Review in Progress: .hack//G.U. Last Recode

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Now that’s a title

I have faint memories of .hack//G.U. Eleven years ago, I played the first volume, Rebirth, and spent a few weeks engrossed in the series’ fictional online game, The World. Even back then, I don’t think .hack blew me away with its gameplay or storytelling. It was the concept of a shared, persistent experience that stood out. The World, at least as a setting, was alluring because it seemed like anything could happen within its simulated, digital spaces.

A decade removed, Rebirth feels like a ghost. I haven’t thought of the series in years. Real, massively multiplayer games have pushed The World’s vision of an online experience by the wayside. But even digital ghosts can come back to haunt you, and with the release of Last Recode, I found myself logging into a fictional game once more.

.hack//G.U. Last Recode (PS4, PC [playing])Developer: CyberConnect2Publisher: Bandai Namco EntertainmentRelease Date: November 3, 2017MSRP: $49.99

Last Recode is a remaster of the entire G.U. series. It bundles the original three-game arc (Rebirth, Reminisce, and Redemption) together alongside a new fourth volume, Resurrection, with updated visuals and some much-needed gameplay tweaks.

I’ve spent the last few weeks making my way through Last Recode. As a package, it doesn’t hurt for content. In twenty-some hours, I’m less than halfway through the series. I’ve completed Rebirth and a slice of Reminisce. Things are picking up but Haseo, the series’ protagonist, is still bumming me out.

It’s interesting to see The World through modern eyes. Despite its new coat of paint, Last Recode seems like a relic. The bits I’ve played are a strange exploration of the internet from a place of naivete. Every one of the game’s characters comes off like a caricature; Haseo’s angst and edge inform his penchant for black, spiky armor. Pi, a sultry, older-sounding woman speaks only in proper sentences but can’t be bothered to wear a complete outfit. In a way, Rebirthis a portal to view how video game culture — especially in online games — was perceived by the masses. Characters refer to Haseo as the “Terror of Death” because he’s just so good at killing players who actively kill low-level players. People talk about owning noobs.

But I can’t fault Last Recode for feeling dated. It is. And it’s not just the characters and presentation either. Combat, though a bit faster and more polished than I remember, is still a slog. Even with some updates, battles boil down to awkwardly pressing attack, hoping to time a combo, and occasionally unleashing a powerful skill. At best it’s a passive experience; I found myself ignoring combat unless I absolutely had to fight, be it for experience or story reasons.

Much like my first time through Rebirth, I’m still not wowed by its narrative. Haseo is hellbent on tracking down a mysterious player named Tri-Edge, who killed his friend Shino in-game. Somehow, Shino’s death in The World caused her to fall into a coma in real life. Most of the first game revolves around Haseo’s efforts to level up (his avatar gets knocked back to level one at the start of Rebirth), so he can kick Tri-Edge’s ass whenever their paths cross again. It spins its wheelslonger than it needs to, especially during the middle half of the game where you’re mostly just fighting a series of PvP matches in an arena.

But despite the fact that Last Recode‘s combat is clunky and its characters are mostly annoying, there’s a sense of movement that comes after completing the first game. Finishing one volume and jumping right into its sequel has kept me more invested than I probably ever would have been a decade ago. I’m not crazy about Haseo, but I want to see if he stays an irredeemable asshole across the whole series. There’s something to be said about a collection of games that continually build upon one another, and with two-and-a-half more titles to go, I’m hoping the story does some exciting things, especially in its new final act.

The World looks better than I remember, but it also seems so much smaller. I’m a ways away from completing the series and giving Last Recode a score, so until then I’ll just keep grinding. Something tells me Haseo will need all the help he can get.

[This review in progress is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]