Replay Value: 8
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Number Of Players: 1
In the vast industry of video games exists a breed of game which leaves big, unanswered questions at the very end. Sometimes these cliffhangers are appropriate, as they allow fans to theorize what happened after the last scene, such as The Last of Us, or contemplate a deeper meaning to the message of the whole experience in games like Journey. Sometimes, though, these moments remain as dead ends, leaving completionists without a sense of closure. It is quite possible that fans of the .hack//GU series were part of that second group for the last 10 years, but that all changes today.
.hack//G.U. Last Recode marks the 15th anniversary of the franchise and the 10th anniversary of the video game series, making this possibly the biggest debut for anything .hack related to date. Owners of the newest installment will be pleasantly surprised by such a great bundle. Last Recode features all three games in the original .hack//G.U. trilogy (Rebirth, Reminisce, and Redemption) with remastered visuals, widescreen support, new features and one final adventure for protagonist Haseo to embark on. Lucky fans of this franchise will not have to wonder any longer; your answers have finally arrived.
Ten Years Later...
I won’t claim to be a .hack expert. I’ve always wanted to get into the series but it ultimately fell to the wayside and was forgotten altogether. Fortunately for those who don’t want to research the series, .hack//G.U. Last Recode features videos that recap the story and dole out a ton of information. A nice feature for newcomers to the series, but for those trying to get their hands on new content I would recommend returning to it later.
As a general synopsis, our main character Haseo has just returned to an MMO called The World after a 15 month hiatus. This version of The World is currently experiencing server issues which periodically glitch the game. Upon logging in, Haseo also finds out the game will shut down in a few days, giving him limited time to complete the incredibly difficult task which brought him back. Ovan, a long time friend of Haseo, has been sealed inside the game, rendering his real body comatose. All attempts to awaken Ovan outside The World have failed, leaving Haseo with one possible solution. Being a previous champion of the MMO, Haseo believes that he alone has the potential to awaken Ovan from inside the game. What follows is a race against time as our hero fights to rescue an old friend from certain death.
Throughout the game, players will get to reconnect with old, familiar faces. All of Haseo’s friends greet him in the beginning and catch up with small talk. As the game continues, more friends come into the picture to aid in Haseo’s final mission, offering their services as a way of thanking the MMO for all the memories it gave them. Reconnecting with The World and old friends is an important theme in Last Recode, and that gave me a feeling of nostalgia as I compared it to my experience with games like Kingdom Hearts. Seeing characters emerge from a decade of silence felt appropriately heartwarming and somber as players return to a franchise they love. In a way, fans will share feelings with Haseo, separated from something they loved for so long that coming back for a such short time is bittersweet.
Of course not everyone in Last Recode is an old friend. With Ovan incapacitated and Haseo at wit’s end, a new arrival appears to help our hero complete his mission. Desperate for leads, Haseo happens upon a strange girl named Kusabira who claims to have a sibling in need of rescuing. Not much can be said about her without spoiling key plot points, but I will say this new character quickly became my favorite. Her odd style of speaking matter-of-factly and her inability to match faces to names creates some rather hilarious moments. Every time Kusabira hit the screen, with her mysterious theme music lulling in the background, I cracked a smile and waited for her to do something silly. She really was the sleeper character in this chapter.
A Fresh Coat
Returning fans will notice an improvement to the visual quality of this beloved franchise. Not only is Last Recode rendered in 1080p with higher resolution textures, but higher frame rates result in a much smoother gaming experience. Improved shadows and anti-aliasing provide a rich viewing experience that makes the last release feel ancient, and the cutscenes look amazing despite playing at sub-30 fps. At first I was bothered by it, as some players will be, however the style grew on me. Perhaps I was blinded by how beautiful each scene looked.
When games get a remaster, they don’t always get new features. Fortunately, CyberConnect2 and Bandai Namco didn’t slouch on Last Recode. If you feel like tackling Rebirth, Reminisce, Redemption and Last Recode simply for the story, you can load up each game on Cheat Mode, which allows players to cruise through the whole experience with maxed out stats and items. Dying is also much easier to cope with as players will have the option to retry a battle on the spot instead of getting kicked to the title screen. Overall, the movement and battle system has been tweaked to make the fights feel faster, more responsive and less clunky.
