Like many others I’ve been a fan of the .hack series ever since the anime .hack//SIGN came out in English most notably due to it airing on TV in the US and so becoming fairly widespread. The show was pretty groundbreaking for it’s time, not only creating basically an entire sub-genre of a sci-fi/fantasy style but also introducing a lot of concepts about MMOs and technology that – at the time – weren’t actually around yet or were only in their infancy while this predicted how they’d go with surprising accuracy to how they would end up really being.
A lot of people forget, or simply never knew if they picked the show up more recently, but Sign came out at a time where MMOs were almost nonexistent and even basic terminology used in them was just starting out (like “PKer”). It aired at the very start of 2003, the only real MMOs at the time were the fairly new FFXI, Ultima, and Runescape. Things like Everquest were soon to come but not yet, and WoW wasn’t even out until basically two years later to give an idea of a timeline. Sign also introduced a lot of people to the amazing musical talent of Yuki Kajiura – her work on this show still maybe being her very best with the exception of her Xenosaga stuff.
The show is a classic both for it’s importance of creating such a now widely popular genre and just because it’s absolutely stood the test of time and remains really fucking good to this day.
Next came the Kite games – they were really cool in how they presented themselves so perfectly as an MMO to the real life player. The UI in the games felt very similar to UIs at the time in MMOs, the way people talked in the chat was the same even with full on emotes of the time, combat had a lot of menus though was also actiony, and the best part was how you could log out of the game and go through forums, emails, and so on in a very blatantly-stolen-from-PlayOnline/FFXI system. I never was able to play all the games to completion because it just never happened – no fault of the games, I was just a kid doing too much and didn’t even realize like the last 2 games ever existed and such. Story wise, they were interesting though, and yet again they presented through news and forums a lot of predictions that, looking back, turned out true in many ways. It was really fun, really interesting, and felt like such a unique experience as some sort of meta offline-MMO.
Eventually the G.U. games came out. I never played them at all, I got way too confused about which games where when and in what order, especially having not played all the Kite games and having like 30 different anime, manga, and films that came out in the interim. It got too convoluted and complicated to keep up with. Luckily, they’ve done a remaster of all 3 G.U. games as well as threw in a new final one that hadn’t been around before so I could finally take the time to play them.
To review Last Recode as a whole we need to go through each of those four games with some level of detail (including spoilers) before discussing an overall view. Expect spoilers and more ranting than reviewing because these games aren’t great and this really ends up being less of a review and more of me just talking about the games. I mean it’s not really unusual for me I guess, but this felt especially far in that direction.
Also this was written in bits and pieces over weeks and finished even longer after, and so it’s kind of extra messy, let’s say I did it on purpose to feel like the games. It’s also very long – unlike the games – so be prepared.
THIS IS ALMOST ENTIRELY SPOILERS, DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO READ SPOILERS. THERE IS ALMOST NOTHING HERE THAT IS NOT A SPOILER.
.hack//G.U. Rebirth is a mess and fails in almost every way EXCEPT that it does a good job of keeping you interested and wanting to see what’s coming up after this first major story arc. The answer however is nothing, the game ends. It’s a fucking literal just barely under 20 hour JRPG which even for the time period it released in is pathetic – but what makes that actually upsetting and insulting if you had bought it back when it originally released is that the game has no purpose. The story doesn’t exist for the most part.
You play as one of the most poorly written and presented characters someone could manage to shit out through a non-story that just revolves around the fact he is bitter because there is a guy who is popular in the arena and he absolutely hates that and so he wants to beat him and he enjoys bullying sweet girls. That’s it. There’s other shit going on but SOMEHOW they managed to make the entire story of the game be “FUCK THAT GUY, WHY IS HE POPULAR, I’M GONNA FUCKING BEAT HIM ALSO FUCK YOU ATOLI YOU DUMB BITCH”. By pure chance this ends up tying in to the main “story” (which doesn’t exist beyond a few short bits in this entire game) but it was really fucking stupid. It felt like the first goal in a real video game, like the prologue 15~20 hours to an 80~120 hour game, yet instead it was the entire thing.
The story beyond that doesn’t exist as I’ve said, you get a few hints and short scenes but in the end it’s just Haseo being a massive dick for no reason, whining about a girl that you the player don’t know anything about (even in the other games you basically never learn about Shino or why you should give a shit about her especially because even by the end of the third game you’ve seen a total of about 20 seconds of her in 2 flashbacks and have had no other information given to you), and doing only things that help you progress within the arena tournament. It’s terrible.
