The Return: .hack//G.U.vol.1//Rebirth

With the dog days of summer in full swing, we're bringing back our weekly features with a vengeance. Every week we'll  be bringing two different features. And what better way to start things off than with a return to a bygone era? The Return is a monthly space where one of our writers talks about a game they know well and love but have not played for quite some time to see how it stacks up to today's standards. Kicking things off is .hack//G.U.vol.1//Rebirth.

Years ago, back when I was still in the Military, I had stopped playing video games altogether. The training, stakes, and my actual job slowly ate away at my creative side, and it was just easier to leave all of my consoles back home. One day, I was walking down the hallway in our barracks, and I noticed a sign hanging on one of the doors. Somebody was selling a PlayStation 2, with some games and memory cards, for only fifty dollars. I was instantly intrigued, because prior to joining I had actually traded in my PS2 collection to GameStop. Well, I ended up picking up the console, an event that spawned a new era in my gaming career.

Since that point, I’ve followed the industry daily, took up an interest in writing, and have played an incredibly large collection of games. But it all started from that point, in a barracks hallway, with a PS2 and a 13” SDTV. After that, my roommate and I gamed together every chance we got, and most sessions were sprinkled in between Airborne operations. My love for role-playing games also re-surged as well. And for good reason, considering the PS2 has one of the best libraries in gaming history. One of the games I fell in love with during that time was .hack//G.U. vol.1//Rebirth. I watched my roommate play it and was instantly grabbed by the concept. I had to travel to numerous game stores, and have them call around just to find a title that was only roughly a year old. The game launched on the PS2 in 2006, and is the beginning of the G.U. trilogy of games. These games are a direct sequel to the original .hack series, which had released several years earlier in a four part set.

DLC now dominates the industry today, but I was always fascinated by how the .hack series utilized storytelling. The same set of characters, and the same story, were told through a series of games. However, the games all had different tones, locations, and character progression. The entirety of the series felt like one long story, but each arc leaves a very different impression on those playing it. This is different from the Mass Effect series, where every game feels like an entirely unique experience, tied together by familiar characters. For example, each one of those games feels like a sectioned-off piece, which can be experienced as a stand-alone title. Also, people like and dislike different games in the series as well. The .hack//G.U. series is tied together much tighter.

Now, my PS2 has been calling me from my closet for months. It’s the only console that I’m constantly packing away to then hook back up. In 2014, I had fully expected to be done with the it. I mean, I have a Ps3, Ps4, Wii U, and an Xbox One set up. The urge to hook the aging console back up was largely due to wanting to play .hack//G.U.//vol.1//Rebirth again. The G.U. series left a lasting impression on me when I played it all those years ago, but I guess I was holding out for a possible HD collection.

Playing older games after a long layoff is always an interesting experience. Rebirth is actually an eight year old game now, and it’s been roughly six years since I’ve last played it. Hooking up my PS2 reminded me of several things that I didn’t miss about older generations of hardware. First, the operating system is very basic. I originally wanted to check my saves to ensure that I still had all of my clear data. Well, I couldn’t figure out how to enable my PS2 to do that. I actually had to quickly utilize a Google search to locate the archaic practice. After that, I also realized that wired controllers are not very fun. When wireless controllers were announced as a staple during the 7th generation of consoles, I was an old, bitter man. I complained that gamers were too lazy these days, and that I wouldn’t be spending all of my money on batteries. Funny how time changes our outlook on technology. Now, wires are a burden to modern day entertainment hubs. If my entertainment center was about another foot away, my ps2 controller wouldn’t have reached my chair. Going back to this game actually made me realize how such minor things have had major impacts on how games are played these days.

Finally, the biggest and most influential change is the graphics. Almost all PS2 games run in the 4:3 format, meaning, these games are not widescreen. Large sections of the games are lopped off, and the entire time it felt like I was missing content on screen. Also, I wasn’t using about a third of my television. The black borders are huge, and the 480p resolution was no help to the experience either. Rebirth is extremely jagged, and due to the lack of a widescreen option, the camera becomes a little tricky to move. Luckily though, the game features a very flattering art style that still holds up. Even with the graphical shortcomings, I was pleasantly surprised with how well the game looked. Rebirth launched late into the PS2 life cycle, so it’s actually one of the best looking games on the console. The big story these days is whether or not a game is running in full HD, and 4K televisions are on the horizon. So going back this far in display technology is always jarring at first.

Rebirth, despite having some technical shortcomings, has held up much better than I expected in just about every other aspect. Sparingly, the game is better than I remembered. I was a little worried at first that maybe my memories were clouded by being in such a different stage in my life when I first played it, but Rebirth has been an incredible experience so far. In fact, I’m noticing how much attention to detail was put into the game this time around. These details I had previously overlooked. From the opera like vocals, to the relaxing piano music on the desktop, every portion of Rebirth represents a developer’s love for what they had created. The .hack series simulates an MMO, and many of the aspects you would come to expect with modern day MMOs is present and available, even though it’s in an offline format. The .hack G.U. series basically represents what an MMO would be like if people took it seriously. All the glorious melodrama is present, and the characters legitimately care about the environment in which they’re placed. It’s basically the outlook I’ve always wanted from an MMO, but never got from playing them.

Forums and message boards are also full of different players communicating with one another, and the world news is constantly updated throughout the fictional experience. CyberConnect2 loaded the game with detail, and these details I had originally passed over and ignored. If anything, going back to Rebirth has made me enjoy the series even more than I thought I did. Not only was hooking up my PS2 a good idea, it gave me clarity on how well my opinion has held up over the years. .hack//G.U.//vol.1//Rebirth is a role-playing experience that has survived one of the harshest jumps in gaming technology, and is still very playable even today. If you’re a fan of story heavy role-playing games, and you enjoy character interaction and growth, then I can now attest to suggesting the game even in today’s technological standards. While an HD collection would be a welcome addition to my collection, I still suggest hooking up your PS2 just one more time, and playing a unique title from an aging era in gaming.

Well, that's it for our inaugural edition of The Return. Check back soon to witness the return of The Backlog.