With the re-release of these updated .hack games, I must say that playing through all them takes a great deal of dedication. I was one of the few and proud that waded through the first set of games, but in retrospect, I can only wonder why? Sure, the ending was pretty good. And there was plenty to do past the ending with loads of unlockables. But still, the vast majority of the time spent on the game was repetitive dungeon crawling or grabbing virus cores. Well, I’m at it again, diving head-long into .hack//G.U. Vol. 3: Redemption. I believed that things were going to be daunting to the point where the gameplay wouldn’t be good enough to make it worth playing through but, I must say, this game is surprisingly good.
Redemption picks up shortly after the events of Vol. 2: Reminisce. The World, the MMORPG which the entire .hack// anthology takes place, is still being terrorized by hordes of Player-Killers (PKs) and people are still being sucked into comas by some crazy virus/AI/bane of humanity in the game (there’s a more-detailed plot summary in the preview for this game). Anyway, Haseo has been trying to hunt down a guy named Tri-Edge (the guy who looks like Kite, the protagonist from the first .hack// series), and apparently succeeded, only to find out that he wasn’t really Tri-Edge…but it was actually that guy, Ovan (one of the leads in the game), was really Tri-Edge. Confusing, yes, but the details become more obvious as time goes on. I’m not familiar enough with the story to go into an extreme level of depth, but the game focuses in on the pursuit of Ovan but still has lots of breathing room for side-quests, character development and item hunting. Though there’s plenty of craziness when it’s thought that all this takes place in an MMORPG.
The gameplay is what’s most impressive in Redemption. Characters, like in most other RPGs, have HP and SP (same thing as MP, for the Final Fantasy fans). Redemption plays fairly similarly to the original .hack// games, but expands upon pretty much everything. Attacking is still done with the X button, but it isn’t limited to simply that. Special attacks are done by tapping into SP. Quite possibly the biggest improvement in the battle system is how, instead of being accessed by opening up a menu, toggling around and going from there, are mapped to one of the face buttons through the character menus, then accessed by holding R1 mid-battle. This makes battle feel infinitely smoother, and less choppy than the original series’ constant stop-and-go battling. Haseo’s job class allows him to use multiple weapons, as well, and switches between scythes, dual-daggers, broadswords and guns by using special attacks. Thankfully, each weapon has its own unique feel, which greatly lowers the monotony of battle. There is also a “super attack” meter, which builds over time and, when it reaches max, can be just thrown out for big damage.
The most unique aspect of the series still lies in its unique MMORPG imitation. There is fictional e-mailing, where you can send and receive serious and recreational e-mails from your party members, as well as sending greeting cards to your party members. News reports, accompanied with full text articles, pictures, and occasionally movies, that touch on both game-related news and random IRL (but not actual real life, .hack// real life) events like recalls on automotive navigational systems and reports on the development of 3d monitors. There is even a fake TV series with investigative reporters investigating the comas related to the game-in-the-game. All of which are meticulously crafted in a well-done menu system. There is also a forum, complete with 1337, lol, spoiler tags, emoticons, smack-talk and newbs. It’s really remarkable just how much Namco-Bandai packed into this game, and adds a whole lot to the experience as a whole. And this doesn’t even actually get into the gameplay! The game takes place across three cities on three different servers, which players can move between at will. The cities all have people running around, talking with each other, logging in and out, and asking for trades. You have your own “Mog House” (called an @Home) for storing items and a near-infinite number of areas to explore.
Graphically, the game isn’t especially notable, with generally moderate quality across the board. It was probably an acceptably well-done game in Japan when it first came out, but between the PS3, 360 and Wii generation, there are some better looking PS2 games (Kingdom Hearts 2 and God of War) in-particular. The sound, however, is simply great. The voice acting is top-notch, though a bit melodramatic (mainly because, once again, all this epic hopes-and-dreams talk and other insanity takes place in an MMORPG). The music, which was one of the weakest points of the original game series, in harsh contrast to the quality tunes found in the anime, has been greatly improved, complete with actual, non-midi pianos and violins.
This series is quite possibly the biggest surprise of the PS2’s final years. While there was plenty of reason to believe this to be a typical, half-assed license game, the .hack//G.U. series is actually a quality group of RPGs, that fans of the genre who’re still reluctant to upgrade should check out. However, playing the first two //G.U. games really is a near-necessity for this game, both of which are actually fairly rare (though if you act soon, you can get the first two off Amazon for under fifty dollars). But keep in mind, it does end up being about eighty dollars for about an equal number of hours of gameplay (though, there still aren’t many games that actually last that long anymore). Either way, this is something worth checking out for people who still are committed to their PS2, or PS3 fans desperate for an RPG fix.