It had been a long time since the last significant development with the .hack series, despite it being prominent during the PlayStation 2 era. To the chagrin of the franchise’s fans, we’ve come a long way from the time where Bandai Namco (Bandai before their merger) and developer CyberConnect2 released a tetralogy and a sequel trilogy on the same platform. Given the combination of those and the popular .hack//SIGN and .hack//Legend of the Twilight anime TV shows, it became a powerful cross-media franchise.
But following that era, it mostly fell off the map. There were efforts like the .hack//Link cross-media effort, which received a manga series and a PSP game, but they didn’t amount to much in terms of sales and popularity. The last significant release was .hack//The Movie in 2012, whose Blu-ray in release included fighting game .hack//Versus and a Thanatos Report anime OVA. But none of those took off as much as previous efforts, and most works after the PS2 era haven’t been released outside Japan. The series’ remaining fans have been hoping for a revival for a while, one that isn’t a mobile reboot.
While there’s no indication that a new installment is in the works, Bandai Namco and CC2 recently provided an semi-assurance that they plan on continuing the series with the announcement of .hack//G.U. Last Recode. This collection will include remasters of the .hack//G.U. trilogy originally released on PS2 for PlayStation 4 and PC, which was the second series of .hack games. Neither company involved explained why they skipped the first series, but it appears this one was of better quality, is easier to remaster due to being more aesthetically pleasing, and actually takes place in 2017.
Like its predecessor series, the G.U. trilogy consists of single-player RPGs that occur within a universe that mimics one of an MMORPG called “The World.” The main character is Haseo, an in-game avatar who’s hunting another player named “Tri-Edge,” one of The World’s most powerful Player Killers. He’s responsible for not merely defeating his friend, Shino, in the game, but leaving her in a coma in real life. Haseo will also meet other characters looking for Tri-Edge, and they’ll team up to defeat other Player Killers during their lengthy journey. The games include traditional Japanese RPG staples like towns and dungeons, but the battles are real-time affairs.
Bandai Namco isn’t simply upscaling the games for a release on one disc and calling it a day, though that would have been acceptable considering each one was a full-priced title upon release. The visuals have been given a thorough polishing to make the character models and backgrounds look more palatable in HD resolutions, and the title will be presented in 1080p and run in 60fps.
The games will also be rebalanced to make the experience more playable. Movement speed will be increased for faster exploration, character attack power will be enhanced to make battles fairer (though damage from enemies has been unaltered), and more experience points will be awarded after each battle. Additionally, the new features and polishing added to the second and third volumes will also be applied to the first volume.
It will also include a “Cheat Mode” for players to maximize their stats and sail through the game, for those who only want to experience the story. The “Replay Mode” will allow for retrying battles after dying without being sent to the main menu to reload the last save. Keep in mind you don’t have to use the new modes, though it seems playing with the rebalances is mandatory.
It will also include the content from the “Terminal Disc,” which recapped the original .hack tetralogy. Knowledge of that story isn’t necessary to understand everything that occurs in .hack//G.U., but it will be good for anyone who wants to learn more about The World.
The biggest selling point of this collection is how it will have a brand-new fourth volume, which will make it a tetralogy similar to its predecessor series. It will take place three years after the third volume, where Haseo will have to log into The World again to save is friend, Ovan, before time expires. Haseo will also have a fifth form here, and the new story will include several new characters and quests. Whether this volume’s content will be as substantial as prior volumes or will be on par with bonus post-game content has yet to be revealed, assuming they will reveal that. This will be a good way to hook those who previously purchased the trilogy on PS2, and didn’t think they needed to reexperience this.
Last Recode will release in Japan on November 1st, and in western territories by the end of the year. Bandai Namco previously announced that this will be digital-only on PS4 in America during their Anime Expo panel, despite the option for a physical version in Japan and Europe. But thanks to the power of fan demand and perhaps the importance of the fourth volume, they changed their minds. This is a victory for anyone who like physical copies.
While the ostensible intention of Last Recode’s release is to commemorate the franchise’s 15th anniversary, this could also be taken as a prelude to a franchise revival. CyberConnect2 recently lost a significant amount of work when they were taken off the development of Final Fantasy VII: Remake, so they could afford to assign their staff to a new RPG. The existence of the fourth volume for this collection might show that Bandai Namco is willing to fund a new initiative for the worldwide audience, but time and its sales will show whether this is truly the case.