Games Review: .hack//G.U. The Last Recode (PS4, 2017): System Upgrade Complete

Before I begin my review, I’d like to discuss a bit of my history with the .hack franchise. When I first discovered manga, the first volume that I ever read was .hack//G.U.+, an adaptation of the original .hack//G.U. video game trilogy. As a young and impressionable child, the series blew my mind, and when I first found out that the series was based on a set of video games, I was ecstatic.

That is, I was ecstatic for all of five minutes, before I discovered that the series had never been released in PAL territories, and I’d never get the chance to play them. For nearly 10 years, I’d been struggling to get my hands on the adaptation, trawling eBay for a chance at a copy and considering chipping my old PS2 for the privilege.

In the meantime, I’d consumed as much of the .hack series as I could, watching prequel series .hack//Roots, reading through original manga Legend of the Twilight, as well as watching all the movies I could. My love affair with the franchise soon died out, but it was always in the back of my mind.

Then, this year, out of the blue – an announcement: The .hack//G.U. games would finally be remastered and released for next gen consoles. It was like the announcement was made specifically for me, as if to say I hadn’t been waiting for 10 years in vain.

After all this time, I’ve finally able to play the games. Was it worth the wait? As clouded as my vision is by nostalgia, I can say with certainty that even 11 years after their first release, the .hack//G.U. games still hold up (minus a ROFL or two).

Following PKK (Player Killer Killer) Haseo as he hunts down the villainous Tri-Edge, .hack//G.U. The Last Recode charts Haseo’s entire journey from his first time logging into the mysterious online RPG known as The World 2.0, to his emergence as a masterful Avatar user. The Last Recode collection even goes a step further than the original trilogy, adding in a final, fourth chapter that continues Haseo’s story.

While the G.U. franchise is technically a sequel to the original .hack games (Infection, Mutation, Outbreak and Quarantine), only minimal knowledge is needed to continue the story. If you’d like to know more about the events of the previous game, included in the Last Recode collection is an hour long ‘documentary’ describing the events of each game, and their relevance to the G.U. story. In addition to this, the game also includes a ridiculously unnecessary ‘Parody Mode’ that essentially remixes cutscenes with new, ‘funny’ dialogue.

For those unfamiliar with the .hack franchise, it’s important to note that The Last Recode is story heavy, with the bulk of the first few hours of gameplay taken up by cutscenes. That said, the story is filled with interesting characters, and only somewhat dated dialogue, leading to some great moments. Protagonist Haseo could do with taking the stick out of his ass on several occasions, but this seems more like a hallmark of early 2000s ‘cool’ anime characters than a real criticism of the game.

In regards to the gameplay itself, combat is a mixed bag and relatively simple initially, with attack, block and special attack commands and little finesse required. As the game progresses and more skills are obtained, this processes becomes a lot more enjoyable, but still represents a rather basic system. Progressing through the various dungeons can also seem like a chore due to the repetitive nature of quests, and the often uninspiring locations.

Improvements made to the title since its original release include a ‘cheat mode’, where players can begin the game with maxed out stats in order to enjoy the story, and a ‘retry mode’ where players can restart battles easily. These were mainly implemented in order to improve the gameplay experience for western audiences, a change that I for one, welcomed gladly. While the initial experience of .hack is relatively simple, it’s not long before battles become more complex as enemy levels rise and save points become scarcer.

The graphics are a strange blend of remastered textures and newly reanimated cutscenes, some of which look stylistically gorgeous. Having said that, the styles often clash as scenes cut between crisp animated close-ups and awkwardly textured character models. Much of the original character model details have been kept the same, and this can often look out of place in scenes, most noticeably with Haseo’s tattoos.

Scenery is the most improved aspect of the game, giving The World a much brighter and cleaner look. While the Last Recode collection has been polished with much care, it’s still very obviously a PS2 game, retaining the blocky charm and jerky movement of the original. That said, the graphics are what mark out the .hack series as unique.

In a time when online RPGs were only just starting their rise in popularity, .hack//G.U. gets a lot about online games right, from the rise of ‘player killers’, doxxing and the toxicity of online gaming. Ironically (and appropriately) the series begins in the year 2017, and while people no longer use ‘ROFL’ and emails aren’t the primary correspondence of online users, there’s a lot that .hack accurately predicts, making for a very intriguing time capsule indeed.

Something that took my by surprise in the game was how incredible The World’s soundtrack was. Filled with sweeping, orchestral tracks, the music lent the game an epic, enchanting feel that aided the action throughout my adventure. Even wandering the roughly textured fields and dungeons of The World felt jaw-dropping and exciting when accompanied by the melodic harps and siren vocals of the score.

As each game totals around 20 hours, there’s plenty of content to explore within the Last Recode collection. That’s not even mentioning the sheer volume of extraneous lore available through the in-game ‘news’ system and mini documentaries. Any newcomers to the franchise may find the sheer amount of information overwhelming, but the game does a great job of spreading out its deep lore and providing much-needed context for the franchise.

Any fan of the franchise is sure to be delighted by this new collection, and having experienced it for the first time, I can honestly say that despite some odd graphics, it was worth the wait. While it may have been lost in the shuffle among a slew of brilliant October releases, it’s definitely worth taking the time to check out the Last Recode collection.

Review Score: 7.5/10
Highlights: Great story; Plenty of content to devour; Replicates the feel of an early 2000s MMPORG
Lowlights: Odd texturing and remastering; some repetitive quests; simplistic combat
Developer: CyberConnect2
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Release Date: Out Now
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC

Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro.