Warning: Being a direct sequel, this review may contain spoilers of the previous games, .hack//G.U. Vol.1 and Vol.2.
It’s here. The conclusion to the RPG series that chronicles the events of the fictional MMORPG “The World R:2” is here. Is it worth your attention? Was it worth the attention fans gave to previous installments to go through the previous titles so that they could arrive at this conclusion? Good question…
And I’m not sure if I can answer it.
It is a reviewer’s job to be objective; well, at least partially objective. There is no escaping bias, but in my case the bias may be strong. When you’ve spent so much time with a game (or, in this case, three games that take place in the same simultaed MMO), it’s easy to grow attached to it, ignore the flaws, and to focus on what was most enjoyable. Perhaps I am doing that. Or perhaps, the G.U. series was a decent and legitimate addition to the “.hack” universe, a far cry from the tedious repetition of the original four-part series.
It’s the year 2017, seven years after the events of the original .hack games. CyberConnect Corp. has gone back to the drawing board and created a new MMORPG. Except, it’s not too different from the last one. Now, rather than playing “The World,” gamers would have the chance to play in “The World R:2.” As in, version 2. Part 2. Whatever you like.
And that’s been the setting for the G.U. series up to this point. You control Haseo, an angsty teen who’s got himself into more trouble than he’d bargained for, and now has the weight of “The World” on his shoulders. Originally, in Vol.1, we saw that Haseo stuck it out after having his character “data drained” (basically, hacked), thus losing all levels and gear he had acquired in the game. Not only that, but he had lost a good friend, a female player named Shino, due to the strange events of the game. Indeed, the real human being that controlled Shino had become comatose (for the uninitiated, this is a common formula for .hack plots; MMORPG + you = coma). Haseo stuck around because his mysterious mentor and leader, Ovan, believed he could help Shino and others with this whole “coma” problem. Of course, the truth was strange, fascinating, and twisted, though not much different from what was presented in the old .hack titles.
Haseo also gets mixed up with a group of elite players, some of them employees of CyberConnect, that call themselves the “G.U.”, created to seek out and eradicate data anomalies, particularly a strange phenomenon known as AIDA. So Haseo and his new friends play “The World” in an unconventional way, all the while using secret (perhaps illegal?) “Avatars” to defeat their targets.
During the course of Vol.1 and Vol.2, Haseo and crew fight their way through two of the three arena tournaments, and they also uncover some disturbing secrets about the game and the company behind it. They confront a creature that resembles the protagonist of the old .hack series (Kite), they witness some people fall into comas and others come out of comas, and they eventually learn that the MMORPG’s plot and premise have a ring of truth to them that help solve the mysteries of The World.
But things get serious in Vol.3. After a run-in with Sakaki, a character (and 11-year-old player) whose mind has been corrupted by AIDA, Haseo works his way to the top of the third and final “arena” (PvP) tournament. In the previous two volumes, this would mark the near-end point for the game, and would include a celebratory feast at an island off the coast of the Delta Server city, Mac Anu. Not this time, however. These are only the opening events for Haseo, Atoli, and the others. To tell any more would be to spoil the fun, but I will say this: the main plot stays intriguing right up to the end.
And then, there’s the end. The ending itself, and its presentation, won’t have you doing a standing ovation in front of your TV screen. It’s actually a little underwhelming, if you ask me. The end credits roll a nice black-and-white flashback of everything you experienced throughout the three games, so I guess the developers agree with me that what makes this series so special is the journey toward the end. The resolution, of course is that The World (and “the real world,” earth) are saved. Yes, somehow, Haseo prevented a real-world catastrophe. The reason as to why is fairly convincing, and also unnerving for people who fear the role technology plays in our current (and future) society.
