+Graphics have been heavily improved upon in order to deliver an HD experience
+Sound effects, music, and even voice overs have seemingly been improved in quality
+Gameplay remains the same as it were in the PlayStation 2 entries
+Vol. 4: Reconnection is an absolute blast and a perfect closing to a series
-Combat hasn’t been improved upon, but instead remains much the same
-Still lacks guidance to help new players make their way through the game with onscreen queues
15 years later and here I am, revisiting my late teen years by revisiting the .hack//G.U. games, ones that I spent plenty of evenings playing with any disregard for time. Unlike the other franchises at the time, it was a game series that was completely different, completely unique. Why was it all of that? Because I could relate to the main protagonist Haseo and his friends. It’s a game that took everything I loved about my time with World of Warcraft and completely turned it on its head.
Instead of Azeroth or Norath (Everquest), I was put into a place called “The World”. A pseudo-MMORPG type environment where I would explore “The World” and even interact with my pre-scripted friends or even logout, check the forums, and even check a few emails. Even for today, the amount of detail put into the game is actually quite impressive when you think about just how much detail goes into one such title, aside from those few mobile games, few .hack pieces of entertainment we missed, and even any news regarding future titles.
Luckily for us, we’re in an era of seeing games get the remastering treatment. First Capcom did it, then Bandai Namco, and even SIE Studio Japan. Luckily for us, it works out quite well due to the fact .hack is a series that shouldn’t be forgotten. It’s a great series, one we should all know, love, and appreciate in some way or another. But that can’t go without stating that the .hack series could be hard to follow. You had the .hack//G.U. series and even the .hack series itself. Even if you missed out on the original series, you may want to recall that this trilogy was worth spending some time with whether you knew the originals or not.
If you didn’t play that series, Bandai Namco was awesome to fill you in with .hack//G.U. Last Record, the PlayStation 4 remastered collection. The game included the story from the previous series, giving you everything you needed to know through a selection of videos. A nice added feature for newcomers to the franchise. Sadly, we seemingly won’t be seeing the original series ported over to the PlayStation 4 at this time, which truly is a bummer.
Even then, we’re given an experience to enjoy. As stated previously, players will take on the role of Haseo, a player who likes to hunt down player killers. He even earns quite the reputation as a player killer killer known as the “Terror of Death”. Unfortunately for him, that kind of reputation in The World isn’t exactly something you want, especially when your closest friend, in this case, Shino, is attacked in-game, and sent into a coma in the real world. After a long series of events, Haseo decides to go on an extreme hunt in order to take on the player that did this to Shino, and take them out.
As things get down to it all, players find Haseo stripped of his famed level, capabilities, and ends up starting back at the beginning of the game, working his way back up. Bandai’s way of making it so that players aren’t playing through an entire game at max power, or even being a wrecking ball of the series (here’s to looking at you Sword Art Online). Over the course of the games duration, players get to work with everyone he encounters, but to start things out, Haseo is an asshole. Literally, a pretentious prick. That does managed to change over the course of the game. He’s a bit more down to Earth, he’s a bit more chill, and he’s absolutely a character you’ll come to love with time.
His transformation is actually admirable, it adds to the games reason to play. We see him evolve from a toxic player to a more cheerful person, one that is respected by fellow players, and his closest friends. As drawing as the games overall narrative is, we can’t exactly talk all story here, we can’t afford to ruin the series for you, which is why this game is actually quite admirable due to the games overall flow of gameplay. Because of the approach the team took, the design structure is quite simple, and one that can be appreciated.
Haseo receives an email that will urge him to promptly log into the world. after logging in, he’ll go to a suggested zone, completing specified goals, and logging back out only to receive another email. It’s a simple rhythm, one that actually doesn’t demand just a whole lot from the players, and will send them on their way as the story unfolds before them. Sadly, it does become a bit too formulaic after the span of four games, and can send players to the point of taking longer than expected breaks or seeking a change of pace after a while.
But for those that do like to explore, there is plenty to do on the side, and that’s actually a good thing. Since you will be spending most of your time trekking through many of the games dungeons, where you’ll come face to face with a sizable amount of varied foes to fight. Aside from just mashing X, which you will be doing most of the time, you will find yourself also using buttons such as R1 in order to execute your abilities, and even performing special attacks called “Rengeki” or using your Moral bar in order to perform special awakenings.
In each of the volumes (Rebirth, Reminisce, Redemption, and the newest one Reconnect), you will get a chance to equip new weapons, use new abilities, and even approach combat with new party members. All of it actually adds a nice change of pace and keeps everything quite interesting over the span of 50-60 hours (if you watch the cutscenes).
