.hack//G.U. Volume 2 (PS2) – Review

.hack//G.U. Volume 2 - Cover.hack/G.U. Volume 2 – Reminisce, developed by CyberConnect2 and distributed by Bandai-Namco, continues the story and gameplay from the previous volume, set in the near future and involving the spread of a computer virus in a virtual game world which causes the real-life players to fall into comas if infected. This RPG game, while technically standalone, really cannot be fully appreciated without having played the previous volume (Rebirth), and also may lose some things if you’ve not played through the original .hack series of games. While a few small additions have been added to the game play primarily due to increasing in character levels within the virtual game, the game still ends up feeling repetitive, drudging you through the same tasks to get from plot point to plot point.

Story: B

.hack/G.U. Volume 2 starts where Volume 1 left off – the protagonist Hasao and Atoli had found a strange area on “The World” server, and were attacked by AIDA, a computer virus of some sort running wild; Atoli was injured in the attack. When they recover, they find they, along with everyone else on the server, are unable to log off; in fact, it seems like their own consciousness was transferred to the server. The elder members are quick to determine that AIDA actually replicated the server and all the characters on it for some reason, and are able to find a way to disrupt the fake server to return things to semi-normal. After seeing reports of people falling into comas in the real world due to the AIDA incidents, Hasao and his friends continue to track down the AIDA infection, trying to determine what it’s sole purpose is as the virus seems to start infecting more players causing them to go insane. In the end, there may be more manipulation going on than meets the eye as there are those that see AIDA as a way to reach their own meglomaniacal goals, which Hasao must put an end to.

The story is told through in-game cut-scenes of characters talking in “The World”, as well as through virtual message boards within the game itself. A handful of scenes use CGI as well. The problem with the plot is that it works in many different directions at the same time with no (at this point) obvious way of tying things back together. The main plot, that of defeating AIDA, seems to take a back seat at times despite it being a pressing need, though fairly, as Hasao completes missions relating to AIDA plot, the characters need time to “research” it more, as such leaving Hasao free to do whatever he wants, such as taking a couple of characters that seem oblivious to the AIDA threat on guild questing. But because of some of the length of the fields to complete these intermittent quests, the pacing of the main storyline can get lost.

Those that have not played Volume 1, while possible to play Volume 2 standalone, will likely be lost on many of the concepts. The original .hack series, while not a must, also starts to play a bit more heavily into this volume of the game as events from then start linking to events in the present of Volume 2.

Gameplay: B-

.hack//G.U. Volume 2 - Town ExplorationThe bulk of the gameplay hasn’t changed from the first game. .hack GU takes on the form of a massively multiplayer online game, so there’s two components: the desktop screen which allows you to look over mail, forum messages, and world news as part of the storyline, and then “The World R:2”, the actual MMO game. In “The World”, you can do all the usual overworld stuff such as buying and selling weapons, armor, and other goodies, use guild features to do some alchemy and new for Volume 2, upgrading the motor bike you get as a guild leader. When you’re ready to explore, you enter a three word “code” that sets the difficulty, environment, and treasures you may get from for the field that you’re about to explore. The average field will then be randomly generated, but those that are part of the various plots will have a fixed layout. The words for these fields have to be learned through various means, but this gives the game the potential to have an infinite number of fields, though through the regular plot elements, you’ll be leveling up more than sufficiently to play through the game.

When you explore, you can generally take two others with you; depending on the plot, you may be required to pick specific users, but other times you’ll have the option of whom to take. These two are controlled by the computer and have a few strategy picks to select, but generally are enough to support you either by massive healing or combat assistance. When you encounter monsters visibly seen in the field, you can try to do a surprise attack for extra damage, but otherwise, you engage the foe in a limited area, using standard melee attacks as well as skill attacks for extra damage. Do enough damage in a short time, and you can pull off a move called a “Rengeki” which not only does more damage, but also files up a Morale meter due to the enjoyment your party members get from the move. When the Morale meter is full, you can pull off special “Awakening” attacks which combine all the powers from your party for a major blow to the foes. A major addition in this volume is that your character early on gains a class upgrade that allows him to switch between three weapons (blades for fast, weak attacks, a huge-ass sword for heavy but slow damage, and a scythe for a balance of speed and damage), which helps you to adapt to the types of foes; for example, armored foes are best taken down with your sword, while flying foes can be knocked down with the scythe.

As in the first game, there is also a tournament you will join to fight other players, trying to take down the leader before they take you down. The combat here is pretty much the same as field combat, save that your foes can also use Rengekis against you and counter your own Rengekis.

At times, when fighting the AIDA infection, you’ll be put into another game mode, in which you get an avatar that can shoot bullets, swing a virtual scythe, and otherwise dodge bullets. This part is more like a space shooter, requiring you to dodge the enemy’s attacks and wear them down so that you can Data Drain them. The avatar in the second volume gains a few improvements but otherwise plays the same.

