By Alexander O. Cuaycong
IT’S difficult to pinpoint exactly how influential .hack (stylized in lower case and pronounced “dot hack”) has been as a series. Namco Bandai and Cyber Connect’s intellectual property has found its place not only in video games, but also in anime shows, light novels, manga, and even in collectible card games. With plenty of backstory and lore to draw from, and coming from such a respectable pedigree, it’s a wonder .hack//G.U. Last Recode took this long to come out.
Debuting on both the personal computer and the PlayStation 4 late last year, Last Recode is the complete remaster of the .hack//G.U. series of games. All three games (Rebirth, Reminisce, and Redemption) are completely intact and packaged together with Reconnection, a fourth never-before-seen episode. Alongside balance changes to gameplay and higher-resolution support and graphical fidelity, this makes Last Recode the definitive game to play if you wish to experience the .hack//G.U. series to the fullest.
And definitive it is. Last Recode is not only feature-complete; it also has extra content that was originally either promotional or missable. Things such as then-optional e-mail are now available for all to read, and the then-Special-Edition-only Terminal Disc is free to watch during key parts of the game. Anything and everything .hack//G.U.-related can be found in Last Recode.
This is part and parcel of Last Recode’s greatest strength: the story, which features Haseo, an otherwise-normal player of the popular online game The World who is singularly obsessed with a mysterious character named Tri-Edge. This obsession finds him joining a group called Project G.U., a band of players secretly recruited by the administrators of the game to “debug” it. As a member of the group, he learns that things aren’t as straightforward as they seem, and that something far greater is in the works. His continued pursuit of Tri-Edge thrusts him into a plot of living and thinking Artificial Intelligence, corporate greed, and self-realization, as he not only discovers things in The World, but also in himself.
As a Japanese role-playing game, this sounds like standard fare, but where Last Recode distinguishes itself is the sheer amount of lore and exposition available to peruse. Tons and tons of backstory — from in-game newscasts to e-mail to even fake Internet fora — can be found, and all of it optional. Last Recode even goes so far as to have an entire narrative based around The World itself, with a fictional story about dragons and gods creating The World and enabling the many “servers” to come into being. Sure, the characters are a bit campy and do tend to come out the wrong way, but the sheer intricacy and detail put into Last Recode’s background, and how the story is told, more than makes up for it.
Combat-wise, Last Recode sticks to the familiar. While the game forces you into playing Haseo and his Adept Rogue class, two of the multitude of Last Recode’s rich cast can be picked as party members to help you fight. And when Haseo gains the ability to switch weapons later on in the game, it’s a joy to breeze through the first time around. Following the massively multiplayer online RPG theme, fights place you out of the world and into an enclosed arena, where magic and skills are available for use, with skills changing depending on the weapon equipped. Hitting opponents repeatedly puts them into a vulnerable state, called Rengeki, where attacks do much more damage, interrupt enemy attacks and fill up a morale bar which can be used as a super buff during combat once filled.
Should the unlikely occur and boredom set in, Last Recode’s inclusion of Easter eggs such as Mecha Grunty, optional games such as Crimson VR, and even things like Lucky and Unlucky animals, story side-quests from NPCs and optional locations found in message boards, help add depth. For those seeking a challenge, there’s even an in-game arena where Rengekis and Counter-Rengekis are employed and add a nice change of pace to the gameplay.
Needless to say, your enjoyment of Last Recode depends on how immersed you are in the setting. The game’s a slow burn for the most part, and background on the past events of the earlier games and shows is essential for maximum enjoyment.
Pacing is also an issue in Last Recode, as story segments can drag on and on. It’s not uncommon for the game to layer a cutscene with another cutscene, and with these being essential to provide context to the plot, it can get to be a chore if you just wish to relax and shut your brain off. Combat sequences, while fun and exciting, can feel too same-y. And while dungeons are mostly randomized, the types of enemies encountered in game leave a lot to be desired. Combine this with minor Quality-of-Life issues such as items and magic spells being locked behind several menus in combat, and, even worse, magic spells not explicitly stating what they do, and you can get a little confused at times.
In short, all the concerns about the original .hack//G.U. trilogy are present in Last Recode, leading to a bit of a conundrum. Last Recode is definitely worth its price tag based on story and available content, but it nonetheless suffers from how “dated” its gameplay feels compared to more modern JRPG titles. While its flaws are not overtly glaring, they can detract from the experience if one doesn’t expect them, and they most definitely can kill the enjoyment of any player expecting Last Recode to play like Nier Automata or Tales of Berseria. It is a 12-year-old title brought up to snuff for modern systems, and its age shows.
In sum, .hack//G.U. Last Recode is highly recommended for anybody willing to play an OG JRPG. While it might not be perfect, it’s got enough content to last you a weekend and even more. Its rich storyline trumps a lot of minor issues you encounter. Given a little leeway, it can suck you in to its World quite easily, and never let you go.
Video Game Review
.hack//G.U. Last Recode
• Outstanding remaster of an old game
• Runs smoothly at all times
• Includes never-before-seen content alongside previously premium content
• Great backstory and setting, combined with decent fighting and companion systems
• Fairly expensive asking price
• Combat can get a bit monotonous
• Backstory-reliant, and heavily draws from its predecessors