.hack (video game series)


.hack (video game series)
.hack
Logo of the .hack series
Developer(s) CyberConnect2
Publisher(s) Bandai Games
Designer(s) Hiroshi Matsuyama
Artist(s) Yoshiyuki Sadamoto
Writer(s) Kazunori Itō
Composer(s) Chikayo Fukuda
Series .hack
Platform(s) PlayStation 2
Release date(s) Infection
  • JP June 20, 2002
  • NA February 11, 2003
  • PAL March 26, 2004
Mutation
  • JP September 9, 2002
  • NA May 7, 2003
  • PAL June 18, 2004
Outbreak
  • JP December 12, 2002
  • NA September 9, 2003
  • PAL September 10, 2004
Quarantine
  • JP April 10, 2003
  • NA January 13, 2004
  • PAL December 10, 2004
frägment
  • JP November 23, 2005
Genre(s) Action role-playing game
Mode(s) Single-player
Rating(s)
Media/distribution DVD-ROM

.hack (pronounced "dot-hack") is a series of single-player action role-playing games for the PlayStation 2, developed by CyberConnect2 and published by Bandai. The four games are titled .hack//Infection, .hack//Mutation, .hack//Outbreak, and .hack//Quarantine. The series features a "game within a game", a fictional massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) called The World, without requiring the player to connect to the Internet. Players may transfer their characters and save data from one game in the series to the next. Each game comes with an extra DVD containing an episode from the accompanying original video animation series .hack//Liminality, which details fictional events that occur concurrently with the games.

The games are part of a multimedia franchise called Project .hack which explores the mysterious origins of The World. Set after the events of the anime series, .hack//Sign, the games focus on a player named Kite and his quest to discover why some players have fallen into comas as a result of The World. The search evolves into a deeper investigation of The World itself and its effects on the stability of the Internet.

The series has received mixed reviews. It was praised for its unique setting and the lengths it goes to preserve suspension of disbelief, as well as the character designs. However, it was criticized for uneven pacing and a lack of improvement between games. The commercial success of the franchise led to .hack//frägment, a remake of the series with online capabilities, and .hack//G.U., another video game trilogy.

Contents

Gameplay

The player's party, consisting of Kite, BlackRose, and Wiseman, is battling a monster. The red reticule shows which monster is currently being targeted. Players may attack in real time by pressing the X button.

.hack simulates a massively multiplayer online role-playing game; players assume the role of a participant in a fictional game called The World. While in The World, the player controls the on-screen player character, Kite, from a third-person person perspective (with optional first-person mode). The player also manually controls the camera using the game controller's R1 and L1 shoulder buttons and right analog stick. Within the fictional game, players explore monster-infested fields and dungeons as well as "Root Towns" that are free of combat. They also can "log-off" from the game and return to a computer desktop interface which includes in-game e-mail, news, and message boards, as well as desktop and background music customization options.[1] The player may save the game to a memory card both from the desktop and within The World at a Save Shop. After the player completes the game, a Data Flag appears on the save file, which allows the transfer of all aspects of the player character and party members to the next game in the series.[2]

Typical of action role-playing games, players attack monsters in real time.[3] However, the action pauses whenever the menu is opened in order to select magic to cast, items to use, or skills to perform. The player only directly controls Kite, while the other characters are controlled by artificial intelligence. The player may either provide guidelines ("attack", "first aid", "magic", etc.) or issue direct commands (for example, to cast a particular magic at a particular enemy) to the computer-controlled characters.[1] Most monsters are contained in "magic portals" and combat will not begin until the player character approaches the portal and releases the monsters inside.[1] Kite possesses a unique ability called "Data Drain" which allows him to transform monsters into rare items.[4] Many boss monsters are known as "Data Bugs"—monsters with corrupted data such that their stamina is infinite. Data Drain is used to repair this damaged monster data and render them vulnerable.[5] However, this power also increases the level of infection of Kite's player character, randomly causing harmful side effects. The infection can be cured by defeating monsters normally.

