Have you ever wondered what makes games like 'World of Warcraft', 'Guild Wars' or even 'Final Fantasy XI Online' so popular in the gaming world? I was never one to play MMOs (Massive Multiplayer Online) and I wasn't about to start when they first broke out, but when I played the JRPG series .hack (Dot Hack), I suddenly found myself wanting to play MMOs a lot more than usual, especially with people who I'd befriended on forums and communities.
.hack was not only interesting to me as a gamer, but as a consumer of Japanese media in general. When .hack was first created it came into 4 different forms of media. First was an episodic video game (.hack Vol.1 "“ 4) released only on PlayStation 2, then there was also an anime TV show (.hack//SIGN). This was accompanied by a manga (.hack//Legend of the Twilight) and an OVA (.hack//Liminality). Most importantly, they were all created under the direction of Namco Bandai's CyberConnect 2 Development Team.
The video games were considered to be the 'core story' if you will. The main protagonists, named Kite and BlackRose, were introduced to the player in the .hack// games and they were both fighting to figure out why people are falling into comas while playing the game. .hack//SIGN was the prequel of the story following a player named 'Tsukasa' who entered the virtual video game world known as 'The World', but for some reason was unable to log out of the MMO because their real world self was in a coma. .hack//Liminality, which came packed alongside its respective game, was a side story that was taking place simultaneously alongside the video games. It was used to show how the events occurring in the online world (.hack games) had affected the offline world following real world characters such as Mai Minase and Junichiro Tokuoka as they tried to solve the mystery present inside the MMO. Lastly .hack//Legend of the Twilight was the aftermath of the video games. It followed the story of siblings Shugo and Rena who have adopted the PC bodies of the Protagonists Kite and BlackRose and were being forced into the same mystery that their predecessors faced. A novel series was also released after the final game's launch named '.hack//Another Birth'. This told the story of the .hack games from the prospective of BlackRose.
The .hack// video games made up the bulk of the story and were released in four different 'Volumes': .hack//INFECTION Part 1, .hack//MUTATION Part 2, .hack//OUTBREAK Part 3 and .hack//QUARANTINE Part 4 The Final Chapter. These games were released 3 months apart from each other in the US starting from February 10th 2003 "“ January 20th 2004, while they were released one year earlier in Japan and one year later in PAL Regions.
It wasn't until early 2012 when I discovered this series and fell in love with the idea of interacting with far away friends in a virtual world of video games. Playing these games was so much fun even though the PS2 game library was pretty much dead and I had to look all over online stores such as eBay and Amazon to find copies.
Since the games were split into four separately released discs, you could carry over previous save files to retain items, level, EXP, weapons and party members. Pretty much everything you accomplished in the previous instalment would be carried through and even though you could start the story from Part 2, for example, it wasn't really designed this way. Starting anywhere other than Part 1 often just leads to confusion.
The Story starts as Kite has just finished registering his character for the MMORPG known as 'The World' and he meets up with his real life friend Orca of the Azure Sea who is a legendary player that is known for helping newbies get introduced to the game. Just as Orca is explaining the game's basics to Kite, they find a Ghostly White-Dressed Girl fleeing from an unknown monster. The two friends go to investigate and find themselves trapped in an unknown area where they find the girl who is named Aura proceeds to hand them over a book that contains a rare item. Following this, the monster (Skieth) chasing her finally catches up and proceeds to 'Data Drain' her. Orca attempts to fight it in order to buy Kite some time to escape, but finds that his attacks have no effect and Skieth proceeds to use Data Drain on him, deleting his character data.
Kite was teleported away to safety by an enigmatic Super-Hacker known as Helba. Kite used the book and by doing so modified his character data giving him a new Orange color palette as well as an invisible bracelet that contains two abilities: the Data Drain ability, and Gate Hacking which can be used to access restricted areas closed off by administration with the help of Virus Cores. The data modification also made his character data highly encrypted to the point that not even the system administration can delete it (and they attempt to do so many times).
When he returned to the real world, Kite finds out that Orca was put into a Coma. Kite had a hunch that it had something to do with 'The World' and so he goes back in to find out some clues. He encounters a Heavy Blade class player named BlackRose whose brother was also put into a Coma by the game. Together they set out on a journey to solve the mystery of 'The World' and fight to revive their lost ones.
After finishing the 4-Part game series as well as watch the OVA and anime, I proceed to dive right into .hack's next instalment. This came in the form of '.hack Conglomerate', a new series of games which would only consist of a 3-Part Trilogy called '.hack//G.U.'. These were titled 'Rebirth Vol.1, Reminisce Vol.2 and Redemption Vol.3' as well as a new 26 Episode Anime called .hack//roots (a prequel to the games) and several different manga's such as .hack//G.U.+, .hack//GnU, .hack//Alcor and many other Novels.
These new instalments were told in a new online game called 'The World:R2' (or Revision 2) and followed a new protagonist named Haseo who is a PKK (Player Killer Killer). He is trying to find the player responsible for putting his friend Shino in a coma, and although he doesn't know it yet, he has a special gift that will one day save the world from a global network crisis. Much like the first set of games, your data could be transferred over from the previous games (yes even the first four games, but they would only provide certain bonuses such as secret emails) in order to transfer Items, levels etc. to carry over to the next chapter.
Even though not many new games have been released lately (at least not in the west) the series still lives to this day! It was just this year that the latest OVA series titled .hack//Quantum was released on DVD and Blu-ray in the west and with a new CGI movie title .hack//Beyond the World being released in Japan alongside the newly developed fighting game, .hack//Versus, the series still has a relatively strong fan base and I'm proud to say that as of this year, I have just joined it. If you're lucky enough to stumble upon these series of games, I'd recommend buying them immediately. It's a wonderful RPG that has a very interesting while complex story and fun characters to interact with and if you have the time, you won't regret investing into it.