I also have to say again, HASEO IS UNBEARABLY SHITTY. They give the LOOSEST POSSIBLE explanation for it as well which makes him even worse, their reason for him being a total shitbag to EVERYONE AT ALL TIMES is “he was PKed on his first day”. So even years later he just treats 100% of anybody on the game like a cocksucker who needs to fuck themselves? Really? It’s not as if he only treats PKers badly, he is a total fucking asshole to absolutely every single player and even bullies the only people who talk to him the ENTIRE GAME and even into THE SECOND GAME. There isn’t one redeeming thing about Haseo and he was clearly made to attract rebellious teens at the time who would latch on to someone who just treats everyone like shit for no reason because that’s fucking sick bro dude’s got ‘tude. Okay, maybe that’s further back than G.U., but still.
Worse, his “character motivation” (which, again, is never actually explained properly to the player nor made our motivation) is all about killing Tri-Edge for putting Shino into a coma in real life and then Haseo proceeds to put players into comas in real life and when confronted about it basically says fuck off it’s my power I’ll do what I want with it HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! SKIIIEEEIEIEITHHTHTHTHTHH!!! HAHAHAHAHAH FUCK EVERYONE HAHAHAHA!!!! This isn’t some momentary loss of self. This is Haseo until the third game. He even repeats this situation again and again because he believes having the power to put people into comas is okay as long as it isn’t the girl he has a crush on even though he goes on never-ending rants about how evil it is to do something like that to anybody and how he’s gonna save all the Lost Ones (the comas peoples) while just making more because he doesn’t fucking care because HAHAHAH SEKKEEIEIIITHHHTHTHH HAHAHAHA. ALSO FUCK ALL OF YOU SUCK MY DIIIIICCCCKKK NO REASON JUST FUCK YOU HAHAHAHA FUCK YOUUUUUUU KILL YOURSELVES HAHAHA!!!!! It’s not as if the game turns him into some villain either, it keeps treating him as the hero as he openly brags about how he can put young girls into comas and yells at Atoli about what a dumb cunt he sees her as.
Plus they even screw up with letting you pick replies for Haseo in emails. He comes off as a fucking insane person with a personality disorder (no wonder he’s so friendly to Bo and nobody else) to everyone he interacts with because the player will always want to be kind to these really nice friendly characters Haseo interacts with, so they’ll get emails from him that are nice and then see him in game again and he’s back to treating them like garbage.
The game also ditched the most appealing and intriguing part of .hack as a whole – the fake MMO concept. While the OS is still exactly just ripped from Play Online (FFXI), the forums and such are still really fun and very believable, and the news portion is filled with almost scary levels of accuracy at predicting certain things. However, The World lacks anything at all to make it feel like an MMO now. It’s a generic single player action JRPG at this point. There’s no UI outside of combat and in combat it’s not an MMO styled one, there’s no chat box, there’s randomly very rarely an emote or two in dialogue in the subtitles, and they don’t at all attempt to make it feel like an MMO to the player. There are more issues that I’ll touch on as we continue.
Remember that Sora from SIGN image for later.
Oh, did you think the “I WANT TO WIN THE TOURNAMENT IN THE ARENA” plot wasn’t good or long enough? Well don’t worry, WE’RE REPEATING IT AGAIN. Oh, did you think the “Haseo is a massive piece of shit with no actual explanation for it” thing was shitty? Don’t worry, we’re REPEATING THAT TOO! But hey, calm down, we introduced a card game…that literally plays itself, you don’t even have the option to play it or watch it. Luckily while you LITERALLY have to redo an ENTIRE TOURNAMENT IN THE ARENA AGAIN there is actual story developing going on this time around, there’s also more game after you win the arena 10~15 hours into it. Haseo stops being a total shithead about that far in as well, though it still comes out from time to time, and we see a WHOLE 8 SECOND flashback of Shino! Wow! I truly care so much about saving her now and totally understand Haseo’s motivation.
They also decided to put a focus on Avatar battles which are just complete shit outside of the special ones that involve main story characters. The basic ones however are blatantly unfinished concepts thrown in at the last second so they could go “w-well that makes it like a video game or something right?” because they forgot this wasn’t just a fantasy story and so threw in some “TOTALLY HACKING” minigame where you spam square for 30 minutes and occasionally press X to win while flying around in the nether in circles. It’s irritating and lacks any sense of fun – and so they filled the first 4 or so hours of the game with nothing but a billion of these fights. They added “hacking the signs” too because they really felt the need to say “we remember .hack//SIGN too!”.