Root Towns are non-combat areas in The World. The player may restock on items, buy equipment, or chat and trade with other "players" of The World.[3] In many towns, the player may also raise a Grunty, a pig-like sentient creature who can be ridden in fields and, in later games, raced for prizes. A key feature of all towns is the Chaos Gate. This blue portal is used to travel between towns (called "servers") as well as access the fields and dungeons where battles take place. A password system controls the characteristics of each area. Depending on the characteristics of each word in the three word phrase, the resulting area may have different attributes such as prevalence of monsters or items, among other features.[1] Certain plot-related areas are restricted from access, but the player character has another ability called "Gate Hacking" which allows him to access these areas using "Virus Cores" obtained through Data Drain.[3]

Plot

Setting

Main .hack series fictional chronology

Sign
Infection, Mutation, Outbreak, Quarantine
Legend of the Twilight
Roots
G.U.
Link

.hack takes place in an alternate version of Earth in the year 2010. After a computer virus called "Pluto's Kiss" crashes nearly every computer in the world, the Internet is shut down to the general public to address security concerns.[6] After two years lacking both Internet and online games, The World, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game is released to coincide with the reopening of the Internet.[7] It becomes the most popular online game of all time, with over 20 million subscribers.[8][9] Shortly before the events of the games, a number of users fall into comas as a result of playing The World.[10] However, the developers blame their condition on cyberterrorism.[11]

The World was originally developed by a German programmer named Harald Hoerwick. The World's backstory is based on the Epitaph of Twilight, an epic poem by Emma Wielant, whose death inspired Hoerwick to create the game. However, elements of the poem are also coded into the game's programming itself.[12] The hidden purpose of Hoerwick's game is to develop the ultimate artificial intelligence (AI), capable of making decisions for itself.[13] To this end, Hoerwick inserted functions into the system which monitor and extract behavioral data from the game's millions of players to aid in the AI's learning process. After Hoerwick's death, these pieces of code became black boxes to the current developers, unable to fathom their purpose yet critical to the proper functioning of the game.[14]

Characters

The main playable character of .hack is Kite, an average player of The World whose friend Orca fell into a coma due to mysterious circumstances.[1] Kite is joined by nearly twenty other players in his quest to uncover the mystery of the coma victims. The players with the greatest impact on the success of Kite's mission are BlackRose, a fellow newbie to The World who also has a loved one in a coma; Balmung, a legendary player who seeks to eliminate sources of corruption in his beloved game; and Wiseman, an information broker who becomes a key strategist for Kite's team.[15] Helba, a professional hacker, and Lios, a reluctant system administrator, also aid in Kite's efforts to rescue the coma victims.[16] Two non-human characters play important roles in the story: Aura seeks to complete her growth into the ultimate AI, while Morganna, an AI who rebels against her task of nurturing Aura, acts as the unseen primary antagonist.

Story

At the beginning of .hack//Infection, Kite's friend Orca invites him to play The World. In the first dungeon they visit, they encounter a girl in white being chased by a monster with a red wand. The girl attempts to entrust an item to Orca but the monster attacks him and The World's servers crash. Kite discovers that Orca has fallen into a coma following the attack and resolves to discover why.[17] Meeting BlackRose at the Chaos Gate, they go to a cathedral area where they are attacked by a powerful monster. The legendary player Balmung appears and defeats it but it revives as a Data Bug.[5] The Book of Twilight, the item that the girl gave to Orca, activates and gives Kite the Twilight Bracelet. The Bracelet uses Data Drain on the monster, allowing Balmung to kill it. However, Balmung accuses Kite of causing the viral infection spreading through the game and leaves.[18] Kite and BlackRose decide to team up to help the coma victims. After investigating a number of leads, Kite and BlackRose track down the monster that put Orca into a coma. They defeat the monster, Skeith, but it transforms into a larger enemy called Cubia which they escape from.[19]

In .hack//Mutation, the two encounter Lios, a system administrator, who declares Kite's Bracelet to be an illegal power.[20] He attempts to delete Kite's character data but fails because of a mysterious encryption. The hacker Helba intervenes and convinces Lios to observe for the time being.[21] Lios directs them to an area where they find Innis, a monster with the same powers as Skeith. Upon defeating Innis, Kite receives an e-mail from the girl in white, who is actually an AI called Aura. They travel to an area to meet her but are confronted by Cubia, whom they repel with difficulty.[22] Short on leads, they contact an information broker named Wiseman who is intrigued by Kite's Bracelet. He suggests that Skeith and Innis are based on the Cursed Wave, an antagonistic force featured in the Epitaph of Twilight, an epic poem that forms the basis of The World. He helps grant them access to Net Slum, a place known as paradise for hackers and wandering AIs. Upon arrival, they are attacked by Magus, another Cursed Wave monster. They manage to defeat it, but when they return to the Root Town, they discover that the extensive corruption has spread to The World's main servers and the real world.[23][24]

