If you're not yet familiar with the .hack story here it is: you play as a "real" person playing a (fake) MMORPG called The World. You log on to talk to your friends and deal with a virus, AIDA, that is infecting game characters and causing players to go into comas in the "real" world. As best we can figure, it must be the addictive nature of MMOs that stops everyone from quitting this potentially fatal "game." Logging off The World allows you to check emails from your virtual friends, visit forums about The World or play the card game, Crimson VS, which now has an updated set of rules. It's not a big update, and you don't really need to play the game, but it's one of the few differences between vol. 3 and vol. 2. Still, for people who love the other editions of the .hack series, vol. 3 offers more of the virtual, virtual world experience that only it can.
The game itself knows that this is a fanboys-only affair. Starting a new game in .hack//G.U. vol. 3: Redemption prompts a helpful menu that asks you if you would like to import your game data from vol. 2, and by default it's set to yes - this is not a coincidence. The game is not only littered with references to events in vol. 1 and 2, but is pretty much the same game as vol. 1 and 2, except now you start at level 96. It makes for a deeply developed world, but one that you probably won't understand without plenty of previous experience.
Being at such a high level means we're able to wield bigger than ever, sparkle shooting instruments of death. Even when pouring on our most powerful scythe swings and sword sweeps, it takes several minutes of mashing the X button to take down even the relatively average foes. The fights drag on for much too long, and you don't have any options other than attacking over and over while your party members do the same. They will almost always use up all their skill points before reaching the end of the dungeon. There is no option to send them an email asking them to keep in mind they will probably want to save some spells for the boss fight that will inevitably happen at the end of the dungeon.
You can use potions and items to restore your buddies' health and skill points, but the menu must be reopened each time you use a potion and the character reselected. You will need to use a lot of items. Better AI would have been a great help, but party members usually only have three settings: Use all your strongest attacks, do what you want or heal everyone else. Sometimes the brightest candles burn the fastest. Other times they just use all your items before you get to the boss.
If you haven't played the series before, and you like the idea of the premise, we strongly recommend starting at the beginning with .hack//G.U. vol.1//Rebirth. It would have been nice if all three games had been packaged as one, since they all play like the same game. The same weaknesses are still present, such as repetitive dungeons, stale combat and (cue the classical music) there are plenty of melodramatic cut-scenes. Still, vol. 3 is one of the most original RPGs out there. It may take a bit of imagination and willingness to suspend belief on your part but the premise is fresh and that's worth a lot these days.