.Hack//G.U. Last Recode
An Anniversary Celebration
The .Hack series of JRPGs was released in the early 00's for the PlayStation 2 and developer Namco/Bandai is celebrating its 15 year anniversary by remastering the second trilogy in the beloved series. I'm still scratching my head and wondering why they didn't remaster the first trilogy in the series, but I've accepted the fact that I will most likely never have an answer to that question. I remember the series being popular among fans of the genre at the time of its release. Unfortunately, I can't say that the game has aged well and I ended up having an excruciatingly hard time playing it. Not because of a high difficulty or steep learning curve. To put it simply, the game was just plain boring. Even with a graphical facelift and several tweaks to the game's systems to make it feel more modern, I never found the game to be very engaging. Let's start with what was added to this remaster.
The developers of Last Re-code added several new features to this remastered collection. To start with, they upped the resolution to 1080p and locked the game's frame rate at a solid 60fps. They also added more detail to the game's environments and characters. Even with these improvements the game still shows its age clearly. Environments are very bland looking and during most of the game's many cinematics, the characters don't even move their mouths. This may not bother some gamers, but it annoyed me to death. Especially considering that the game occasionally gives us some absolutely stunning cinematics that look like they could pass as a native PS4 title. These completely rebuilt cinematics are stunning to behold and even feature characters with movable jaws; too bad there weren't many of these scenes to be found. Bandai/Namco also tweaked the user interface and made several improvements to the battle system. You can now start a battle over if you fail and the difficulty has been altered slightly to make things a bit easier. The speed of character movement has been increased and if you played the originals you will find that this release gives you a bigger inventory. There's also a new “cheat mode” that allows players to start the game with full stats as well as add exclusive party members to the game. The developers also advertise a brand new fourth entry on the game's box art and info, but I think that is a bit misleading. The brand new fourth chapter titled Reconnection is really just a very short epilogue to the main package. I was very disappointed at this because while each of the other three games took me around 20 hours to complete, I was able to finish Reconnection in under three hours. It was actually the most interesting game on the disc, but it was over just as I felt it had begun.
The Hunt For Tri-Edge
The story of Last Recode follows a computer gamer by the name of Haseo. Haseo plays an online MMORPG that goes by the name of “The World”. While questing with his friend Shino they are both attacked by another player nicknamed Tri-Edge and Shino is left in a coma in the real world. Haseo vows to get revenge and is found by a mysterious organization known as Raven. Raven enlists Haseo on a quest to wipe out a rampaging computer virus known as “AIDA” that is threatening “The World” and possibly the entire internet and the people that are connected to it. I think that the story's premise is very intriguing but never capitalized on. Once it started, it never grabbed me during my 60+ hour journey. There were a lot of small details that reminded me that I was not playing anything remotely like an online role-playing game. There weren't any screen names above any of the players' heads and there wasn't much interaction between “players” in “The World”. It took me out of the experience that the developers were going for. Top all of that off with the blandest cast of any JRPG that I've ever played (and I've played a lot) and you are setting yourself up for a nap.
The actual gameplay that makes up Last Recode, exploring towns/dungeons and fighting your way through hundreds of battles, is very hit or miss. Normally it's the world itself, the environments, towns, and dungeons that pull me into a JRPG even if its characters or story let me down. That wasn't the case this time. Not only were the story and characters bland but so was every single environment in the game. Over the course of my 60-hour adventure, I only explored four towns and they were all very dull. I saw the same handful of dungeon environments reused over and over throughout the course of my adventure. It became extremely repetitive very quickly. When I would load up a dungeon I always thought “Oh, this place again.” The combat system was the game's saving grace, but it didn't do enough to save the entire game. Battles take place on large maps and you are able to freely move your character about and string together awesome combos that are a sight to behold. While I enjoyed the combat, there wasn't any skill to it at all. If I ran into a difficult battle all I had to do was a bit of power-leveling and then I was able to wipe the floor with my enemies in seconds. The entire game follows a pattern. Adventure until you hit a roadblock. Level up for about half an hour and then pass said roadblock. Rinse and repeat for 60 hours or more. The game does give you awesome new forms and weapons as you progress, but by the time you get the good stuff you will be done with the game. The game offers you a ton of side quests to partake in, but they are just as mundane as the rest of the game. I never once received anything that was particularly noteworthy during my time side questing, so I ended up not putting much time into them during the second half of the game.
Overall, I think this series of games tried to be overly ambitious. It is a single tale that spans across three games and an epilogue. I feel that the story could have been told in half the time and only needed one game. Most of the game felt like filler in an anime and not the good kind. On paper, you'd think you were about to embark on a quest of the same scale as the Mass Effect series. Take one character across multiple games on a grand story. I wish the game was as good as it sounded. It was a chore for me to finish. I was bored out of my mind for the majority of it. While the combat was good, the entire game was dragged down by every other design aspect. This game is only for the most hardcore JRPG fanatics and if you are one of those I still would be hard pressed to recommend this title. There are so many other quality JRPGs available on the PS4 today. Get one of those instead.