Balmung finally decides to join Kite in .hack//Outbreak, after realizing that he cannot halt the infection on his own.[25] BlackRose reveals to Kite that her brother fell into a coma under similar circumstances as Orca, which renews both their determination.[15] Wiseman formulates a plan to combat the Cursed Wave, enlisting the help of Helba. Their teamwork destroys Fidchell but the aftermath causes networks to malfunction in the real world.[26] Aura contacts Kite again, but their meeting is cut short by the reappearance of Cubia. Lios, observing Cubia's power, agrees to join Kite, Helba, and the others to combat the Cursed Wave.[16] Operation Breakwater begins as the team pool their resources to defeat Gorre, with no repercussions in the real world.[27]

Server instability aborts a planning meeting at the start of .hack//Quarantine. Helba replaces the server with a copy of Net Slum to bypass this problem.[28] At the bottom of a dungeon, Kite encounters Mia, a member of his party with a feline avatar. However, Mia is revealed to be Macha, a member of the Cursed Wave, whom he defeats with reluctance.[29] Cubia assaults Kite's team once again, even more powerful than before. They fend him off but are unsure if they will fare so well the next time, based on its rate of growth. Operation Orca, on the other hand, is a success as they destroy the next Wave, Tarvos. Kite seeks the advice of Harald Hoerwick, the creator of the game, who survives beyond death through his AI incarnations. Aura appears and advises that Cubia is the shadow of Kite's Bracelet.[30] Cubia ambushes them and destroys the AI Harald. In their final battle, Kite recalls Aura's advice and has BlackRose destroy the Bracelet, causing Cubia to fade away. Lacking the Bracelet, the final Wave member, Corbenik, attacks the party in Net Slum Root Town. With the aid of the spirits of the coma victims, Kite succeeds in penetrating Corbenik's barrier. Aura sacrifices herself to end the battle, restoring the network to normal and reviving all the coma victims.[31]

Development

Development for .hack began in early 2000 with the goal of shocking and surprising the player, creating a distinctive product that "could not be ignored".[32] CyberConnect2's president Hiroshi Matsuyama played a key role in developing the concept for the series. A number of core ideas were explored including "slaying dragons or being a thief in London", but they were dropped in favor of an "offline/online game". Matsuyama felt that this would give young gamers an opportunity to experience online play without monthly fees or powerful Internet connections.[33] The developers looked to a number of MMORPGs such as Phantasy Star Online, Ultima Online, and Final Fantasy XI for inspiration. The concept also drew influence from the prior works of character designer Yoshiyuki Sadamoto (Neon Genesis Evangelion) and scenario writer Kazunori Itō (Ghost in the Shell).[33] Itō noted that casting the player into the role of a subscriber of The World creates a unique story-telling situation which draws the player deeper into the plot.[34]

.hack was envisioned as a four-part series from the beginning of development, said to mirror the four-volume story arcs found in manga.[33] Matsuyama theorized that the act of transferring save data across the four volumes would help to create a sense of the human drama embodied by the games' story and invest the player into the narrative.[35] The games were developed simultaneously alongside other elements of Project .hack such as .hack//Sign in order to emphasize the multimedia aspect of the franchise.[33][35] However, the three-month gap between each game's release allowed the developers to make minor changes in response to criticisms.[32] The games were packaged with DVDs featuring a episodes of .hack//Liminality, an original video animation (OVA) series that depicts events that occur concurrently with the games.[36] The OVA series was meant to give perspective on fictional events happening in the "real world" outside the game.[37] Players in Japan who purchased all four games were rewarded with .hack//Gift, an OVA parodying the .hack series.[38] Following the completion of the series, the development team produced .hack//frägment using the same game engine as the .hack games with an added online multiplayer component.[39] Their goal in creating the game was to observe player interactions in an online environment and gauge interest in an online .hack game.[40]

Reception

Aggregate review scores
Game GameRankings Metacritic
Infection 76.33%[41] 75 of 100[42]
Mutation 74.34%[43] 76 of 100[44]
Outbreak 68.86%[45] 70 of 100[46]
Quarantine 68.27%[47] 70 of 100[48]