Besides the main plot arc, the individual character development was what made G.U. Vol.3 shine. And, in true MMORPG (or fake-MMORPG) fashion, many of these characters are only learned about through optional, non-linear sort of events. One character, for example, turns out to have a split personality due to having lost a sibling at the time of their birth. The game is a way for the player to hold on to that other, unknown person. Furthermore, fans who have followed the .hack universe in-depth (including anime, manga, and everything else out there) will be able to identify which characters are returning from the old .hack games, which are new, and who Haseo really is.
Also, in standard series format, the “real world” is given its own special treatment with both the news and the community forums. I observed that the “News” pages weren’t updated as frequently as in the other two volumes, but the forums do stay active. This creates a very immersive experience for the player, even though the actual “gaming” only takes place inside the framed MMO.
The presentation wasn’t without its flaws, and the ending certainly could’ve packed a stronger punch; but ultimately, the concluding entry in this series made the whole thing worthwhile. I give the story to “Redemption” an 83%.
What’s new in Vol.3? Plenty. First, the cast of characters doubles. Sort of. Vol.2 left you with 10 playable characters. By the end of Vol.3, you have a total of 15. After completing the game, you are awarded five additional playable characters (some of them being very interesting choices on the part of the developer), and then there are a few more optional characters to be earned after attaining the standard party of 20 characters. Indeed, while the post-game clear events of “The World” aren’t as time-consuming as, say, Disgaea, they are still plenty worthwhile. Along with the optional characters, Haseo can max out his gear with some unique items, travel through the 100-floor “Forest of Pain” dungeon, take on high-level players in the Arena, communicate through emails and forums, and even get married! All in all, I’d say that the game takes about 30 hours to complete, and the bonus content nets interested players an additional 15-20 hours to do all the good stuff, particularly the story-relevant quests.
Haseo’s character, as well as his Avatar, evolve in various ways throughout the course of the game as well. Haseo gets these amazing “dual guns,” along with the ability to dash in-battle, about halfway through the game. This addition brought a whole new element of fun into the game, and I personally loved CyberConnect2’s decision to hold off this “secret weapon” until the end. Haseo’s Avatar, Skeith, also gets stronger, and learns some amazing abilities; unfortunately, these only exist for the last few Avatar battles.
Otherwise, there’s a lot of level-grinding going down. If you don’t keep up with the “optional” content, and attempt a straight run-through of the game, you will simply get massacred by the game’s tougher boss battles. Frankly, I loved this kind of challenge. The best thing was that, even with a fair amount of leveling, the bosses still had elements of unique challenge. The patented formula of hitting, hitting some more, and then bursting out an Awakening (for the uninitiated, think FFVII Limit Break) will get you quickly killed in many of the game’s fights. You are forced to think on your feet, and I really enjoyed that.
Gameplay? 88%, no doubt.
I’ll keep this short. Check our reviews of previous titles for more details, since in this department, virtually nothing has changed. The only additions are Haseo’s guns and the dash function, and they work beautifully. As such, the grade gets a tiny boost from an 80% to an 85%. Now if only the camera would do exactly what I wanted…
Have you ever played Halo? I’m sure you have. If you haven’t, go play it a bit and then keep reading. You know how everything in Halo is shiny? Like, really shiny? A little too shiny? Unreasonably shiny?! Okay, you get the idea. Though it’s not using the same graphics engine, or even the exact same effect, the result is sort of the same in .hack//G.U., and after putting 80 hours into a span of three games, my eyes are a little sore from it.
But, the gloss and shine of the G.U. titles work in its favor. After all, they are in a strange, exotic, virtual world. Why not make everything shiny and pretty? I like it that way, and the eye candy definitely leaves a lasting memory. The FMVs in Vol.3, as in previous games, are all stunning and well-executed. Character designs, monster designs, and even terrain design are nice. One complaint: the first time you go into an “Outer Dungeon” (a Tron-esque data-only colorful-lines zone), you’ll think it’s pretty neat. After discovering that every Outer Dungeon looks exactly the same, the novelty will have worn, and your eyes will be begging for something more interesting. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
All in all, however, I loved it. I started this game as a rebound after spending my summer finishing up Final Fantasy XII. No one denies that XII boasts what are, perhaps, the best graphics on the PlayStation 2. If I were to rate FFXII in the graphics department, I’d give it a 95% easily, and probably higher. I will tell you, quite honestly, that I enjoyed the graphics of G.U. nearly as much. Certainly there wasn’t as much variety, and the smaller development team CC2 has to work with certainly limits some of their capabilities. But ultimately, I was very pleased with this late-era PS2 title. It’s 90% here, no further comments.