The story, aside just the tournament though also during it, has a lot of stupid elements too of course. Like why the fuck is Endrance living frozen in a crystal? And what the fuck is his player doing? Endrance never went into a coma but he’s just in this fucking crystal 24/7 logged in doing nothing but sitting here crying about his dumb fucking cat. Obviously that ends and Endrance ends up one of the best party members because he’s just a weird canonically gay dude. (If you look up a wiki then Endrance makes more sense – especially the cat stuff, but we’ll get to this wiki issue later. Hint: He used to be Elk and if you know who Elk is you know why he cares so much about a cat too and how he’s living in a crystal in the game for so long logged in).
To make these first two games even more stupid, the main plot boils down to being about fighting an insane globalist e-terrorist who also somehow takes magical abilities into the real world and is 7 years old. Tri-edge stuff ends up still involved, but the main story aside that aspect is all going on because of some retarded LITERAL ELEMENTARY SCHOOL STUDENT believing a video game will rewrite Earth…and it actually being fairly true apparently.
That does end though by the very end point of 2 just before easily the unironically BEST THING in the G.U. games happens – the truth of Ovan is revealed. This was such a perfectly kept secret the entire ~40 hours leading up to it and even I had absolutely no idea, not even a slight one, that Ovan was actually Tri-Edge all along.
I even was trying to figure Ovan out because from the start I felt they did a good job making him mysterious and uncertain as to if he was good or bad, but even paying special attention I noticed nothing hinting at this. I had noticed one thing earlier that made me a little confused about Tri-Edge though, when you fight “him” it actually says Azure Kite and not ever Tri-Edge but I never thought more about it beyond “maybe this is just to make sure people know it’s Kite’s character model”.
This twist is fantastic because it’s just so genuinely well done with perfect misdirection, perfectly placed hints-you-don’t-realize-are-hints spread all over the place throughout the main story, and does a great job fooling the cast so well that they in turn act as a form of unreliable narrators that help mislead the player even further as you’re never given any reason to doubt Tri-Edge is Kite’s character, they constantly say he is, and he’s even prominent in all the promotional art/game covers. This is one of the better twists I’ve seen in a game – and being surrounded by otherwise poor writing, stupid decisions, bad directing and terrible pacing it REALLY shines and absolutely got me very interested in the story again.
This is another 20 hour game by the way.
This one starts off, unsurprisingly at this point, the exact same way. A problem G.U. has to tackle that’s mostly made up of generic avatar battles at the bottom floor of a few dungeons followed by a fucking arena tournament, and to make matters worse Sakaki is hired by CC Corp and put as the main administrator of the entire The World system in every aspect – essentially giving a 7 year old the role of CEO for the gaming division of the corporation because you can totally legally do that.
Sakaki was such a shitty character – I don’t mean in the “on purpose” way either, he just comes off as a really terribly thrown together antagonist concept that makes no fucking sense even to itself. He’s LITERALLY AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOLER yet knows really big words, puts on grandiose speeches, and has concepts in his mind that are above his age range and you beat him multiple times but he magically keeps returning. Luckily you FINALLY fucking end that entire part of the story thanks to Azure Kite and his friends taking care of it for you.
After that the game gets a little bit better and back to the real story meaning more Ovan. In this case we actually first take a half-detour and learn another twist I liked which is all about the reality of Saku and Bo. While it makes no sense and is fairly stupid, I was surprised by the fact they really went as far as making this little boy have a very serious case of Dissociative Identity Disorder due to his weak body and soft personality causing him to so harshly react to reality by creating a separate self within him that he genuinely believes is another human being he interacts with. If you want to know more, like how he had an actual older sister named Sakura who was a stillborn…well, go read a wiki – we’ll get to that problem later as I mentioned once already.
For now I’ll just say yeah, I liked it, Sakubo was always a character I enjoyed popping up from time to time in either personality so it was kind of cool that they did something to develop him, but it also leads to some interesting yet never really touched on ethical and moral dilemmas as well as silly shit. For example eventually learning Bo, believing he is Saku when he does it, goes to Fujoshi Con and sells photo books from his millions of screenshots of Endrance and doesn’t realize he is just a gay little boy surrounded by gay-little-boy-loving fujoshi.