The series has received mixed reviews, but positive sales figures. As of March 2004, sales of the .hack games exceeded 1.73 million, with 780,000 copies sold in Japan.[49] Jeremy Dunham of IGN praised the unique concept of playing an "offline" MMORPG and the lengths gone to preserve the illusion.[3] He also lauded the character designs and the decision to include the Japanese voice track. However, he criticized the completely manually controlled camera and the generic environments of the majority of levels. In his review of the second game, Dunham was impressed by the performance of the English dub cast.[50] In Outbreak, Dunham noted a great improvement in ally characters' artificial intelligence, as well as enemies'.[51] He also described Outbreak and Quarantine as much more compelling story-wise than the first two.[51][52] Ultimately, IGN named .hack//Mutation PlayStation 2 Game of the Month for May 2003.[53] Greg Kasavin of GameSpot found the .hack series to be a very standard action role-playing game, scenario aside, and called it a sub-par version of Kingdom Hearts.[54] He described the soundtrack as a mix of appropriate music with some obnoxious themes. He also criticized the repetitive gameplay which showed little improvement across the series and the short length of each game.[55] Gary Steinman of Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine declared that ".hack is not a good game", but the "mind-bending" story allowed the reviewer to overlook its obvious flaws and look forward to future games in the series.[56] GameNOW commented on the strategy aspect of gameplay, appreciating the depth and variety of battles.[57] Japanese magazine Famitsu Weekly gave the .hack games scores in the 29 to 30 out of 40 range, indicating average reviews.[58][59] However, the Japanese Computer Entertainment Supplier's Association (CESA) honored the series for its combination of different fictional media including games, anime, radio, and manga into a compelling whole at the 2002-2003 CESA Awards.[32]

Related media and legacy

The .hack games are set after .hack//Sign, a TV anime series that establishes the games' setting, The World. As part of a larger multimedia franchise, the games have inspired a variety of subsequent games, novels, manga, and anime series. .hack//Another Birth is a series of novels that retell the story of the games from BlackRose's perspective.[60] .hack//XXXX serves as a manga adaptation of the game's story with various changes, such as Cubia acting as a player character.[61] The first official "sequel" to the games is .hack//Legend of the Twilight, which began serializing on July 30, 2002. This manga and anime series tells the story of Shugo and Rena, regular players who win avatars of Kite and BlackRose in a contest, and their exploration of The World and its secrets.[62][63] .hack//G.U., a video game series also released in multiple parts, forms the centerpiece of .hack Conglomerate, a new project set seven years after Project .hack with a new version of The World.[40]

Music

.hack//Game Music Perfect Collection
Soundtrack album by Chikayo Fukuda
Released
  • JP April 23, 2003
  • NA March 16, 2004
Genre Video game soundtrack
Length Disc 1: 68:50
Disc 2: 71:27
  • NA 69:08
Label

.hack//Game Music Perfect Collection was released in Japan on April 23, 2003.[64] It features 68 compositions by Chikayo Fukuda, Seizo Nakata, and Norikatsu Fukuda, across two discs. A special edition of this soundtrack includes a third disc featuring sound effects and clips used in the games.[65] The album was released in North America as .hack//Game Music Best Collection, with fewer tracks.[66] Patrick Gann of RPGFan found that the second disc, which contains music for cutscenes and special events, was overall stronger than the generic town and battle themes of the first disc. He called the soundtrack "techno meets opera" and singled out the volume intro tracks for particular praise.[65] Gann noted that the North American release functions as a "Best of" album, but it omitted some of his favorite pieces.[66] Other reviewers were less enthusiastic; Paul Koehler of RPGamer derided the music as "particularly bland" and IGN's Dunham complained that the later volumes did not introduce many new pieces.[50][67]

.hack//Game Music Perfect Collection

.hack//Game Music Best Collection

.hack//fragment

.hack//fragment is a multiplayer online game based on the fictional MMORPG, The World. It was released only in Japan on November 23, 2005 and online service ended on January 18, 2007, after being extended two months due to popularity.[68] Famitsu Weekly gave .hack//fragment a 29/40, much like its reviews of the main series.[69] Designer Hiroshi Matsuyama described the game as a way to see how players would react to online play.[40] The game uses the same game engine as the .hack video game series and thus, its gameplay is identical, with the exception of online mode. Players explore areas and fight monsters in real time. A major difference is that during online play, the action does not pause when the menu is opened. Players may still use the skill "Data Drain" to weaken monsters and collect rare items.[70] The user interface and control scheme are otherwise unchanged.

