.Hack G.U. Volume 1 – Review

.hack G.U. Volume 1 - Cover.hack G.U., Volume 1 (GU), published by Bandai-Namco for the PS2, is a continuation of the .hack game and anime series. As with the former game, it’s a multi-part game, with latter volumes to come out at a later time. While the game attempts to remove some of the stale gameplay that was found in the first with improvements in the battle system and with a more fleshed out story, there’s still overall issues with limited graphics, sound, and gameplay that slows down this title.

Story: B+

Events in GU start about 4 years after the finale of the first .hack series and a decade or so from our present – the original “The World”, a massively multiplayer online game using VR technology, literally crashed and burned, taking most of the computers running it out of service. A new version of “The World”, called ‘R2’, has been built and open with many new features, including Player Killing (PK). The player, as Haseo in the game, first finds himself a quick victim of PK, and through a lot of work, becomes a Player Killer Killer, one that strives to stop PKs, and known as “The Terror Of Death”. However, in a unexpected encounter, he finds a haunting figured called ‘Tri-Edge’, who bears a rather close appearance to Kite (the protagonist in the first series); Tri-Edge attacks and uses Data Drain on Haseo; Haseo, the real person finds his computer has crashed hard and after restarting and return to The World, finds his character returned all the way back to 1st level. While he’s initially treated as a ‘n00b’ by some, he becomes a guild leader, a fierce competitor in player arena battles, and a member of a group of players in “G.U.”, who seem to be investigating odd behaviors, such as Haseo’s return to 1st level, of The World. In fact, not only are there more signs of Tri-Edge appearing, but another odd appearance of black spots that attack players and leave their physical player in comas in a phenomena known as AIDA. Haseo must manage not only to level up, spot revenge for those PKs of the past, and keep good ties with his online fighting companions, but must also continue to discover exactly what happened to his character and what is really going on in The World that can cause these comas.

Compared to the first game, there’s a lot more that’s going on, and to that end, there’s a lot more cutscenes – not as heavy as Final Fantasy X, but there’s more than enough times that you’ll be watching a 5 to 10 minute long sequence of scenes without much interaction. While the voice acting is generally better than average, there’s a bit of pause between some sections (waiting for character animations to complete) that makes the delivery seem choppy.

Gamplay: B

.hack G.U. Volume 1 - CombatThe action in GU is rather similar to the first, though several aspects to avoid the repetition have been implemented. As with the first game, there’s the ‘physical world’ part which is basically a simplified computer screen to access email, world news, a community forum, and other features (The game indicates a card game will be available in a later volume, as the game is ‘down for support’ right now). Upon entering The World, you can use the town for shopping, guild management, quest assignments, and trading with other players. Then, you warp to (mostly) randomly generated levels using a series of three words, with your dictionary growing through talking with others, message boards and email, or as completion bonuses for the random levels. The three words set the overall difficulty of the level, the type of items you’ll find in it, and other aspects. Given the large number of possible combinations, you’ll never exhaust all the possible levels the game could generate. However, there are some levels that are specifically created as part of the story line. You can venture with two other ‘friends’ within the game if they are available, which is usually good to help with support and attacking.

When you encounter foes in these levels, you’ll be surrounded by a magic field to prevent escape and then you’re free to have at it. A lot of the basic attacking is done via button mashing, but you can also use attack skills to do significantly more damage, as well as special attacks called “Rengeki” on already weakened foes; performing these attacks improves your party’s morale, and once you morale is high enough, you can release an “Awakening” which grants your whole party a temporary increase in attack and speed. While these changes do help to keep battles more interesting than some of the more straightforward hack-and-slash from the first .hack series, there’s still a lot of repetition in combat. Once you get the timing down of your attacks, and as long as you have a good healer in your party, it’s rather easy to button mash through battles.

As with most RPGs, you collect weapons, armor, items, materials that can be used to customize weapons and armor, and some other goodies from your adventures. Weird creatures named ‘Chims’ can be kicked and collected to be used to open doors and other functions. Once you get a guild, you can now alchemize two or more weapons of similar types into a single feature with more damage and power. You can take up Quests that start you on game-long item/point/value collection, and reward you with better items as well. When you complete a dungeon, you get rated based on how well you finished it and a reward based on that rating.

A significant aspect new to this game is the concept of player battles. There’s an official arena that allows you to have 3 on 3 matches with other player teams. These battles tend to be a bit harder than monster battles, as if you attempt a Rengeki, they can counterattack with their own, as well as take down your morale a bit. There’s an overall arena championship that works into the plot that you must complete, and in order to compete some of the last few rounds, you’re likely to be leveling up a bit before you can do so. Besides arena battles, you may also find special battle zones already active in the dungeons; you can join these battles which usually have a PK about to take down their foe, and you’ll step in to deal with them.