It also means he’s in love with Endrance and probably Haseo. Anyway, the reason it’s kind of bad is because the game makes it clear that keeping Saku around is the RIGHT option and will HELP Bo when, no, absolutely not, you should not support a child’s severe personality disorder especially when it’s on this serious of a level. He needs help, I’m not saying go tell him she doesn’t exist and is actually HIM – you’re a fucking teenager, not a psychologist – but the game basically praising you for actively perpetuating his problem feels kind of awkward. You aren’t the person equipped to deal with helping him with this problem, but that doesn’t mean you should just contribute to it instead.
Anyway with everything else done, characters more developed ever so slightly, and Sakaki dealt with…again, the conclusion to Ovan’s story finally makes it’s appearance and even though the boss fights were done within ~1-2 seconds (these games are horribly balanced ruining any drama, some big huge important story battles – for example after 3 games finally fighting Azure Kite properly along with Balmung and Orca…the fight for me ended before the animation of Azure Kite drawing his weapons finished. No joke.) the story felt actually really satisfying to close and they did a really great job with giving it a really strong close especially if you fully beat the game and get the complete ending (including the Forest of Pain). It made me somewhat glad to have pushed through all the shittiness because Ovan’s story and the end of it were worth going through these sub-par mini-JRPGs for. I was content with the game and most elements of the story and character stuff at this point, even if it wasn’t great and had boatloads of issues I didn’t regret putting the time into it at all.
The marriages were a fun little thing to do too.
However, on this new collection there was one more game they made just for this release…
This is a complete pile of shit in absolutely every way it could be.
It’s 90 minutes long – setting the record for the shortest fucking JRPG of all time, it undoes all the really great things about Ovan’s story and my genuine satisfaction at the conclusion of everything at the end of 3’s true ending (beating the Forest of Pain included), and it is pretty clearly non-canon fanfiction turned into, again, a 90 minute experience that people waited nearly a decade to play.
AIDA is a cute bumbling dumb loli for no reason and also a good girl now, Ovan is now in ice like Endrance was and even in the same fucking location it seems like, Haseo works at the NAB (pretty much the NSA given the world is all online now) even though he’s 17, there’s a new main monster that is literally just a rehash of Cubia down to LITERALLY THE FIGHT ENDING IN THE EXACT SAME WAY, Saku just randomly pops out of Bo at random and Bo is completely aware while still believing she is a separate human being even though he’s also aware she takes his body over in real life(?), Zelkova is an AI because they just felt like having that be the case they barely even say it and it has no actual relevance to anything at all, Endrance is a fuck ton gayer than he ever was, and the list goes on and on. Sure, some of that is funny or interesting I guess…but why does it EXIST in THE CANON and not just the official silly Parody Mode or something?
It’s absolute stupidity, presented terribly, feels shitty and you want it over with immediately – and luckily it ends almost that quickly, again only just barely lasting over an hour and a half.
If it was just bad that’d be one thing but really it completely undoes everything that made the original ending in 3 so good. Sure the series as a whole wasn’t fantastic, but Ovan’s story actually was pretty great and it was THE MAIN STORY and it ended very well with a lot of emotion and some cool shit. Then this comes and undoes all of that, undoes Ovan’s sacrifice, rehashes the entire ending of 3 but without any point and throws in random “twists” that accomplish nothing, and is just shit. It’s shit. I genuinely recommend that if you play G.U. just to not play this, it wasn’t originally part of the games anyway and only now exists nearly a decade later. Hell, they even go as far as possible at locking you out of literally everything and it forces you through this short shitty story as fast as possible, can’t even read a forum thread or go into town.
The only thing about this that wasn’t just completely garbage was hearing all these voice actors years later come back to reprise these roles – even as someone who hadn’t played them all that time ago it’s not like they re-dubbed the other 3 games, so you can really hear the difference with this fourth one…yet, there’s not much of a difference to hear surprisingly. All of them are the same actors (they luckily used pretty much only people that remained in the business to now and were willing to work on it again) and all of them do great at sounding like they’re supposed to with just a slight bit of older and more experienced added on it. That was kind of fun but not worth going through this turd for, especially when the characters themselves are the thing that stand out as not right rather than the voices. It really is surprising that the one thing that TIME should have changed without anyone able to stop it – the voices – was the one thing that was actually properly consistent unlike the FICTIONAL WRITTEN CHARACTERS.
