This Week in Games - .hack//G.U. Last Recode

by Dustin Bailey,
Well, this is it. My final installment of This Week in Games. The column should be continuing shortly under new management, so this is goodbye—er, well, actually, I guess I'll save that for the end. In the meantime, you can catch me on Twitter, where I will at least occasionally talk about video games and offer updates on what I'm working on next.

Okay, okay, let's get to the real stuff.

First Impressions - .hack//G.U. Last Recode

You younger Japanese media aficionados might not recall, but there was a time before Sword Art Online was the MMO-styled crossover licensing empire of record. No, .hack predates the SAO phenomenon by the better part of a decade, and the earlier franchise had its video game iterations much more closely tied to the core of its lore and story, with two separate multi-game series on PS2 filling in the bits between the anime and doing much of the plot's heavy lifting.

The second of those series has now gotten the remaster treatment in .hack//G.U. Last Recode, with all three of its original titles getting bundled together alongside some bonus features and a new epilogue. It's an interesting thing, since it's not exactly like the .hack games were forgotten classics crying out for an update that would preserve them for future generations—these were “merely okay” even at the time, made notable more by their connection to a larger story and the novelty of creating a single-player MMO than anything else.

It's surprising, then, that this novelty holds up as well as it does. G.U. goes all in on its devotion to the faux-MMO, right down to a desktop operating system you log into to play the game. You've also got emails, forums to check, and news sites to explore, each of which do their own part to help fill out the details of the world. The forums have fanart you can download for new desktop wallpaper. The news sites have FMV anime clips breaking down the latest happenings in the fictional real-world. That world-building is still effective, and now—ten years removed from the original release—serves as a pretty effective nostalgia piece for how the internet used to be.

Once you've actually logged in, the game itself has its charms, too. You play as Haseo, who gets ganked as a noob by some player killers and eventually rebuilds himself into the world's most feared player killer-killer as a matter of revenge and redemption. That's mostly a truncated version of the .hack//Roots anime, and G.U. begins in earnest when Haseo's high-level self gets PK'd by an illegal move and forcibly reformatted back to level one. Naturally, that means Haseo's gotta make some new friends, get leveled up to be a feared PKK again, and solve the mystery of how he got reformatted.

Grinding out those levels is pretty simplistic, with single-button combat that's only occasionally broken up with a guard or a special attack governed by a slowly recharging MP bar. It's basic and clunky, but the fights are fast enough that it doesn't really matter. You do occasionally get the opportunity to stun enemies and take advantage of their weakened state for a special finisher that in turn gives you bonus experience, which can be pretty satisfying. The other player characters you party up with all run on AI, using their skills as they think most beneficial in the background.

The neat part backing up exploration, grinding, and side-questing is a world seed system that generates new locations by putting combos of words together, each of which will make a path with its own level requirements and potential gear to unlock. The flip side of that is that you'll rarely need to go off the beaten path, since the game's been rebalanced to offer more experience than you'll ever actually need—and these generated areas tend to be so dull, lifeless, and ugly that you won't want to spend any more time than necessary in them.

It might seem unfair to call out a PS2 rerelease as ugly, but HD remasters of more bonafide classics from Metal Gear to Final Fantasy can often help the details lost in the original to pop with the increased clarity. .hack//G.U. does not hold up to the same scrutiny. The simple character models hold up fine—notwithstanding very much “product of their time” designs—but the already grimy environments look even worse under enhanced scrutiny. The remaster also doesn't do much about things like pop-in, with enemies still materializing way closer than you'd want them to.

You do get one marked improvement this time around with the addition of a Japanese voice option on top of the Western original's rough English VO. The biggest addition is Reconnection, an all-new fourth chapter built in the original game engine. While it's billed equally with the original three games, it seems to be a much slighter piece of content at about quarter the size of the others.

I would've thought that .hack's PS2-era appeal was lost to the ravages of time, but Last Recode still manages to have its charms, even for someone with only minimal nostalgia for the originals. Disconnected from the media empire that spawned it, Last Recode still stands up as trip back to the mid 2000s, even if its appeal is still firmly rooted in that era.

NEWS

XENOBLADE CHRONICLES 2 WILL HAVE JAPANESE VOICES BECAUSE THERE IS STILL GOOD IN THE WORLD

Nintendo devoted a full Direct to the RPG they're about to publish, and they opened with the big stuff: Xenoblade Chronicles 2 will offer full Japanese voiceover with a free day one download. The people rejoiced and all that. But it's still something that we're waiting breathlessly every time these announcements happen. Make it standard. Come on, start a hashtag or something.

