by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
The .hack// series is revolutionary in its own way. It was a refreshing, unique window into the world of MMORPGs. Having a singleplayer game that was set within the boundaries of an MMO was fascinating and makes me sad but also furious, that we never saw the .hack// MMO that came out in the Japan/SEA area. So, now we have .hack//G.U. – Last Recode which is a graphical remake of all three G.U. games, and in addition, there is a fourth chapter added to the game, which could make it all tie together nice and neat (Vol. 4//Reconnection). What I really enjoy about this series though, is that it’s a genuine look into how MMOs are perceived (and how they really were) to the people who lived in them. All the tropes and bases are covered: People who share an account/character (Sakubo), the guy who flirts with every girl (Kuhn), the older guy/girl who has fantastic speech but a super fanservice character model (Pi). You have the people who work on the game and lurk in the shadows (people in Raven, Piros) and a whole slew of PKer assholes, and the assholes who PK them (most of the bad guys, and then Haseo).
Everyone plays MMOs for different reasons. Some people can’t leave their homes and find beauty in the digital world. Some just like to level, kill and make other people feel bad. It’s fascinating. One of the things that are really profound about this game is that Haseo wonders to himself that if perhaps he was not tricked and PKed on his very first day in “The World”, maybe he’d be like Atoli; just enjoying the world, exploring and finding pleasure in it. Instead, he hunts other PKers that pick on weak players/noobs. He’s the PKK, “The Terror of Death”. People really call him that. It’s a stupid nickname, but he has fanart on the forums, and his name is spoken with reverence/fear. But this is how MMOs were in the early 2000s. Hell, that’s how they still are. Well, I guess the word “noob” or “pwning noobs” is used less. That’s more of a MOBA thing these days, I suppose. But something is amiss in “The World”, and Haseo is one of the special characters, after being Data Drained. His character is special and can wield the power of the mysterious Avatar/Ephitets. Tri-Edge is lurking and murdering people. Anyone he kills goes into a coma in real life.
.hack//G.U. is a fantastic title, and it’s much prettier than it was on PS2. That doesn’t make the PS2 version crappy, but it’s a title that was definitely worthy of a remaster/remake. Is some of the dialogue dated? Sure. Is the difficulty the same? Absolutely. Is Haseo so mean and rude and frustrating that you want to wrap your hands around his neck and bloody strangle him for yelling at Atoli? He’s easily the worst main character of any RPG I have ever played. Sure, he comes around and receives some character development. Everyone does, really. But it takes forever, and some of his dialogue is pretty damn hard to listen to. Haseo is what happens when you play a game with open PKing for the first time. It can really ruin your experience. There are a lot of people who have played games like that (say, Ultima Online) and after being tricked, killed and robbed, they never come back. But it has all the things that made the original special (and it’s predecessor) with forums, official and community, the PVP Arena, the whole cast of characters, customization, challenging dungeons and a gripping story.
Out of all the RPGs I played on the Playstation 2, .hack// and .hack//G.U. are some of the absolute best. The way the game is played is pretty simple. You are Haseo and meet other players to do dungeons and tackle PVP, by sending them in-game invites. You can build your relationships with them, despite being an absolute bell-end, through emails and postcards. You enter dungeons using the Chaos Gate. You can combine “Keywords” to create conditions/level suggestions/elements in these dungeons. You either have to Fight a Boss, Get the treasure at the Beast Statue, or Reach the Temple with the Symbol Fragments. Some of these are overland, some are underground (some have multiple levels).
The puzzles in them are pretty simple, the traps are not hard to avoid. You’ll see the enemies coming and you can sneak up/sneak attack them with X. Combat’s simple, using X to attack, R1 to activate skills, Square for your Beast Awakening (Morale Bar is full). If you see an enemy flash purple, you can hit them with a skill for your Ren Geki art (which also gives bonus exp at the end of combat), so don’t spam skills! They have a slight cooldown. You combo attacks together, loop around and break guard, and build three-person teams that complement what you can do. You can gift your squadmates gear to equip when they get in range, and while it’s a little hard to get money in the first few hours of the game, that changes before you know it. It’s four games total, so there is plenty of content. This is not a title you’ll beat in one sitting, and you don’t have to play one of them if you don’t want to. As each part has a level cap (50, 100, 150, etc), if you start a new file without having a file for the one before it, it will start you at the minimum level (the cap for the previous game), so you don’t have to fret about that so much. But I recommend playing them all in order. That means it will be a while until you get to the new content, but it will be worth the wait. I promise.
This is again, gorgeous and plays very smoothly. Most of the time. I had some pretty serious (but rare) lag spikes/slowdowns in the game, which appear to be tied to the framerate. As long as the game is moving at 60fps, everything is fine. But if you get to a cutscene/moment of the game that moves at 30fps, it’s going to slow down horribly, and will probably do so for several minutes. It feels kind of lazy and really made me think my PS4 was dying until I talked to my boss (whose husband is playing the game at the same time) and was in the process of troubleshooting the problem I was actually having at the same time! So we figured that much out. The World still feels kind of empty, and part of me kind of hoped to see more NPCs running around in the PS4 version of The World. That didn’t happen, which is probably for the sake of keeping the title true to the original, which I appreciate. But, I won’t lie: I was hoping. You aren’t free to do as you please all of the time though. Players won’t always be free to party with you, which gates who you can/cannot bring to quests/missions, so don’t just play with two people all the time. This is an MMO! Make friends! Though personally, there are characters I like more than others. Piros the 3rd, Pi, Ovan (Ovan for the main character please), Endrance, Sakubo. But there are plenty of characters for any strengths/weaknesses you feel you have.
I love .hack//G.U., and as gaming press, I have an all-new appreciation for it. I’d recommend anyone who played MMOs in the early 2000s to go back and play this and think back to how you or someone you know treated others in them. It really is a fascinating, and sobering look at how far we’ve come as a community (Spoiler Warning: It’s not very far). One of the most compelling things I’d argue is that the main character is not likable at all. At least not at first. It’s going to take a few discs to really like him, but I promise it happens. Eventually. But he’s what happens when a dumpster-fire part of a community hits someone who just needed someone to talk to or help them learn the ropes instead of killing them and making fun of them. For new people, it’s even got a desktop with folders to browse, forums to peruse, where you can find more keywords/dungeons to explore, lots of secrets, cool weapons, items, and skills.
It does require grinding because it is an MMO, but it’s not an unenjoyable grind. You can create dungeons using keywords, make random ones, complete quests, and trade with other “players” in The World if you think they might have something you could use that’s not in the shops. Don’t think of it as “just a PS2 remake”, because .hack is stronger than that. There’s a lot of value to be had in .hack//G.U. and I hope that it’s sales do well and we see my personal favorite, the original .hack quadrilogy will get a remake. It’ll need considerably more love than the G.U. did, but it would be worth it. Or maybe a Key of Twilight series on the PS4? Maybe? Just a thought. But it’s a terrific update to a wonderful series. .hack//G.U. is absolutely worthy of your attention as both an “MMO” and an Action RPG.