It’s even more upsetting of a “game” because 3 ends with a perfect sentiment for the cast – you saved The World so now it’s your duty to just play it as a normal person and enjoy it properly. Just go have fun with your friends, do in-game quests, level up your guild, explore dungeons, and hang out. They make a big deal about how it’s his duty to do it and then two things happen: 1. he just quits playing BECAUSE according to RETCON-nection he just DOES and 2. WHY WOULD YOU NOT MAKE THE 4TH GAME JUST A GAME BUILT AROUND SPENDING TIME WITH THE CAST NOW THAT EVERYTHING IS DONE? Just make it a fun character-closure arc of a story with no big bad aside maybe an in-The-World boss battle they want to take on or something and just spend 20 hours closing out every person’s little story thread INSTEAD OF RELEGATING ALL THAT TO ARTBOOKS AND GUIDEBOOKS and making just complete SHIT instead?
The absolute biggest flaw of the G.U. games (aside the 4th game as a whole) is the most blatantly obvious when you play any or all of them – every character feels like a character in a fantasy story, they don’t feel like people playing an MMO. Even considering some may be super-seriously role playing that doesn’t work once you involve the plot or when requires applying it to 100% of the players and characters. Nobody in this feels like a human being that has a grasp on the fact this is a video game and yet at the same time everyone lacks the seriousness that should be given for things that occur in the story BECAUSE they are too seriously NOT a player of an mmo.
You have people who know the game is putting people into comas who still go around talking like they are roleplaying their character WHILE DISCUSSING THE FACT THEIR BEST FRIEND MIGHT BE FUCKING BRAIN DEAD IN REAL LIFE and evil villainous characters, player-characters, talking to themselves even about their evil The World changing plans and power as well as the ACTUAL world changing plans and power. It feels as if the staff had two writing teams, one which wrote the MMO/logged-out stuff and one that was tasked with writing a fantasy story without any context beyond that. It results in a really messy disjointed feeling throughout and makes me question if this series was originally intended to be something else entirely before slapping the MMO aspects on and making it a .hack game instead of a new IP.
Players never log out, players never mention reality, players never talk about the news (of which THERE ARE BIG THINGS GOING ON IN that are even STORY RELEVANT let alone LIFE relevant for these people), players never seem to go to the bathroom, eat, sleep, the in-universe game is insanely lacking in content yet massively popular, and the in-universe game also just feels not like a game at all. There is no UI, there is no chatbox, people’s voices make no sense unless absolutely everyone takes role playing way too seriously at all times especially when you consider things like Endrance’s way of talking like the most drugged out of his mind homosexual surrounded by young boys or even moreso Sakaki being voiced by Crispin Freeman when he’s a 7 year old who you HEAR OUTSIDE OF THE GAME and has the voice of a little boy, and so on.
One of my absolute favorite moments with .hack outside of SIGN in entirety and for some reason so memorable to me was in the first third or so of the first Kite game you are partied with some girl (maybe Mistral? I don’t remember) who keeps going AFK mid-dungeon to check on her dinner and updating you on how it was going and she got all mopey when she inevitably ended up burning the shit out of it because she ends up forgetting about it eventually. She also uses a shit ton of emotes, actually everyone does the whole game ><;; The fact there is literally a dialogue box also helps a lot to remind you “this is a video game” and not “this is meant to be these people’s real world and lives” and it also makes all those emotes DOABLE. While in G.U. you VERY rarely will sometimes get a XD in the subtitles or a LOL. Nobody talks about the game as a game either even when DISCUSSING IT AS A GAME unlike, say, Orca in the first Kite game where he tells you the camera controls and talks about the buttons and how to play. In G.U. they treat it as if it’s real life “hey look over there” “go open that treasure chest already” not “push the x button to open the chest, the controls are really intuitive once you get used to them ^_^”. The believability of these characters also goes out the window when you consider almost everybody ends up being a 14 year old yet none of them come off as such aside maybe Sakubo and Haseo.
You’ve also got a lot of issues throughout all the games with CC Corp. I originally assumed Yata and the rest of G.U. were hackers because it makes no sense for them to be staff working on the game from within the game and having to play by the game’s rules to fix the game’s issues…but they are canonically actually high level staff tasked with a high level job of utmost importance to the company and worse – the REAL world even and the fate of all mankind. Yet CC Corp won’t give them any sort of special, well, anything. They want these people to deal with a problem that could destroy the ENTIRE WORLD’S NOW DIGITAL GOVERNMENT and also make every nuclear power plant on Earth have a meltdown and also cause the ISS to crash into Japan if it were to continue growing worse but won’t even max out your level, raise your stats at all, give you special weapons or items, or even a few hundred fake-moneys for you to buy items with (not that you need it, the game is so broken that within the first 10 hours of the first game you’re carrying like 800,000 at all times).
