.hack//G.U. Last Recode Review
CyberConnect2’s .hack (pronounced dot hack) franchise has been in a lull for quite awhile. After the company’s attempts to bring it back with the Guilty Dragon: The Sin Dragon and the Eight Curses and .hack//New World mobile games in Japan, both projects had been laid to rest and the series remained in limbo. The glory days of its life on the PlayStation 2 are long over. Its ventures on other platforms have increasingly dwindled.
Hope springs eternal once more with .hack//G.U. Last Recode - a remastered collection of the entire .hack//G.U. series. All three G.U. volumes (Rebirth, Reminisce, Redemption) have been fully touched up alongside a brand-new fourth volume, Reconnection. You can freely select which volumes you want to play from the main menu; no need to go through them consecutively.
Back in the PS2 era, .hack was split into two series: the original quadrilogy starring Kite and the G.U. series that came after led by a new protagonist, Haseo. It’s still true as it was then and newcomers to .hack will be absolutely fine if they choose to start with the G.U. series.
Last Recode also includes a Terminal Disc feature that provides detailed recap videos of Kite’s quest as well. These videos do range around 15 to 20 minutes each; I wish they had a seek bar to freely navigate around them. Get the popcorn ready if you plan to watch them all.
Everything about .hack revolves around an in-game fictitious MMORPG called The World. In G.U., Haseo is an infamous PKKer (player-killer killer) inside The World on the hunt for the legendary player, Tri-Edge; he suspects that this player is responsible for putting his friend, Shino, into a coma in real life.
Seven years after G.U.’s final volume released on the PS2, I still find the G.U. games incredibly charming. Haseo’s quest for revenge leads him to meet a wonderful cast of characters that still hold up well. Last Recode has kept everything astoundingly intact under a new coat of paint. The bells and whistles are largely what you’d expect from modern remasters.
Character models have seen the most graphical enhancements. They’re clean, detailed, and the anti-aliasing does wonders compared to their jagged PS2 counterparts. The main cast has seen the most significant changes, while random NPCs running around are closer to their PS2 models. Nevertheless, I’m still taken aback at how clearly I can see them now.
Environmental textures, on the other hand, are still on the rough side of things. Sure they’ve seen improvements but it’s still much too muddy and blurry. It’s amusing to think about it as The World’s own graphical shortcomings for some fourth wall breaking flavor.
Remarkable refinements to the lighting, aspect ratio, resolution, and framerate have helped modernized the G.U. games too. Moving to 16:9 and pulling the camera back makes it feel a lot more open. Pronounced lighting sources have largely removed the fogginess when moving around field areas, though there are still odd pop-in issues here and there. Last Recode supports up to 4K resolution and runs at 60fps for the most part, though busier battles will see slight dips.
.hack//G.U.’s combat system has largely benefitted because of these technical touch-ups. G.U.’s action-focused battles isolated your party and foes in a circular arena to duke it out in real-time. Enemies had a nasty habit of attacking you off-screen on the PS2 because the camera was so zoomed in. The extra breathing space helps diminish these problems.
Plus, battles in Last Recode have a better flow to them thanks to reducing the severe hit stop from the original versions. Every single hit would freeze the screen to signify that an attack connected which really bothered me back then and it’s less of an issue here.
One the most significant changes that returning .hack//G.U. players may notice is that overall EXP progression is much more streamlined and forgiving. Attacks do more damage in general and enemies noticeably reward more experience. It’s quite easy to find yourself overleveled if you indulge even in a smidgen of sidequests.
I didn’t find the original PS2 games to be too challenging, but there were the occasional bottlenecks of difficult encounters at key parts. Last Recode essentially phases that out by making it a cakewalk even if you do just stick with the main storyline quests. If you want to make the gameplay completely and utterly trivial, there is also a new, optional Cheat Mode before starting a new game that will max your characters’ stats and equip them with the best gear from the get-go.
These user-friendly alterations are understandable. Each of the three volumes are quite lengthy games ranging at around 20 hours each. It’s ultimately a better experience, but I do wish there were selectable difficulty modes or a toggle that allowed you to switch back to the “original” balance so to speak.
Aside from these changes, .hack//G.U. Last Recode is a stunning 1:1 faithful restoration of these games. One of the coolest features of the PS2 .hack games was all the little touches to its world building.
The main menu simulated a computer desktop, so there were many other things to do besides playing The World - read forum posts, glance at emails from party members, and dabble with the extensive in-world news section. It’s a fascinating glimpse at a bygone era of the internet’s younger days.
Even all the fan-art for customizable wallpapers were upscaled with some new ones added. It also includes the Crimson VS card game too. The animated news web-clips and shows are still in. Everything is still all there! .hack was one of the few series that went the extra mile to sell its world and it still succeeds brilliantly at that.
Other nifty additions to the Last Recode package are dual audio and parody mode. G.U.’s PS2 releases only had the English dub, but Last Recode includes the Japanese voices as well. Whatever voice cast you prefer, both sides of the fence still have all the original voice actors even in the new fourth volume.
Parody mode is a little something extra for .hack veterans. It was inspired by the extra parody scenes in the .hack//G.U. Trilogy CG film years ago; these handful of clips are essentially joke-voiceovers of several cutscenes throughout the games. There are a few amusing ones that avid .hack fans will certainly appreciate. It’s a small wink and nod at the end of the day, but I loved it.
Lastly, the new fourth volume in Last Recode is more of an extended epilogue than a fully featured installment. Clocking in at around five hours long, Reconnection is a final farewell that provides a stronger sense of closure to the G.U. saga. It takes place roughly a year after the finale of Redemption. There’s not much to do outside of progressing the main story. All the other side activities are not available. This may sound discouraging at a glance, but I’m a bit relieved that it’s a shorter, tighter experience. The new story gives good reasons on why it’s a slimmer volume.
If anything, Reconnection’s distillation of features emphasizes some core weaknesses of the G.U. games. There’s a dull cycle of repetitive dungeons that drag on for a bit too long. Then travel back to town to talk to NPCs to find out where to go next. Dungeon crawl again to find out something, travel back to determine the next destination, and so forth. Reconnection’s story events are interesting, but the actual things I was doing to get to them were disappointing.
Reconnection is a neat last hurrah for .hack//G.U. There are very few new gameplay systems introduced and there’s hardly any new environments or enemies to see. The most impressive thing about Reconnection are the CG cutscenes; they’re sleek and provide a peek at how much better the cutscenes could’ve been if CyberConnect2 had the technology back then. Now I’m a bit bummed some of those weren’t added to the previous volumes.
.hack//G.U. Last Recode is an incredible package of remastered games. Three excellent RPGs from the PS2 see new life once more along with a new finale. Improved visuals and gameplay refinements make them look and play a lot better than before. The extra layer of polish on it shows when you compare them to their PS2 selves. It’s a magnificent bundle for .hack fans - new and old. Hopefully this time, .hack is here to stay.