Just as you expect, the remaster does bring in a few changes that are welcomed, and actually ones to enjoy. The battle tempo has been increased from a slow dance to a salsa, which is a nice change. You now do more damage and you even receive more experience than before. For some, these changes reduce the challenge, and may feel that this undoubtedly makes the experience more user-friendly than before. While this is true to some extent, it doesn’t take away from the enjoyability of the campaign itself.
If you are one of those that feel this change does take away from this, you may want to consider the fact there is also a ‘cheat’ where players can start the games with Haseo at max level all around. If you just want to play for the story, this mode is actually quite fun, and one that you should take advantage of, but unfortunately, this is a double edged sword. It also takes away from the fact there are players that do want a harder difficulty, and enjoy a good challenge. It’s a missed opportunity, but not one we should ruel out thanks to our modern day of DLC and content patches.
But the real delight here isn’t the fact the three first games feel dated, could have used some much needed changes, or lack a solid formula for combat. Instead, the real delight, is the fact that the fourth and final entry actually exists, and offers a lot for us to actually enjoy. What makes this entry even better, is the fact that Reconnection changes the games pace. We don’t get to login and logout like before. The servers are shutting down and Haseo has one final task to complete during his time there: save someone important to him before the games servers are actually shut down for good. Unlike the previous three titles, Reconnection is more of an epilogue than it is a full standalone title.
It’s not some grand entry, nor is it something to really brag about, but it’s an added bonus that we are given to enjoy, and even helps bring .hack//G.U. to a formal close. Luckily, it’s 4-5 hour run time is actually gracefully brought to a close by giving us some of the best cutscenes to date, and even amazingly smooth framerates. Lets just hope this means .hack is getting a second breath of air, as it deserves it, and we can only cross our fingers hoping that this is the case (after all, we desperately need a series like this one out there).
But when you talk about a remaster, there’s a few things we need to discuss more than just combat. We need to talk about bugs, performance, visuals, sound, and the overall quality of the game on a mechanical level. I know, I know, technicalities suck, but we have to. These titles have been around for almost 15 years in total. Unfortunately, things do age, and some not for the best (here’s looking at you Resident Evil and your horrible camera angles).
Just as you’d expect, visuals are actually stunning across all four titles. Whether it’s the slight lenseflare for the sun, the lighting on the buildings, or even the vibrant colors that offset one another: .hack//G.U. didn’t skip a beat in improving its visual fidelity. The game looks astonishing on a 4K tv, and even on a 1080p tv. Regardless, I soaked in the anime-like appeal. After all, I didn’t feel like I was actually playing a game, bur rather – I was watching an anime. All of this worked out quite well. With the improved resolutions, Last Recode runs smooth, never seeing a dip in its 60fps focus, or do the graphics ever look muddied and downgraded as we’ve seen in past re-releases.
Sadly, the games design as far as questionable animations, still exists. Characters still move as if they belong in a PS2 game, and facial animations are non-existent as far as lip movement is concerned (this changes in Reconnection). What’s most noticeable is the fact sound quality has seemingly been upgraded. While I certainly had doubts about this, I had to go back and play the PlayStation 2 versions. Sound wasn’t as clean, crisp, nor was it as enjoyable as it was in Last Recode. That being said, it does seem Bandai Namco and CyberConnect2 wanted to show us that this isn’t just a port, but a true remaster.
They did great as far as sound and performance goes. Even the voice acting seems as if the sound files have been cleaned up and targeted towards the modern crowd. Whether I was using our PlayStation Gold headphones, our HyperX Cloud Stinger headset, or even my LG430’s, the sound remained crisp and clear. I didn’t notice any choppiness or missing sounds unlike what I’ve experienced in more modern games (trust me, it’s a problem for some major titles). What’s more impressive is the load times for a game of this type. They’re almost non-existent. I rarely noticed a load taking longer than 5-10 seconds.
On a few occasions, I was actually taken off guard and completely unprepared to start my mission. After all, I was dungeon diving, and reliving my childhood. Sadly I wasn’t trophy hunting, which I rarely do anyways. Thankfully, load times, sound, performance, and even voice acting remains pleasant for fans wanting an authentic anime-like experience. Thanks to this new quadrilogy, fans have a lot to look forward to, and certainly should have a lot of hope for the future. At a reasonable price of $49.99 USD (roughly 10-12 dollars a game before tax), hack//G.U. is actually a reasonable bargain, and one that you shouldn’t be scared to take advantage of.
If Bandai Namco knows one thing, it’s that there are loyal fans of the series, and fans that will fully go all in – in order to enjoy their childhood or teenage years once more. With Sword Art Online and the .hack franchises under their belt, we can only wonder what is next, and where these games could be going in the future. If I had to bet my money on anything, we could be preparing for a cross-over event, or even a rebirth of one of the best franchises in anime and JRPG history.
Our review is based upon a retail version that was provided to us by the games publisher. For information about our ethics policy please click here.
Final Score: 8 out of 10
About the Writer:
Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the boarders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.