They also like to check in on the progress by sending middle management appearing in the most hilarious looking garb while floating and for some reason having evil demon-lord voices that reverberate unnaturally and are super deep to come complain to Yata in-game instead of walking 30 feet from their desk to Yata’s. I mean I know Japan has some dark business practices but in what world are the Konami bigwigs going around with voice changers and cloaks in their video games to reprimand their staff for not doing another 18 hour work day like an angry Darth Vader?
They did however do a good job in one MMO aspect – the gameplay loop. When you go to an area a few levels higher than you and just fight everything and go through the area mission it feels fun and just simple enough that you don’t have to think much, similar to an MMO when you go grinding and can get into a groove where it’s actually enjoyable and sort of relaxing.
The second biggest flaw is sadly Haseo himself. His motivation and personality make no sense and are never really fleshed out and have terrible base-level explanations that are completely unbelievable. He gets less shitty with time but nothing about his character ever gets fixed in terms of the details. Yes, he grows and stops being a TOTAL FUCKING COCKSUCKER maybe 10 hours into the second game but the reason he was ever shit isn’t built on. He’s an asshole because he got PKed and lost a whole 1 level that he earned in about 2 minutes of play which turned him into an insane edgelord who thinks of everyone as total trash besides himself. He’s also insanely obsessed with a girl the player has no knowledge of as a person, as a character, as a relation to Haseo, as a relation to the story, and this is ignored so long that by the time it actually comes up it doesn’t matter to you and EVEN THEN Shino is left completely undeveloped anyway.
Actually, I looked up Haseo more deeply via wikis because that’s how 90% of the character development is given to you – forcing you to go to google and looking up information that doesn’t exist in the game. The reason he’s a piece of shit IS explained – he’s literally Sora from .hack//SIGN and the Kite games. The infamous 10 year old PKer who is constantly a problem in the story of both of those and ends up datadrained by Skeith in the end. But hey, was that worth, I dunno, MENTIONING AT ALL EVER IN ANY WAY? Nah.
The third (maybe really the worst now that I think about it) is the base structure of the game design – the first 2 and a half games may as well be the same exact game. There’s a problem that involves the G.U. team, then you realize yet-another-arena-emperor is possessed by Aida and have to fight in the fucking arena tournament again to stop them and free them from Aida, and then the game either JUST ENDS like in 1 or you get the ACTUAL story finally but it only goes for 10 hours and is inevitably filled with Pi telling you to take her to fight signs of Aida that happen to always be on the lowest floor in dungeons and then the game ends 10 hours later!
There’s more though to the copy pasted aspect of those first 10 hours in the first 3 games and that would be the The World quests – they are EXACTLY the same quests given by EXACTLY the same NPC that makes you do EXACTLY the same thing so that you can unlock EXACTLY the same extended quest to the point they even make you continually return to Mac Anu – the BEGINNER CITY you’re out of pretty much permanently by 2 – just to ever check in with these NPCs because it is canonically the same fucking ones with the same fucking quests. If the game noticed this, for example of Haseo made a passing complaint about how this is REALLY FAMILIAR that’d make it at least a tiny bit less shitty feeling but it doesn’t bother. It treats it like a new thing every time and it always forces you through the story to redo these things. Even meeting Piros the Third is repeated each game wherein both Haseo and Piros seem to not even know each other even though you have him available for your party since the first game.
There are also other smaller problems that just make everything feel stupid and make no sense. For example Phyllo somehow creating an entire area of his own, creating mega-weapons fucking somehow and locking them to only be accessible for people who WERE NOT EVEN PLAYING THE GAME YET SO DID NOT EXIST, and even setting up a system of leveling these weapons up via a special attack using the avatars which didn’t exist yet. Or the case of Canard – a guild specifically for new players…which by the third game is only accessible if you’re level 100+ because the only way to reach the guild hall is by going to a town you are blocked out of until you hit that level limit, and in 2 it’s like 50 or something so again new players are completely impeded from joining, and well from later in 3 the guild is permanently in an unreachable hacked location that isn’t even in the game. Really helping those new players, Silabus.