This wouldn’t be a proper addition to the series without some new duds and matching blades. Haseo will get to access a 5th form not yet available to him in other games. This form gets a darker look for our vigilante hero, a stylistic crossover of Sword Art Online and Devil May Cry, which is funny considering .hack and its themes laid the foundation for SAO. This long black coat and low-riding jean combo comes with a complementary crimson whip blade reminiscent of Ivy from Soul Calibur. If that still doesn’t scream “BAMF” for you, Haseo also gets 8 new skills to play with, all very important for squaring off against some of the tougher opponents that come later in the game. Each one gets its own start up animation (which can be canceled or toggled off) and works best against certain monsters, so experimenting with them will reward you speedsters out there for your hard work. If looking cool is more of your jam, leave those suckers on and watch the sparks fly.
The Terror of Death
Since I jumped right into Last Recode without any previous saves with .hack//G.U., the Haseo I was given was roughly level 135, with solid gear and more items than I could ever use. I don’t think customizing him was really even an option at that point, which was a bit sad from a gaming standpoint, but considering I was racing against time to save my friend, playing RPG dress up seemed a bit superfluous. I encountered a lot of party members at one time as well, all with their own motives and interests. Without any context of what they and Haseo had been through, I was simply stuck with choosing to bring 2 of 8 options out for questing, with more options to come. For returning fans, the choice may be easy, but newcomers will have to try each ally out to find their ideal build. I liked Alkaid for her spunk and fighting style.
New fans may also find it hard to get up to speed on the story and the pace of Last Recode. Being such a story driven series, I was surprised by how long it took before I could actually take a swing at something. The combat took some getting used to. It is much simpler than it first appears, but I was slightly overwhelmed for my first few bouts. Once I understood the mechanics of the game, however, I became a devastating fighter who lived for the shout of “Ren Geki!”. As previously mentioned, my Haseo was a real champ. I breezed through most of my encounters with high hit combos and hardly any damage taken. And then Last Recode got unapologetically difficult.
Towards the end of the chapter I noticed that my fights were getting more challenging by the minute. At times I actually feared I would have to restart the mission, something I thought might never happen. The difficulty wasn’t Dark Souls hard, but at one point I was stomping three enemies at once, and at another point three enemies were stomping me at once while I stood paralyzed and unable to access the items necessary to fix said paralysis. Furthermore, at that point I also noticed some skills and combos were more reliable than others, effectively cutting my fighting options in half. This lead to a stale visual experience since I had to watch the same 3 animations wind up while I gripped my controller with sweaty palms and prayed my party member might have another healing item for me.
With all that in mind, I still enjoyed Last Recode for all its major highlights. Friendship, determination and perseverance seemed to resonate from the story, even if all those are a bit cliche for anime. The music was on point all the way up to the end. It captured the wonder of an MMO and the desperation of hoping you are strong enough to save your friends. Each cutscene was wonderfully rendered and gave me a new appreciation for 3D anime. While the English voice acting was great for some characters, a handful of supporting characters either lacked heart or seemed a bit cringey. Even still, there were some very good voice actors who drove their performances all the way home (looking at you, Kusabira).
The Final Form
.hack//G.U. Last Recode will definitely be a welcomed finale to a long loved series. Although incredibly short in comparison to all the other installments, with a completion time of about 4 hours if you hone in on the campaign and fight everything, it does seem a bit disappointing to have such a short lived ending. However, considering the context of the game, Haseo can’t go on a full fledged 24 hour campaign like in previous volumes, so the length seems understandably justified. Some elements in the story hinted at the possibility for expansion, however with The World being in the midst of destruction it is unlikely that any inclusions to Haseo’s adventures will occur in this version of the MMO.
Last Recode has its highs and lows, but overall I think that as a bundle it has a great amount of value to it. Players have the ability to play as Haseo and go to different areas after the main quest indefinitely, allowing fans to live out the last days of The World R2 forever, or play high definition versions of their favorite decade old game. Regardless, the closure that Last Recode brings is probably the greatest feature this title could bring, and that means we can rest a little easier tonight..hack//G.U. Last Recode takes 10 years of emotions and puts it into one attack, and I think it will hit our hearts a bit harder than we expected.