ranged attacks from afar in order to stun them, and finding the right moments to strike is crucial. Once you’ve got that down, however, Avatar Battles are no sweat.
To wrap things up, I’d also like to take a quick look at what exactly makes this game what it is. As most of you know, Last Recode isn’t simply just the G.U. trilogy slapped together; CyberConnect2 actually put some effort into making Last Recode as appetizing as possible. The G.U. trilogy had undergone a pretty extensive overhaul before it was released, in order to bring certain parts of it up to speed with our current gaming culture. Most of what they did was a definite positive. The graphics look nicer, battles are smoother, and your characters even run faster out on the field (and that’s not even everything).
What bothers me a little bit is the game’s “Cheat Mode”. I know that I potentially risk starting some kind of argument with this, but I’ll say it anyway; for me, games are generally fun because they’re challenging. I already had a bit of an issue with Last Recode making leveling up insanely easy, but Cheat Mode just lets you skip the gameplay in order to watch all of the cutscenes. Story progression, once again, in my opinion, should be a reward. I think that’s okay to make gamers work in order to see that next cutscene. It’s not like this is the end of the world — I wasn’t a fan of Cheat Mode, so I didn’t use it. Simple. Still, the fact that things like this have been popping up not only in this game but in others as well is a trend that worries me.
Finally, and most importantly, there’s the fourth volume — .hack//G.U. Vol 4.//Reconnection. I’ll tell you this right now — if you were expecting a full game, prepare to be disappointed. Reconnection is, in essence, a 3 – 4 hour-long piece of DLC, that takes place over a year after the end of the original trilogy. As a new addition to the story, it’s pretty neat. It puts to rest a few questions that many of us probably had at the end of G.U., grants a somewhat happier ending, and even gives players a new form and (spoiler warning) the chance to finally recruit Ovan onto your team (end of spoiler).
Aside from that, however, there isn’t much going on. Reconnection strips away nearly every gameplay element available in the original games, leaving you with a forcibly streamlined experience. I suppose that I shouldn’t complain too much. After all, CyberConnect2 didn’t have to do this for us at all. I’m grateful that it’s here in the first place. Still, it would have been cool to be able to run around with all of the shiny new toys that the game hands to you with as much freedom as you had in the other games.
Welcome to The World
Simply put, Last Recode is great. It provides a chance for players both new and old to the .hack series to experience the highly enjoyable, and well thought out .hack//G.U. trilogy. While I’ll admit that I’m not a fan of every single thing that CyberConnect2 did with the remake, most of their tweaks left the game that much better. Although the G.U. trilogy may be getting up there in years, .hack//G.U. Last Recode does an excellent job of keeping things as fresh as possible. If you ask me, there’s never been a better time to visit The World than right now.
FINAL VERDICT: 4/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 4 ; Publisher: Bandai Namco ; Developer: CyberConnect2 ; Players: 1 ; Released: November 3, 2017 ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $49.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of .hack//G.U. Last Recode given to Hey Poor Player by the Publisher