You've got to hand it to developer CyberConnect2: For better or for worse, it has been fully committed to its vision of the pseudo-online .hack world. The franchise has flourished in seven games and countless manga books, anime series, and novels--so chances are, if you've made it this far, you want to see how the G.U. story finishes. For the most part, all the twists and turns are wrapped up nicely in Redemption. Whether it was worth enduring all the rote gameplay to get there is another question. Had the trilogy been compressed into a single game, it would have been more satisfying. However, at this point the cash cow has been milked dry, and it's good to see the G.U. series come to an end.
By this point, the infectious AIDA is spreading throughout the online game known as The World: Revision 2. While Haseo attempts to rebuild the splintered Moon Tree guild, Yata goes missing, both within The World and in real life. Meanwhile, Sakaki has gained control of the Serpent of Lore and coerces CC Corp into starting an invite-only player killing tournament. Player killing becomes rampant, even within cities previously safe from pkilling. That's the simple version of the story, anyway, given that there are multiple story strands running concurrently from the previous games. It all plays out in a series of overwrought cutscenes that are much too long for the relatively small bits of information and character development that come out of them. Nevertheless, there's no doubt that the ending brings some satisfaction, so if you're dying to know the fates of Haseo, Shino, Ovan, and the others, rest assured you'll get your wish.
However, if you expected volume three to proffer up any new ideas, you haven't been paying much attention to the derivative nature of the previous games. As in volumes one and two, you embark on a series of quests that prod the story along, during which you move around The World as you would an actual online RPG. You invite guildmates to your party, visit the Moon Tree headquarters for meetings, warp to various cities, and head into dungeons, where you fight small groups of monsters in real-time combat. At first glance, it seems as if there's a lot of content here, but most of the dungeons are unnecessary carryovers from the previous games and are at levels far beneath you. Aside from series continuity, there's no reason to have these holdovers here.
Fighting is the same as it's always been, so don't expect many twists to the expected formula. Once you've engaged a monster encounter, you enter a domed battle arena, where you and your party members pound on a few enemies until they're defeated. Like the cutscenes, battles are drawn out ad nauseam, not because they're particularly hard, but because your enemies have a ton of hit points. Slaying them consists of pounding the attack button over and over and over again, and occasionally performing a special attack or quaffing a potion just to make things interesting. Fortunately, the use of those skill attacks still lets you switch weapons in the middle of battle, though doing so doesn't add that much variety. The main enhancement to combat in this volume is the addition of a new awakening mode. You've still got beast-awakening and demon-awakening modes, but divine awakening has been replaced by avatar awakening. Once your morale meter is high enough, you can activate the mode. It does a significant amount of damage, looks awesome, and rewards you with virus cores that you can use to upgrade your Lost Weapons.
There are also some new areas to explore that represent data anomalies caused by AIDA outbreaks. These outlying areas look as if they could have been in the light cycle scenes from Tron, and provide some visual respite from the same old environments we've seen a million times before. But like most of the dungeons, they consist of the same graphical assets repeated over and over. Unfortunately, this is what the series is really all about: repetition. The episodic nature of the games would be more rewarding if there were noticeable improvements in the gameplay, or if some of the interface frustrations had been addressed. (Why does it have to be this time-consuming to drink multiple potions at one time?) As it is, there's no reason to play Redemption aside from finding out how the story ends, given that everything else is all the same as before. If there is ever another chapter in the G.U. series, they might as well call it vol. 4//Duplication.
Of course, if you have to know what happens to Moon Tree, or love hearing the squeals and snorts of grunties, you know exactly what you're getting in Redemption and will be perfectly happy with it. Looking back, it's easy both to respect the series for its commitment to a high-concept vision and to deplore it for its refusal to evolve. Now that the seventh game in the franchise has brought the G.U. series to its finale, let's hope we can at last close the door on the nondescript gameplay at the core of .hack.