Or like how Atoli is basically unusable until the third game because she’s CONSTANTLY got a problem happening to her even after you fix one a new one pops up over and over again and she’s barely allowed to join you for any given reason. Or how the game pretends you can pick a member to come with you on a story mission where Pi (it’s always fucking Pi or Kuhn every goddamn story mission) tells you to bring whoever else you want…and everyone else but Kuhn and like one other person are “offline” or “busy” making them impossible to bring. There’s so many little irritating things.
Actually I mentioned it earlier and just a moment ago – there’s a fourth and again maybe the biggest issue. These games heavily suffer from “go read a wiki” syndrome; I’m not including the OVERALL .hack lore in that because no shit you need to for THAT, .hack is both hilarious and INSANELY CONVOLUTED AND OVER COMPLICATED AND WEIRD beyond what even Kojima kids pretend that man has ever made and it spans so much shit you can’t know it all no matter how deep into it you are. The problem here is that really the logic of “well if you want to know, look it up online” applies to basically ANY information, including THE MOST BASIC SHIT, about EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER. You learn NOTHING about ANYBODY in this game while playing it with few exceptions and sometimes just luck by sending the right card to the right person (for example, you can learn about Atoli being a cutter and meeting Sakaki on a suicide website in a specific e-mail chain if you pick the right choices and trigger the conversation in the first place – if you don’t do that then oops you don’t know about it). The majority however is only written in other sources like guide and art books released years later. This leads to an endless amount of unbelievably lacking character development in the more “real” world sense, everyone comes off – again as I complained about already – as JRPG characters rather than someone in VR playing an MMO.
Reading supplementary materials outside of the game also leads to some hilarious finds. My favorite has to be the fact that Shino is a 20 year old woman who is very heavily implied to have been in a, lets say, “intimate relationship” with Ovan in real life for years. They’re both in their 20s, they’re both extremely close in real life and have been for a long time before meeting Haseo, and actually beyond the CUCKENING of Haseo with the girl he loved by his own fucking father/brother figure…there’s some interesting bits to that aspect of Shino because she’s almost identical to Haseo. She’s incredibly obsessive over Ovan apparently and the reason her character even looks how she does is because after Ovan left the guild she got all fucking emo and made herself wear all black while spending every moment searching for him and it doesn’t feel like a mistake that Haseo and her are the only characters that are so dark in overall aesthetic. Nor is it likely just chance that Haseo, after moving on from Shino in terms of romantic interest, completely happens to change (well, be changed by Zelkova) looks into a brighter, whiter, less edgy outfit. The point is you know none of that in the game. Ever.
I also have to mention my favorite thing of all the wiki reading which is just fucking hilarious. In the NOVELIZATION of G.U. – so not canon to the game – Aina is actually Ovan’s daughter and she isn’t in a hospital and doesn’t have any sort of disease…she’s just his daughter with a woman who divorced him and he didn’t get any visitation rights so they play the game to spend time together. I’m not joking, that’s his entire motivation and reason for doing what he does in this other version of the story. He’s just an ultra-cuck who is such a shitty dad the courts won’t even let him visit his kid ever at all no matter the circumstances.
Back to the actual game canon though – NOTHING is mentioned about ANYONE really, I mean by the end of 3 I knew more about Mayuko (1/2) than any of the fucking cast. I knew her age, her full real name, where she lived, where she went to school, her personality – all just from the forums, ONE news article, and from meeting her running around a town in The World. WHY? WHO CARES ABOUT 1/2? SHE’S LITERALLY A RANDOM “PLAYER” WHO IS NEVER ONCE RELEVANT yet you learn more about her in the games than almost anyone else actually, not through STORY but just by use of the forums and news, yet nowhere do you find out 90% of the main cast are R1 players who existed in SIGN or Kite’s games aside fucking Yata being the only real exception that they spell out for you.
Yet there’s just something about G.U. that makes it difficult to truly say how I feel about it. I don’t hate these games (aside 4) but at the same time they’re pretty damn bad, it’s just that I found myself enjoying them on some level anyway. They aren’t something I’d recommend especially quickly, but they aren’t something I regret buying or playing either and there are things I really like that aren’t found anywhere else. Not only in more obvious ways like the fake forums and general, albeit lazy, MMO style design – but in something harder to explain that just feels unique and compelling regardless of the glaring constant issues, honestly it’s probably just the fact it is a .hack property and so it has a by-default unique and endearing quality. Plus, Ovan which I’ll get to in a second. Even while I complained constantly and got mad about all sorts of shit, I kept wanting to sit down and go grind a bit and then see what was going to happen next in the REAL story even though it’s handed to you so infrequently and is filled with plenty of those mentioned flaws. I liked Ovan and his story, I liked a lot of the characters even though they lacked absolutely any development or backstory, I liked the grind, the dub voice acting (especially Belldandy as Atoli, which was a perfect choice), certain scenes, and – again – the overall “feeling” and .hackness of it.
