Warning: Being a direct sequel, this review may contain spoilers of the previous game, .hack//G.U. Vol.1//Rebirth.
Haseo’s virtual rite of passage adventure in “The World” continues as we, the players, experience it in .hack//G.U. Vol.2//Reminisce. Like the original four-part .hack series, G.U.2 picks up immediately from where the last game left off.
Haseo’s won the title of “Emperor” in the Demon Palace Tournament by defeating Endrance, but despite this success, everything around him is falling apart. He isn’t sure who to trust among his mysterious allies, particularly G.U. project leader Yata and long-time friend Ovan. His chief nemesis, the enigmatic entity “Tri-Edge,” appeared briefly at the end of the last installment and did some damage to the game’s heroine, Atoli. At the start of this game, it seems that she’s lost feeling in her right arm (in both real life and in game), and she can’t speak in-game either.
All sorts of other AIDA-related phenomena start to crop up, and it doesn’t take long for Haseo and crew to realize what’s happened; by extracting information from the players and the server, AIDA has created a mirror server where everyone is stuck and unable to log out.
So the game begins with our team facing this nightmare of an obstacle. However, this is merely the prologue to the story of Reminisce. Yes, Haseo and friends will save the day, but there’s no telling what this experiment (being controlled by an unknown entity named AIDA) means for the people playing “The World.”
Before you know it, Haseo is wrapped up in helping others in a seemingly unrelated quest: he’ll help former rival Alkaid in the Holy Palace Tournament and will strive to dethrone the current Emperor, Sirius. To do this, Haseo leaves his position as “Demon Palace” Emperor so he can compete in the second of the three possible tournaments. I think we can all guess at what will happen in Vol. 3, as there’s still the “Sage Palace Tournament” left unconquered.
Reading this brief description, you may not be impressed with the plot presented in this game. I wouldn’t be either. But, the charm to the .hack world, particularly this time around in G.U., is the presentation and execution. Between the game’s real events, there are plenty of side experiences that enrich the story, rather than merely “distract” the player. Boosting your guild rank, taking on quests, reading the news and community forums, talking with the NPCs in town, all of these things bring a depth to CyberConnect2’s creation that we rarely see in RPGs these days. Observant players will note the connections between, say, Salvador Aihara’s investigative program “Online Jack” and the events of Reminisce, some of which were foreshadowed in Rebirth. It’s also fun to attempt to identify players of “The World” when reading posts in the Communtiy Forums, or occasionally, hearing about them in the news. It’s difficult, but the clues are there so that people can make the connections.
It’s rare that a story does not have a meta-message, or a moral teaching, behind it. For G.U. as a whole, it’s safe to say that this is a rite of passage tale, in which Haseo (and his friends) must “grow up.” And what of those who don’t grow up? It’s very important to make the connections between this convincing Online world and the real world. When you realize that, say, your enemy is a twelve year-old boy obsessed with ideas of control and power, it can send shivers down your spine. This age/identity bending also helps to account for the extreme levels of angst, immaturity and impatience shown by many players.
With the cast of playable characters doubled plus decent dialogue and clever presentation, I’d safely say that in terms of the story arc, G.U.2 is more engaging than its predecessor on all counts (except maybe the ending, which is so sudden that it’s less of a cliffhanger and more of a “what the hell?!”). To RPG fans who are intrigued by games with interesting plot concepts and convincing character interaction, check this one out.
All it takes is a quick look at this game, and you’ll probably agree that its graphics are excellent for a late era PlayStation 2 title. Some people may be turned off by the characters’ cartoony designs, particularly in their facial expressions, but honestly, it works well for a game that attempts to simulate an MMORPG.
The environments are beautiful. I had to dock a few points, however, for a continued lack of new environments. Regular dungeons expanded from four types to six, which simply isn’t enough variety to draw back eye candy lovers. Some may find solace in many of the newly-introduced “Hidden Forbidden” special areas, as well as the new town of Dol Dona, but as for me, I wanted more.
A further problem with the environments, in my opinion, is the lack of interactivity. As you probably know, the game has no jumping or flying of any sort during the exploration, and unless there’s a clearly marked hill or stairway, you won’t be doing any vertical movement: it’s all on a horizontal plane. Yuck. What I wouldn’t give to have an epic fight on the top of one of those gorgeous statues/landmarks in the distance of many different areas.
