- Complete series in one package
- Brand new fourth game
- Mountains of bonus material
- Stilted pacing
- Inconsistent remastering
- Mediocre combat
- Review Price: £54.99
- Release date: November 3
Flashback to the halcyon days of the PlayStation 2: if you were into both JRPGs and anime, chances were that you were also into Bandai Namco’s .hack series. Designed and released as an instant media franchise, the series was centred on a fictional MMO, with characters ending up trapped in the virtual world.
While various .hack outings encompassed animation, manga, merchandise – oh, so much merchandise! – and radio dramas, most important was a series of actual video games that emulated an MMO. Originally, the PS2 was graced with four pseudo-episodic entries – Infection, Mutation, Outbreak, and Quarantine. In 2006, they were followed by a new saga, .hack//G.U., itself consisting of three standalone games, and focusing on new hero Haseo.
After a demonic player known as Tri-Edge kills Haseo’s friend Shion in-game – mysteriously causing her player to fall into a coma in the real world – Haseo sets out to find the truth behind the powerful player-killer.
While Last Recode – a remaster of the entire G.U. trilogy – sticks to that story, what makes it a particularly interesting release is that the PS2 //G.U games were never released in Europe in the PS2 days, meaning players get to approach this as a brand new title. Even for fans who imported the originals, this has a killer app to justify returning: a brand new fourth chapter, picking up years after the first three.
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As a remaster, it’s mostly impressive. “Mostly”, because there are some odd decisions that developer CyberConnect2 has made on its path to making these decade-old games suitable for modern players. Overall, the visual fidelity is great – the cities, ruins, and fields of “The World R:2” (the fictional MMO Haseo exists in) are beautifully detailed, lighting and texturing are significantly improved, and colour depth is improved.
However, character models are frankly weird – while heads and armour look up to scratch for a contemporary anime-styled JRPG, bodies and details, such as Haseo’s torso tattoos, are as pixellated as you’d expect from a PS2 texture effect. It’s constantly distracting with the low-res minutiae dragging your attention to it, like a blocky black hole.
Despite its MMO stylings, Last Recode still plays very much like a Japanese action RPG. Haseo can launch stealth attacks on enemies encountered on the field, but actual battles are a mixture of bashing X to attack, or bringing up a selection of special moves with R1 for a dash of traditional menu-driven combat.
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Initially, it lacks variety, but as you learn to read enemy reactions and timings, it becomes possible to neatly string together melee attacks, defensive moves, skills, and ‘Rengeki’ specials, unleashed when you chain a skill attack into a stunned foe. However, switching to defending from an attack chain is often more luck than skill – the timing feels really off.
Despite the HD makeover, Last Recode still shows its age, with structural elements that mark it as an RPG from the PS2 era. Pacing is stilted, with long sections where the player has no control and is instead subjected to long, in-engine cutscenes or dialogue sections. For instance, in the opening hour of the first G.U. chapter, Vol. 1//Rebirth, you’ll have active control for roughly 20 minutes. Last Recode still expects players to commit to its narrative, before doing much to draw them into the game.
Thankfully, it also includes Cheat Mode. Aimed at either returning players who want to revisit the story, or newcomers who want to blast through the original three instalments before tackling the all-new chapter Vol. 4//Reconnection, it maxes out character levels, gives you the best equipment, and fills your inventory with a tonne of useful items. Coupled with skippable cutscenes, it does become possible to barrel through the games at speed, but at the cost of challenge or picking up story nuances.
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As a sort of time capsule though, Last Recode is fascinating. With the original .hack series pre-dating the likes of World of Warcraft and YouTube, and the G.U. trilogy coming not long after the launch of either, it’s remarkable how much of the modern internet it accurately predicts. There are embedded video on artificial webpages you browse in between visiting The World R:2 as Haseo, and the general culture and mechanics of actual MMOs.
With a wealth of bonus content for existing fans – including a “Parody Mode” featuring video clips of the cast acting in odd ways, and in-universe ‘research’ into the events of the original .hack games – this is a brilliant archive of all things .hack. How valuable that is though will depend on how invested you are, or become, in this virtual world.
Although Last Recode feels slightly dated, it still holds up in 2017. A touch more attention to detail on elements of the remastering would have helped on the visual front, and the overall pacing may frustrate anyone not accustomed to JRPGs of the era. But the sheer volume of content makes it worth fresh eyes – especially given it was never released in Europe to begin with. Adding in a whole new game and a tonne of bonus content makes it a worthwhile purchase for fans of the genre.
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