There were also plenty of gameplay details, but for those you're better served watching the video for yourself. I want to talk about Link dressing up as XC2's protagonist, because as cool as the game looks I'm really not feeling those character designs. Dressing Link up in that, uh, thing is kinda gross, but maybe I'm getting too precious about Breath of the Wild. My inventory does still have that dumb Switch T-shirt, after all. Apparently you'll be able to pick up the monstrosity of a costume as part of a new quest that should be live today.

Questionable character design crossovers aside, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 will also offer the hottest of all video game additions in the form of a season pass. As strange as it continues to be seeing Nintendo embrace digital content, their experiments in DLC suites have been pretty good so far, with Hyrule Warriors offering some decent additions and Zelda delivering pretty well on the first half of its content. XC2's DLC will include all manner of extra quests and items, culminating in a “brand-new story and adventure” in August of next year. Boy, I really don't want to think that far ahead.

SO ABOUT THAT YS VIII TRANSLATION PATCH

Ys VIII was good. The translation for Ys VIII was not very good. NIS promised to fix it with a patch with a completely revamped localization including rerecorded voiceover, and they wanted to do it inside of two months. That seemed an ambitious timeline for such an undertaking, and indeed, it was. Ys VIII's patch—and its PC port—will be coming out sometime early next year.

It continues to be a bizarre situation, especially since it feels like localization is something of a solved issue. That's not to discount the tremendous work of translators, but rather to say that it seemed like game developers finally understood the scale and scope of letting their games be localized. To see that process fail, and then be underestimated again in the immediate aftermath, continues to be disappointing.

CAPTAIN RAINBOW HAS FINALLY BEEN TRANSLATED

Nintendo has put out some real bizarre stuff, and many of their strangest games never saw release in English. In particular, Chibi-Robo developer Skip made some Gamecube and Wii games that were deemed too weird for the West, and have been on ice ever since. These games aren't quite the classics deserving of translation love that, say, Mother 3 was, but their weirdness has made them a constant source of curiosity ever since.

Now one of those games, the Wii's Captain Rainbow, finally has an unofficial translation. You play a down-and-out superhero on an island full of down-and-out Nintendo characters, and it's your job to make everyone happy again. Your targets include Little Mac dealing with weight issues, a lovelorn version of Tracy the witch from Link's Awakening, and a bunch of Advance Wars soldiers looking to make it big in volleyball.

The most infamous plight of woe is, of course, Birdo. She's been wrongfully imprisoned after being accused of using the wrong bathroom, since nobody believes she's a girl. You fix this by digging a mysterious, censored object from under her pillow to prove her sex. Yes, Nintendo will never, ever release Captain Rainbow here. But now there's a translation patch, so we can finally experience all this together. Next up from the same creator is Giftpia, so we'll really be doubling down on some forgotten Nintendo releases soon.

UPCOMING RELEASES

DEMON GAZE II
Developer: Kadokawa Games / Experience
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: PlayStation 4 / PlayStation Vita
Release Date: November 14
MSRP: $49.99 / $39.99

Demon Gaze is a series that has you diving deep into dungeons with a party of demon girls that you can poke, prod, and date between deep dives. Yes, it's one of those. The original game was pretty well-regarded as horny dungeon crawlers go, and the sequel looks to make some smart improvements to the gameplay formula. Plus, dual audio. (Thank goodness.)

HARVEST MOON: LIGHT OF HOPE
Developer: Tabot / Natsume
Publisher: Natsume
Platform: PC
Release Date: November 14
MSRP: ???

We need to talk about Harvest Moon. Yes, I know this isn't really Harvest Moon—that's actually Story of Seasons—but Natsume's version of the series has really been putting a damper on my unending love for the series up through the GBA game. Light of Hope is at least providing one smart answer to Stardew Valley by releasing on PC but, well… Look, just watch the trailer. It will tell you everything you need to know.

MARIO PARTY: THE TOP 100
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: 3DS
Release Date: November 10
MSRP: $39.99

Mario Party: The Top 100 is a game that confuses and confounds me. The basic concept is simple enough, as it's a greatest hits of Mario Party minigames. But it's one seemingly without the core board game conceit that makes Mario Party Mario Party. Instead, you've got endless minigames with friends or a single-player romp through board game islands to unlock new games, which really doesn't sound like a good way to capitalize on the series' core strengths.

ALSO AVAILABLE:
The first and last word in ports I never thought would happen is coming in form of Doom for Switch, and L.A. Noire soon to follow across all three current consoles. Need for Speed Payback will be keeping the not quite Fast and Furious dream alive, while Snipperclips Plus will be adding extra content to the Switch game you really should be playing but probably aren't.

But that's it for me, folks. It's been a treat being with you all for the past year, but to make sure the parting isn't too difficult I'll leave you with this—Star Fox Adventures is and forever will be the only good Star Fox game. Farewell!


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