I’m usually a very optimistic person, and I love music in general. But this time around, I was slightly disappointed. Vol.1 laid down an excellent musical foundation, and Vol.2 kept up the pace with plenty of new and interesting songs. Not so with this volume. I can only think of two additional pieces that I enjoyed in Vol.3; all the rest were songs that crossed over from previous volumes to this one. For more details about my complaint regarding music, I have also reviewed the Japanese soundtracks to the G.U. series. Even before I had played the games, I knew what I was in for in terms of music.
To make matters worse, some of the worst voice acting moments in the series happened in this volume. Female characters, in particular, had me plugging my ears to hold back the blood. They were, at times, very annoying, and very unconvincing.
But these are the anomalies. For the most part, the audio in G.U. Vol.3, as with the whole series, is a pleasant and intriguing experience. Composer Chikayo Fukuda has quickly become one of my favorite “underdog” composers, and I hope to hear more from CC2’s sound team in the future. They help me keep my spirits high, which in turn keep the grades high: 84%, indeed.
Alright, let’s start by summing up on the game. Due to the unique events that take place in this volume, as well as the great post-endgame quests, I do consider Vol.3 the best in the series, though I also enjoyed Vol.2 a great deal. I award the game an 87%, and recommend you get right on it (of course, you’ll want to start from the beginning).
Now, a comparison for each of the two .hack series. The old .hack games were held in high esteem only by the few, faithful, rabid fans who were sucked in by the unique story premise and great characters. Most agree that what you experienced (and, in turn, what you paid for) was essentially one game across four discs. Redundant gameplay mixed with short game time left most people completing the first disc in 20 hours, and each subsequent disc in less time, until they either completed the series or put it down in a fit of anger. In contrast, G.U. took heed of gamers’ pleas and had CC2 making somewhat wiser decisions. Ultimately, I do think that they still used the “cheap” tactic of stretching one plot, one game, against too many discs (and hence too many high-priced products). But it’s more reasonable this time around. Honestly, the plot could’ve been achieved across two volumes instead of three, but the 2/3 ratio is still much better than 1/4.
Another way to look at this is from fan reactions. I have no knowledge of the sales figures, but I have personally spoken with a number of ex-.hack fans who were jaded by the first series and therefore skeptical, and rightly so, of this new series. Those ex-fans who went on to try out this new game were honestly impressed, and most of them have gone on to buy all three volumes now. What I’m trying to say is that, even if the experience isn’t “excellent,” it certainly is “good” (as our scores indicate) and a much-needed improvement over the original series.
Finally, a bit of speculation. Many people believe, or at least hope, that CyberConnect2 will release “The World” as an MMORPG in 2010. My imagination has run wild with the idea; imagine news reports of people actually falling into comas three years from now due to this crazy MMORPG. Whether real or staged, it would get some attention. Of course, the technology needed to mimic what CC2 displays in the .hack universe is not nearly ready, and even if it were, CC2 (and even Namco Bandai) probably aren’t ready to dish it out. So fans, you may want to quit dreaming, or at least wait until 2017. My personal philosophy is that the story is told best as a single-player RPG that mirrors an MMORPG, and that CC2’s formula and concept might be hurt if they attempt an MMORPG that ultimately fails. Then again, I don’t know how long they can go on producing this sort of serialized content before people get fed up with it, even with the improvements made in the G.U. titles. Whatever the future holds, I will say this: the present is a good time for you to try out this series. Go on now, enter “The World” vicariously and see if it’s worth it.