.hack//G.U. Last Recode Review
To review .hack//G.U. Last Recode, one must also review .hack. Pronounced “dot hack,” the franchise is a series about playing video games. But it’s also a series about why people play video games—and how far they’d go if their virtual escape became a very real threat. Before Sword Art Online brought the idea of getting stuck in a video game to the popular consciousness, .hack did it first. The franchise stretches across mediums, but .hack//G.U. Last Recode’s Switch version presents four connected games and the associated lore in one economic package.
.hack//G.U. Last Recode collects the .hack//G.U. games, which are technically sequels to the original four .hack games. However, in practice, it’s a completely standalone story. These games focus on Haseo, a dedicated player of the in-universe VR MMO game The World. He’s introduced as a naïve new player to The World, but soon becomes a legendary PKK—a player killer killer who attacks online bullies. However, after his friend Shino is put into a real-life coma by the mysterious player Tri-Edge, he’s reborn as a vengeful shadow of himself. Now he’s on a quest for very real vengeance that will take over his life, in and outside of The World.
.hack//G.U. Last Recode is a Blast From the Past
.hack//G.U. Last Recode comes with four games: Vol. 1 Rebirth, Vol 2. Reminisce, Vol. 3 Redemption, and the Last Recode-exclusive title Vol. 4 Reconnection. Additionally, the Terminal Disc adds 12 chapters of extra lore unlocked by progressing through the main storyline. Finally, it includes Parody Mode, a collection of funny scenes riffing on the series’ anime melodrama. The whole game features around 90 hours of gameplay total.
The story begins when Haseo’s estranged friend Ovan tells him that anyone Tri-Edge PKs goes into a coma in real-life. Likewise, killing Tri-Edge in the game could bring them back. Haseo’s first attempt at killing Tri-Edge gets his character data drained and reduced to level 1. To regain his hard-earned reputation and stand a chance of reviving Shino, he’ll have to start all over. On the way, he’ll have to re-learn the importance of friendship. And he’ll also dive deeper into The World than ever before. A strange power is growing inside his hacked character. Like it or not, Haseo is now part of The World. The question is what he’ll do with that power.
Right off the bat, .hack//G.U. Last Recode does an excellent job of making you feel like you’re playing an MMO. The World’s mechanics are just familiar enough to make MMO gamers feel at home while still adding some cyberpunk flavor. Server changes, discovering new in-game areas, and even investigating forums all play a role in this title. Haseo talking to himself over his desktop and the ability to surf the net are very immersive. The game does make some questionable storytelling decisions, however.
Video Games inside of Video Games
Gameplay-wise, .hack//G.U. Last Recode is an action RPG that imitates the style of a classic MMO. However, it’s as much a cinematic experience as it is a video game. The graphics have been remastered, but it’s still clear that these games were originally released for the PS2. However, this actually adds to their timeless feel since the games already take place in an MMO. It’s hard to be upset about same face syndrome when two characters using very similar avatars is a plot point.
Some cutscenes have definitely not been updated. However, the graphics were designed with a certain faded grandeur that has aged surprisingly well. While a number of cutscenes have been left unaltered, the visual design is just as lush as the music. Level designs are sprawling and feature distinct color schemes and design elements.
As you might expect, the voice acting is somewhat dated, but Yuri Lowenthal still delivers a solid performance as Haseo. Most of the other major players are also pretty good. Unfortunately, Atoli’s voice is very annoying. Not all lines are voiced, but most of them are. The sound design is also solid. Haseo’s armor clinks with each step in heavily-armed forms and the attacks sound incredibly satisfying. The game’s gorgeous orchestral soundtrack helps it stand out from both other action RPGs and MMOs in general.
Play Your Convoluted Cyberpunk Anime
.hack//G.U. Last Recode does an amazing job of simulating the experience of playing MMOs. Watching players warp in and of existence and run around on their own is fascinating. So is having other characters accuse post-Data Drain Haseo of roleplaying as himself. The core gameplay loop consists of sessions of playing an MMO and then exploring the surrounding culture. In other words, you spend as much time replying to emails, conducting research, and trawling fictional websites as you do playing the game. Fans of unfiction, metafiction, and other forms of nested storytelling will have a blast.
I won’t pretend that .hack//G.U. Last Recode is for everyone. Don’t play this game if you dislike doing a lot of reading or trawling internet forums. However, it offers an incredible experience if you’re willing to do the homework. Gamers interested in a weird cyberpunk experience focusing on a fictional video game should give this collection a chance. There’s nothing out there quite like .hack. If you’re up for something weird, lore-heavy, and retro in the best kind of way, I can’t recommend this title enough.
All in all, if you enjoy anime and story-heavy JRPGs, you’ll probably enjoy this title as well. If you prefer games that feature better gameplay to cutscene ratios, you should probably play something else.
***Switch code provided by the publisher***
- Timeless visual design
- Incredible story
- Multi-layered gameplay
- Delicious cyberpunk metafiction
- Old-school JRPG goodness
- Dated cutscenes
- Questionable storytelling choices
- Big empty levels
- Block is B-button instead of bumper