Players may create their characters based on a number of preset body shapes and color schemes and may freely choose a class (such as Wavemaster, Twin Blade, etc.) and character name. There are two main modes of play: online and offline. In online mode, players may enter a lobby and search for up to two other players to join them on an adventure.[39] The game includes an expanded communication interface that allows players to chat, send e-mail, post to an in-game Bulletin Board System, and receive server news updates.[71] It is possible to establish ad-hoc chat rooms, separate from the public-access ones. Guilds are permanent, exclusive chat rooms for its members.[39] A guild may establish a guild shop for both members and non-members, with full control over prices.

In offline mode, players may level up, obtain items, and learn new skills as one of their online mode characters, without the need for an Internet connection. Instead of having other players as party members, the player may invite characters from the .hack games, .hack//Sign, and .hack//Legend of the Twilight into the party.[70] The "story mode" of .hack//frägment is identical to the .hack games, with the player's created character replacing Kite.[70] Also while offline, players can use a PC utility called "HackServer" to create their own areas and dungeons and make them available online.[39] The creators of the most popular areas are given the ability to add stronger monsters for players to defeat.[72]

References

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  8. ^ CyberConnect2. .hack//Infection. (Bandai). PlayStation 2. (2003-02-11) "NoNo: 'The World' has sold over 20 million copies worldwide!"
  9. ^ CyberConnect2. .hack//Infection. (Bandai). PlayStation 2. (2003-02-11) "News: ["The World"] is currently being submitted to the Guinness Book of World Records as the "Highest Selling Game in History.""
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  11. ^ CyberConnect2. .hack//Outbreak. (Bandai). PlayStation 2. (2003-09-03) "News: CC Corporation said in a press conference today that comas caused while playing the online game, "The World," were the result of hackers and not a flaw in "The World" itself."
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  15. ^ a b CyberConnect2. .hack//Outbreak. (Bandai). PlayStation 2. (2003-09-03) "BlackRose: Do you want to know something? My brother fell unconscious here."
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  18. ^ CyberConnect2. .hack//Infection. (Bandai). PlayStation 2. (2003-02-11) "Balmung: That skill... You are the same as the virus."
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  21. ^ CyberConnect2. .hack//Mutation. (Bandai). PlayStation 2. (2003-05-07) "Helba: Silencing is not the only means of control. Why don't you observe them for a little while longer?"
  22. ^ CyberConnect2. .hack//Mutation. (Bandai). PlayStation 2. (2003-05-07) "Helba: You defeated Cubia. I'm impressed."
  23. ^ CyberConnect2. .hack//Outbreak. (Bandai). PlayStation 2. (2003-09-03) "Helba: [Kite] and his party defeated Skeith, Innis, and Magus. Yet, in spite of their triumph, the situation only worsens."
  24. ^ CyberConnect2. .hack//Quarantine. (Bandai). PlayStation 2. (2004-01-14) "Helba: Casualties are no longer contained in the game and the damages extend to the real world."
  25. ^ CyberConnect2. .hack//Outbreak. (Bandai). PlayStation 2. (2003-09-03) "Kite: But... it's really not something I can accomplish alone. Could you lend me a hand? / Balmung: You're... Of course!"
  26. ^ CyberConnect2. .hack//Outbreak. (Bandai). PlayStation 2. (2003-09-03) "Kite: The virus refused to remain in "The World" and began flooding our territory – the real world."
  27. ^ CyberConnect2. .hack//Outbreak. (Bandai). PlayStation 2. (2003-09-03) "Lios: All appears to have gone well. An investigation will still be needed, but... I guess you've succeeded for now."
  28. ^ CyberConnect2. .hack//Quarantine. (Bandai). PlayStation 2. (2004-01-14) "Kite: Net Slum? / Helba: It's a mirror of Ω server... which is mine."
  29. ^ CyberConnect2. .hack//Quarantine. (Bandai). PlayStation 2. (2004-01-14) "Mia: I only exist in "The World.""
  30. ^ CyberConnect2. .hack//Quarantine. (Bandai). PlayStation 2. (2004-01-14) "Aura: Cubia is the shadow. When there is light burning in the darkness, a shadow is born. When the bracelet appeared in this world, Cubia was born as well."
  31. ^ CyberConnect2. .hack//Quarantine. (Bandai). PlayStation 2. (2004-01-14) "Balmung: She was born. Both her and Morganna... To be born, they may have had to die first."
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