In life you experience plenty of firsts, your first crush, your first heartbreak, your first slice of pizza, or your first delightful sensation of a smooth pen gliding across paper that keeps you loyal to a brand for most of your life (.3 mm Pilot pens). When I think of one of my most important firsts I tend to go back to seventh grade, back when I was a twelve year old nerd or, really, a twelve year old with nerd tendencies. The world was still laid out before me and I hadn’t yet crossed that line into my being. I hadn’t yet teetered to that edge, I could’ve been anything really. I could have grown out of Pokémon and disregarded anime for the sake of assimilation into the cool sphere, but that didn’t happen, because that day, since I had good grades (all A’s) on my report card, my father took me to Best Buy to get a game, and I decided to grab .hack//G.U. Vol. 1//Rebirth, the first JRPG I’ve ever beaten and the reason I’m a nerd.
When I found out the G.U. series was getting remastered for PS4, I knew I had to get it, because a few months before the announcement, I was hoping it’d get a PS2 on PS4 port. I had preordered it a while ago, kept up with coverage, and on November 3rd I received my copy in the mail around 11am, and of course I played it for hours, and kept playing, until I went to go and see Thor: Ragnarok that same day.
Now, I’m not gonna say that this game was the pinnacle of gaming or even the greatest game on PS2 (that was Tales of the Abyss). The game had its share of problems and Vol. 1 smacked my ears with one of the biggest flaws. A good number of early, mid, and late 2000s English dubs for any originally Japanese materials were kinda atrocious. I mean the English dub for Vol. 1 is kind of bad in how they deliver lines and act out emotions, and due to translation and maybe the technical skill of translation back then, I could find it bad, but passable—it took some adjusting. And for this I wouldn’t even say that it was mainly the fault of the voice acting, because the dialogue was particularly jarring. It was disconnected as if something was lost in translation. But when it worked it worked, and most times it worked it was corny which was what I loved as a kid and can forgive as an adult. With the other two Volumes, the dialogue and the voice acting actually improved though it still provided quite a few clunkers.
And as clunky as the dialogue was at times and still proves to be, it still touches upon a lot of great points when it comes to gamers. We’re given the character of Atoli who isn’t into grinding/ leveling up or trying to be the best in the MMO, The World. She at first comes from a casual perspective, she wants to appreciate the lore and genuinely interacts with game. We’re given Alkaid who wants to prove she’s the best tournaments. We have Silabus and Gaspard who want to help new comers to the game. There’s Piros the Third, a graphic artist for the game who wants to appreciate the artistry of his own masterpiece. And all of these different gamer angles come, at some point, to a clash with Haseo who, though he has all the motive to want to be high level and strong, seems (mainly in the first half of Vol. 1) to have no care for other aspects of the game. Rather he sees it all, not caring for lore or the narrative of the MMO, as numbers and data.
And I think that I only noticed this in my playthrough of the remaster, since I surely didn’t notice or think about it in my playthrough of the PS2 version, but this game truly shows the differing factions of gamers. And even in Vol. 2 (Haseo’s second job quest) and Vol. 3 (PK Tournament) we get to understand why people play games or why people seem to cling to this medium and pour their life into even though others will simply say it’s just a game. And trulyI appreciate that the game took the time to show those perspectives not only through cutscenes and dialogue but also in the other features included to make the game feel like you’re playing an MMO. Which leads me to a point that I didn’t originally see myself writing about.
In most of my reviews I don’t like to talk about tutorials because anything I’d have to say about them would be pointless. Most tutorials stretch out games or are kind of jarring for my flow of gameplay. Popups of controls and incessant hints ruin the immersion, and .hack//G.U. has one of the most hand holding, expository, and slightly annoying tutorials in existence, but it makes sense given the premise. In .hack//G.U. you play as a seventeen year old boy named Ryou Misaki who’s playing an MMO called The World, and his character is named Haseo. Since the premise of the game is that you’re playing a game, every pop up seems authentic. The graphics for Vol. 4 (which I’ll review that later as its own entry) don’t improve because the MMO’s graphics haven’t really improved in a year (the narrative’s time). And when you first play Vol. 1 and Haseo loses his character data and has to start all over again, .hack//G.U. makes fun of tutorials by having you go through the same tutorial again. And you get to feel the same anger that Haseo (Ryou) is feeling.
When it comes to gameplay it’s how I remember it. It’s kind of slow and clunky in Vol. 1 (despite frame rate/ general speed boosts) and then improves in each subsequent game, reaching its pinnacle in Vol. 3. The addition of dashing and dual guns gave Haseo the ability to zone and avoid damage without blocking (something I enjoy). The most fun for me in Vol. 1, though my trauma from the the PS2 version doesn’t really agree with this sentiment, were the Avatar battles. I felt in control, as if I were piloting a mech, and that was a grand ol’ time. It’s just that the sequels had harder Avatar battles and data drains were more difficult and I cursed a lot during the sequel battles.
And since this was a trilogy (though now it’s a tetralogy) I thought that discussing about Haseo’s character development was important. I mean when it comes to character arcs, Haseo might have one of the best when it comes to PS2 JRPGs, second only to Tales of the Abyss‘ Luke fon Fabre (a character also voiced by voice actor, Yuri Lowenthal). In Vol. 1 Haseo is a selfish, arrogant, stubborn asshole. He’s a jerk and I understand his reason for behaving in that manner, but sometimes it just turns into an excuse rather than a reason, and our supporting cast can’t really side with his terrible choices. Though near the end of Vol. 1 we begin to see him soften. Vol. 2 allows us gamers to see him interact more friendly with the supporting cast and fall into his role as a protector for his friends. And slowly we see him begin to trust the people that want to help him, but Vol. 3 is the pinnacle where he has this great adjustment and he is who he is, but he also comes to terms with who he once was (not only while playing as Haseo, but also playing as Sora in The World R:1 (most who played the original .hack games or watched .hack//Sign would understand this)). As a preteen and also a teenage edgelord, I needed to know that there was some sort of hope for me. So I love this game, despite all of its flaws. And I hope that other people can play this game and feel the same spark that I did. Buy the game, try it out. It’s on Steam and PS4. I leave you with a song from the OST. Later days.