.hack//G.U. Volume 2 - CombatOther than that, the game is much like the first, with the same repetitive gameplay, with the only difficulty in being the number of hit points and the amount of damage that foes can do against you. However, as long as you’ve faced as many foes as you can, and boosted your equipment when you meet necessary levels, it’s not very hard, and in fact, more on the mundane side; I think this is particularly emphasized by the fact that I found the best weapon to be the oversize swords which were the slowest yet most damaging, making combat feel sluggish. Add to this that too many enemies had armor or were flying and required extra moves just to take down. I was rarely in any danger of being at low hit points save for one time I forget to give my healer party member lots of mana revival potions, but was lucky able to get out of that and back to town; never did that happen again. Most of the time, otherwise, I would consider avoiding fights just to get to the next plot point because of how slow they would be. Late in the game, there’s a couple of boss monsters (with the promise of more in the next volume) that proves a bit of a challenge, more in the sense of being patient and thorough to take down. The AIDA fights do get a bit more intense, but once you learn patterns, they’re very easy to defeat. The end game also suffers from trying to pile up the plot, but then bogging down the time between boss fights with long dungeons that require you to fight off the level’s monsters in order to open various exit doors; when the plot suggests you’re supposed to be chasing down a foe in a field due to a major transgression he just committed, I don’t think I’d be pausing to take care of the weaker foes. To be fair, the last game boss is a bit tough to complete if you haven’t leveled up, so it could be that these longer levels were their to simply help with prepping your characters for this final fight without having to level grind; even so, I did find I needed to spend a couple more field trips with companions to boost up a few more levels to make the last boss a bit easier to take down.

The game also gets annoying in that there’s several times that you have to step out of “The World” into your in-game mail application, and then to return; this is a three step process with just enough delay from loading or animations to make it annoying. I think that with the intermediate “The World” loading screen which only offers two extra, non-interactive options that could have been merged into the in-game desktop, it wouldn’t have been as much of a chore to do this. It’s also a shame that despite multiple subplots and thus the possibility of non-linear choices in where to venture next, the main plot is a simple linear path which makes it easy to follow but feels less open than the game could be.

.hack//G.U. Volume 2 - “Crimson VS”There’s still more to do outside of the main plot. As with the first .hack series, there’s general “completion” quests that require you to defeat every type of monster and collect every type of item in addition to other general game stats for monetary reward. A quest shop has additional quests outside of the main story line for general character leveling up. You can also pursue the virtual message boards for new keywords to fields that may have special items or events. Once you complete a specific event, you can then participate in “bike quests” where your bike can become a weapon in addition to your melee equipment. And of course, if you just want to level up or get goods to sell, you can randomly hit fields. The card game, “Crimson VS”, that was “offline” in the first volume opens up here, but it’s probably a lot different than expected. Each “deck” consists of only a General card and three support cards; you create the deck and then register it to play in computer-run matches. In the match, each support card fights each other in order, and the special abilities of the winning support cards are then used to boost the General cards as they fight until one is dead. Winning gains you more cards, and it’s also possible to earn cards through completing events in “The World”, but it’s definitely not as interactive as I thought it would be.

Value/Replayability: B-

Similar to the first volume, this one took me a tad more than 25hrs to complete the main plot with almost no venturing into side quests. For those that like the possibly of a completely wide open game, the random field aspect provides that, but the experience system will prevent you from gaining too many levels in preparing your characters for Volume 3. As with most RPG games, events and plot details aren’t going to change, so there’s no real change in replaying it, and likely you’d only do that to play all the games in this series back to back.

Graphics: B

There’s no change in the graphics from the last game. They did add one more field environment as well as a new town so there’s less monotony in the landscape. Redraw times do slow down when there’s a lot of effects on the screen, which likely won’t wreck your game but are extremely noticeable.

Audio: B-

Most of the basic cutscene dialog is spoken by their characters as opposed to plain text (this is a plus), but it feels like a few of the voice actors are phoning it in this time, lacking the enthusiasm, particularly in the part of the main character, Hasao. There are a few new background music tracks, but likely you’ll find the music to get repetitive over time, though. Oddly, the sound effects for the monsters seem to be from a limited set of 5 or 6 types, and you’ll get used to hearing the same noises during battle regardless of what types of monsters you’re fighting.

Overall: B-

.hack//G.U. Volume 2 pretty much plays as its title suggests: the second of a series of games that explores more of the .hack concept. Without any major changes, there’s little difference between this game and the previous volume, which for the episodic nature is normally ok, but given that it’s a full priced PS2 game, I would have expected either more content or more changes in gameplay. As with the previous .hack series, save for the size of the video and audio content, it feels like there’s no reason that the entire series couldn’t have been released as one release instead of multiple releases. Volume 2 does add just a few new things that offer more to the variation in the game, but even considering the game as standalone title, it does have a lot of monotonous gameplay. The series as a whole is definitely worth a look but only once you can rent or buy used, though fans of the series will likely still appreciate the game overall.

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