.hack//G.U. Last Recode Review

The PlayStation 2 had an incredibly strong library of Japanese role-playing games, but one of my favorite series from the era wasn’t Final Fantasy, Suikoden, Dragon Quest, or Kingdom Hearts. Rather, I fell in love with CyberConnect2’s .hack//G.U., a trilogy of games set within a virtual-reality MMO called The World. It felt unique from the flood of fantasy RPGs, and the dedication to its theme was wonderfully immersive in 2006. More than a decade later, Bandai Namco has released a remaster of all three games dubbed Last Recode. And I couldn’t have been more excited to log back into The World, at a time when similarly set franchises have peaked, to discover if its magic still resonates with me after all these years.

The G.U. trilogy follows Haseo, a young but infamous player-killer killer. Haseo’s primary target isn’t just any PK’er, however. He’s desperately searching for the mysterious Tri-Edge, a silent, ominous foe whose in-game victims into comas in real life. But Tri-Edge is just one of numerous phenomena that even the game’s developer, CC Corp, can’t explain.

The plot holds up remarkably well, in large part due to the likeable cast and the personal journey Haseo takes with them. He begins as a rude and solitary personality. He’s dismissive of other players and his responses can be downright immature. But seeing him grow over the course of three whole games and recognizing the value of his friendships is rewarding, especially because the series isn’t shy of dealing with issues of loneliness.

There are overly dramatic characters and moments, but I had forgotten that while Haseo is most certainly a jerk, he’s not stupid. He’ll call other players out on their nonsense, as well as asking persons of authority the questions we’re all thinking at the time. It’s a trait I appreciate in a JRPG protagonist, and one I don’t believe I’ve seen often enough.

The core mystery of G.U. is amplified further by what might be one of the best examples of world building in a game. When logged in and running around as Haseo, you can chat and trade with other NPCs. You can run a guild shop. Friends can be invited into your party. But when you “log out,” you’re met with a virtual desktop. This blew my mind back in 2006, and what you can do there, the attention to detail, and how it integrates into the main game hasn’t been matched by much or anything since.

For example, Haseo’s allies will often send him e-mails. You can both read and choose a response to important messages. Appropriate replies are just one way you can increase a character’s Affection status (to the result of better trade deals, skill damage, and marriage potential). Aside from the the e-mail client, there are simulated messages boards where can you find game-related topics, fan art threads full of wallpapers to download for the desktop, news discussions, off-topic threads, and more. There’s even an “official” website for The World with its own forum to peruse. They’re all updated regularly, and can provide helpful hints and access to new locations in the game. The localization team did an amazing job making every post feel authentic.

Less obviously important but still impressive are the news articles, optional card game, and additional customization options (background music, colors, etc.) present on the desktop. The news site is full of local and international stories across a range of topics, some of which feature animated video clips. They all help to build up the G.U. universe and the people in it. Additionally, it was amusing to read some of the articles and discover how prescient they are to today’s stories.

But what about running around The World itself? CyberConnect2 has done an excellent job improving its look and feel beyond a simple resolution increase. Textures, lighting, and character models have been enhanced. The aspect ratio has been bumped up from 4:3 to 16:9. Colors are richer, as well. It’s an all-around sharp, detailed presentation. And if you’re playing on the PC, the port supports resolutions up to 4K. There aren’t too many settings to play around with, but fans of dual audio will rejoice as Last Record includes a Japanese option. The original Western release only featured the English dub. Strangely, however, they didn’t do much to reduce pop-in. Enemies and environmental objects, such as grass, will instantly appear at pretty much the same distance as the PlayStation 2 version.

Battles in G.U. are relatively simplistic. You generally press or hold one button to attack, another to block, and then use the shoulder buttons for accessing mappable skills. Thankfully, Haseo’s progressive access to new abilities, forms, and weapons help to keep the fights engaging enough over the course of several games. It’s decent, though it can feel a little dated. That said, combat has been given some notable tweaks. I greatly appreciate the speed at which battles are now fought. Last Recode increases damage dealt and EXP gained, and gone are the annoying animation pauses after each hit.

Fighting enemies is serviceable, but the means to access the fields and dungeons in which they roam continues to be a neat mechanic. Environments are generated using strings of words. Each word acts as a modifier that alters locations, quests, monsters, rewards, and levels. If you go the aforementioned forums, you can also find new words. I was always excited to learn and see the result of various combinations, then and now, despite the fact that the randomly generated fields can be a bit sparse.

Last but not least, CyberConnect2 created an entirely new story volume for Last Recode that serves as an epilogue to the series. It’s only a few hours long, but it’s a wonderful, final send off to a great set of games. And if you just want to play Last Recode for the story, a cheat mode outfits you with all the best weapons, items, and a high level to do so.

The one aspect of G.U. that perhaps hasn’t aged so well is its save system. You’re going to want to set aside proper time to play Last Recode. The wait between watching a cutscene or traveling through a dungeon and reaching a save point can be lengthy, and Last Recode does not include autosaves. It’s an omission that is sometimes keenly felt. At the very least, you can skip cutscenes if you ever lose progress.

The .hack//G.U. trilogy was one of my absolute favorite sagas ten years ago, and playing it again in high resolution has been an absolute joy. CyberConnect2 has delivered an incredibly polished remaster that goes above and beyond base expectations. And by and large, the mechanics and world building more than hold up to today’s standards. Whether you’re a previous fan or dying for a new JRPG to play, Last Recode is the perfect excuse to log into The World.

Full disclosure: A copy of the game was provided for this review.