I suspect that the in-game exploration, with everything that it lacks, is something the developers decided wasn’t necessarily important. More important to them, I’d suppose, were the well-directed cut scenes. This game sports some lovely action sequences, complete with complex camera work and plenty of detail to everything in sight. The total number of “movies” in the game adds up to about 30 minutes and they alone make the game worth a rental to anyone who likes good 3D art.
Chikayo Fukuda and team are back, as usual, sporting some new tunes alongside the old ones in Reminisce. Compositionally, it’s more of the same, which is to say, more great music! Anyone who enjoys the female choir pieces in .hack will be enthralled by the many variations of the usual themes found in choir-esque form, along with some all new pieces to catch the ear! Besides the choir tracks, there are also plenty of lovely synth tunes to keep your TV’s volume up high. The town music in Dol Dona was right up there with what we heard in Mac Anu (introduced in Vol.1//Rebirth). Audiophiles will be pleased.
The voice actors aren’t too shabby, either, though it’s obvious where some actors were used to voice multiple characters (a suspicion I had confirmed during the game’s end credits). The majority of the lines go to Haseo and Atoli, though Alkaid, Sakubo, and Endrance also have their time on stage to show their stuff. I was really impressed by how well the actor behind Endrance understood the character. Though the translation could have been better for his lines, the delivery was spot on! Haseo and Atoli, having as many lines as they do, were naturally hit or miss. Sometimes they were convincing, other times it was well over the top.
If you don’t see the humor in the game’s title (that you find the word “hack” and the character for “slash” in it), then you probably don’t know much about the genre. It’s a hack and slash Action RPG from start to finish with one special condition: when entering a battle, a dome-like barrier is put up around you so that you aren’t swamped by enemies (it’s usually 3 vs. 3). Battles become more exciting throughout this volume as Haseo becomes more powerful and begins wielding more weapons and finding more reason to change from one weapon to another as time goes on.
Like any MMORPG, “The World” continually undergoes transformations and improvements. In Reminisce, we see simulated manifestations of those improvements. For starters, the online card game “Crimson Vs” is finally up and running for players to try out… it’s an interesting mini-game, but only people who really choose to devote themselves to it will find their way to the top rank. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Motorcycle customization, equipment alchemizing (important for space-saving), additional “Awakening” modes, and rare weapons with unique abilities are all added to “The World” in this installment.
And here’s the good news: a minimal play through the game will take no more than 20 hours, but those who enjoy everything the game has to offer will get a good 50 hours of enjoyment from this game before saying “hey, where’s Volume 3?” So, bare-bones, story-driven players can finish the game quickly and enjoy it for what it is without having too many long, drawn-out dialogues to sit through (i.e. if you don’t like Xenosaga, you might like .hack//G.U.). Likewise, those who want to continue to enjoy “The World” will have plenty of reason to do so, including the added bonus of being an extremely high level when they finally do get their hands on Vol.3//Redemption.
All in all, what Reminisce presents in terms of gameplay is the same formula as Vol.1, but with little improvements here and there to spice up the gameplay and keep it from getting old. I’d call that a worthy investment, and clearly an improvement over the original series’ gameplay evolution (which was, for all intents and purposes, non-existant).
There weren’t any changes here. The game plays and feels exactly the same it did last time around. Last time I gave it an 80%, so I’m sticking to this score. Everything you’d expect, from shortcut commands for weapon abilities to first-person 360 degree camera usage, is all present and accounted for.
The sales figures of the original, four-part .hack series demonstrate an important fact: trying to tell one small story across four games is unappealing and unfair. By the time Vol.4 had come, very few people wanted to pay the retail price they had paid for Vol.1. When the first volume of G.U. was out, plenty of people enjoyed it, but the question remained: what will the other two volumes bring? Will it be at all worth pursuing (and purchasing)?
It’s a bold statement, but I think the answer is yes. The plot is compelling, the combat is exciting, and the aesthetics are excellent as always. Furthermore, the game’s apparent brevity is not a problem if all you want is a chance to explore everything the programmers put into the game. Time will tell if the series’ conclusion is satisfying enough to consider the G.U. series a success, but these first two volumes suggest that CyberConnect2 has heeded the cries of their fans and given the level of content desired in each installment.
By improving on the first volume in nearly every respect, I offer an improved score to Vol.2//Reminisce. The game gets an 86% from a reviewer who’s completed well over one hundred RPGs and still finds much worth in this particular game. The series’ scope is large enough to make a three-part series; it is not some cheap trick to make money off of multi-part sales, of this I am certain.