I also liked how much Alkaid feels like the most canon romantic partner for Haseo which is absolutely not what I expected. Sure some of that might be me shipping, but without going “B-B-BUT I SEE THIS SCENE AS…”, the fact is if you compare almost any dialogue or scene involving Alkaid that Haseo has a tendency to treat her in objectively more intimate ways than the other girls as well as always name her first (even when Shino is involved).
Plus, and this is even less shipping bullshit, Alkaid is the absolute only character aside Endrance to openly have romantic interest in Haseo and want to be in a relationship with him and while it’s implied throughout she goes as far as outright confessing it in full clarity in a late game email in the third game. Characters like this almost never get that sort of treatment so it was kind of nice for once whether you agree with it seeming “the most canon” or whatever. Then again thanks to 4 we know he’s a loser who has never had a girlfriend his entire life and still pines for a girl who is banging his ‘dad’ even more blatantly in 4.
It’s also very important to mention in more focus just how great everything relating to Ovan was especially in an otherwise middling story – his mysteriousness was super intriguing and genuinely kept you confused about what and who he was and whether or not he was an ally or an enemy, the way Haseo views him almost as a father figure or deeply close older brother gets across very well by the end of his story, and the impact his betrayal had on Haseo and Haseo’s growth in coming to understand Ovan and the events that took place was very genuine and well done. Every step of the way Ovan was my prime interest in this series because he was the most interesting thing and contrary to my expectations it paid off very well MULTIPLE times – most notably when you learn the truth about Tri-Edge and secondly during your final meeting with him in 3’s finale.
But 4 destroyed pretty much all the good faith the 3 prior games had built up within me and even took the SPECIFIC ELEMENTS I LIKED SO MUCH and made sure to shit all over them as well. Plus, even 1-3 had just so many goddamn problems that they were still overshadowed by negatives even with a handful of positive things mixed in.
I think I have finally figured out how to describe the G.U. series in a very simple way: they are all B-games. The alright kind though; just fun enough, just interesting enough, and most importantly somehow very endearing maybe because of it’s half-thought-out nature. It also does some cool shit like how it’s actually all really about Ovan rather than Haseo. Sure, Haseo and his friends grow throughout the games (barely) but the reason for that is Ovan, the entire plot is Ovan, everything is pretty much him – and the game manages that really well but at the same time has a lot of trouble doing a balancing act of making it entirely about him while trying to obfuscate the fact it’s about Ovan until the reveal at the end of the second game. Everything suffers from a mix of confusion and just shitty writing for pretty much the full first two games, but once the real Tri-Edge appears everything shifts to a much better and cohesive experience except the fact it doesn’t because Sakaki and Arenas STILL fucking happen and take up half the fucking game regardless.
So, I don’t know. If we include 4 then yes I hate G.U., if we don’t include 4 – and we shouldn’t – then G.U. as a whole was enjoyable but mediocre with pieces of good mixed in especially via Ovan’s story and some various other moments with the cast. The forums and art site are also almost always consistently fun (aside the boring fucking card game and rumor boards). The cast, while completely undeveloped and not believable as anything but characters in a video game story (not as people playing an MMO), was actually pretty intriguing or likable for the most part.
I don’t regret playing it and even am glad I did – both out of curiosity of these games for so long due to me being a fan of .hack and also because it really does have enough redeeming things to make it worthwhile to push through the shit elements that get in the way of them…except Reconnection, don’t ever touch that one.
I can only hope the sales for this will somehow create a push for more .hack stuff because it’s such a great franchise and it’s sad to see that G.U.’s games seemingly killed it off by mistake as it’s the last thing that ever came out with the exception of some very questionable Reconnection-quality novels and manga (again, Ovan the divorced dad who can’t see his perfectly healthy daughter). Maybe we’ll get a collection of the Kite games next or even a new full anime, but if it’s just going to be more shit like this newest release, which was Reconnection, I don’t think I want them to damage more of the .hack properties.