.hack G.U. Volume 1 - Avatar battleAs part of the .hack story, the game wouldn’t be complete without the player being able to ‘hack’ the system. In GU, Haseo, along with a few select others, have access to out-of-game weapon called an Avatar, which should only be used against viral elements from the game. You have no control when you can call the Avatar; it only comes up against specific foes that also have Avatars. The game becomes an odd third-person shooter/melee game, where you try to damage the foes while dodging their attacks. In the first volume, this is only used about 4-5 times, and while it’s critical to the story, definitely is not used as much as the Data Drain attack from the first .hack series was used.

Unfortunately, the game does have a lot of repetitive gameplay; the repetition in the combat system is there, but then there’s a usual pattern of running through the storyline. You usually figure out a level you need to go to, grab your party, sell off or buy new equipment, take care of the level, and then return to town, complete the quest or mission, then log off to read email to find the next mission that you need to do. While a Memoirs tab in the game menu helps you to know where you have to go, it’s very hard to get lost in storyline. The only side parts you can do is to simply jump into the random levels and level up. Since out of the friends that you can go questing with, you’re typically limited to only a few choices, so you get rather used to the same parties over and over again. Add in long cut scene sequences, and the game can get boring at many times. Furthermore, you have little ability to control your character’s growth; you can improve some stats at times, but your class within the game is set and pretty much limits you to a a major fighter instead of a spellcaster or something in between.

Value/Replayability: C+

The game is the first of a series, and thus the end for Volume 1 is a good dramatic ending. It took me about 25hrs to get to that point, but in preparation for the second volume, you can continue to upgrade your character to some point and take that data into the next game. (If you completed .hack, you can also convert that data into GU data which unlocks a few small side stories). However, beyond this, there’s not much else you can do once you’ve completed this volume, and you’ll have to wait for the next volume to continue with it.

Graphics: B-

The graphics are similar to the first game but slightly different. The game uses an odd mix of cel-shading for the individual characters, while theres standard textures for the environments, and thus looks a bit weird. While some cutscenes are pre-rendered, they use the same models and textures so it does appear mostly transparent. Unfortunately, there’s only 3 types of dungeons, and thus you’ll likely to get sick of the textures after so many dungeon dives as well. There’s also a couple points that the game does hit a few less FPS due to the number of characters and effects on the screen, but rarely came up during battle.

Sound: B-

The sound suffers the same problem; the monster sounds are all the same along with combat sounds. Music is also limited, and gets repeative as well with continued playing. It’s not that these are bad, just that after 25hr of play, it would have been nice to hear something different.

Overall: B-

The game doesn’t really require you that much to have played the first series or watched the various anime under the .hack project; the initial news and community boards quickly catch up on the history of “The World”, and none of the major details from the first game really appear in here beyond the appearance of Kite. However, players of the first will have an appreciation for some of details within the message boards and other characters.

While I do appreciate that an effort has been made to improve the gameplay from the first series, .hack G.U. Volume 1 still has a significant number of problems with repetition. There’s a lot more story and characters within this, and the combat system has been expanded to some degree, but the game still ends up being dungeon dives to complete missions or to simply level up, and with little difference in looks and feels, this part can get overly boring. The story looks like it might developing into something interesting, but we’ll have to see to Volume 2. It’s hard to recommend this game if you’ve not played the first series, though it’s still accessible in terms of story. Those that likes the first series will likely appreciate the first volume of GU, though I do reiterate that the game can get repetitive after a short while.

8 Responses

  1. You say the game is kinda boring but i dissagree, for one thing i think they did a good job of capturing the online gam feel. You say dungeons are repetitive but are they not in actual mmorpgs. You give the game too little credit. They did what they could and i think they pulled off a masterpiece. They may have some short comings but it is pretty hard to make a game of perfect calibur. They tried thier best. I say you gave it a bad rating. It should be A-. Good but not perfect. I can’t wait for the next chapter

  2. I’ve played through the original .hack series (all 4 games), and again, while the concept was interesting, that was a lot more repetative, and stretched across 4 games, it got old quickly. While they did try to fix a few things, dungeon exploring is pretty much a “rinse, lather, repeat” approach, and combat lacks enough options to remain fresh after the first several battles – only until you get to the PVP matches do these become hard.

    If this was a first attempt at an ‘offline’ MMMORPG, I’d give them more credit, but I know where the dev team for this came from and it leaves a lot to be desired.

  3. hey i was wondering…. in the new dot hack i was wondering the level of difficulty. i beat all the other ones and they were haaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrddddddddddd! and i was also wondering can you convert your quarintine data even though theres a new charecter? can you post somthing on your site im, on alot so… whenever you get time.

  4. I didn’t find the game hard, even when you get to the bosses. Maybe the hardest part was the player battles, but it became a matter of learning the patterns.

    Old .hack data is only used to unlock a couple special messages in the game, but otherwise doesn’t affect gameplay.

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