Review by Fencedude

".hack, more than just a game..."

.hack is one long storyline running across several media, the basic plotline is as follows:

First is the book .hack//AI BUSTERS, which apparently tells the story of a massive computer virus that hits the internet in the year 2005, basically causing all computers worldwide to cease functioning. This results in the creation of a new, secure OS named ''ALTIMIT''. (This is just what I've heard, the book isn't available in English as of yet.

Next up is the .hack//SIGN anime series, which involves players of a popular MMORPG known as ''The World'', specifically a boy named Tsukasa, who discovers that he is unable to log out of the game. The series focuses on his search for a way to log out, along with various friends he makes along the way, Mimiru, Subaru, Bear, and B.T., to name the most important.

Immediately following SIGN are the games, the first of which is .hack//INFECTION, in the games you take on the role of a boy who starts playing ''The World'' due to the urgings of his friend Orca (Game character name). Your character in ''The World'' is a Male Twin-blade named Kite, and while Orca is taking you through your first dungeon, you encounter a mysterious girl who gives Orca a book. Immediately afterwards you are attacked and Orca is sent into a coma, you then set out on a quest to find out why. Along the way you hook up with a variety of other people (most notably the female heavy blade BlackRose), and also encounter characters from .hack//SIGN.

Each of the games comes with an episode of the .hack//LIMINALITY OVA, which shows events ''In Real Life'' that occur during the games. The first episode involves a young Japanese girl named Mai Minase, as she searches for the reason she and her boyfriend were rendered unconcious while playing ''The World''.

Finally there is the second anime series, .hack//The Legend of Twilight's Bracelet (called .hack//DUSK for short), which takes place 4 years after the .hack games, and since then Kite and BlackRose have become known as the ''.hackers'' and in a special contest, a brother and sister win special characters based on Kite and BlackRose. They enter the world together, and soon discover that all is not right in ''The World''.

Whew, now on to the game!

The conciet of the game is that you aren't taking on the role of Kite, rather the role of the person who is controlling Kite, so when you start up the game it doesn't take you directly to ''The World'', rather it takes you to your computer's ''Desktop''. On the desktop you can check your e-mail from other players, read news articles, customize the color of the desktop and the music that plays, customize various options and view movies you have unlocked. Once you choose to log into ''The World'' you are taken to the main menu screen, where you can proceed into ''The World'' or access the Message Board, where you can read posts by other players of ''The World'' to get hints and advice about how to play.

Once you log in you are taken to a root town, ''The World'' is divided into several servers, each of which has a root town, you start on Delta server, which is for beginners. In the Town you can do the standard RPG things, Save, buy weapons and armor, buy Items and Magic scrolls, trade with people, etc. When you meet some people they will give you their ''Member Address'' which will allow you to invite them into your party. Your party can be up to three people, including yourself.

Once you have formed a party you can then use the Chaos Gate to warp to a field to fight monsters and such. The Chaos Gates are activated by sequences of three keywords, each word determining what kind of field it is, the monsters there, the weather, what kind of dungeon it has, etc. You will recieve set word sequences from the board or from other players which will activate plot related sequences, or you can combine them yourself and create your own field to go monster hunting in. Some fields are locked off by the system administrators, in this case you can use something called ''Gate Hacking'' to get through, assuming you have the correct virus cores.

Once you are in a field, you can enter battle. Monsters are located at predermined points, marked by spinning yellow disc things. Once you get within say...half a screen of one of these, it releases the monsters and battle mode activates. Battles in this game are somewhat like Kingdom Hearts, only toned down. Its an action RPG, and you only control Kite, the computer controlls your party members, though you can give them explicit instructions on what to do, or just set general strategy.

In order to use items, magic or skills you open the menu, which pauses the game and lets you choose what to do at your leisure. This is much easier than in Kingdom Hearts. Kite also has a special ability known as ''Data Drain'' which you can use after you have ''Protect Breaked'' an enemy. When you Data Drain an enemy, you rewrite their data into something weaker, and you also promote the spread of a virus. If the virus spreads too far then the Game is over. Defeating an enemy without using Data Drain slows the spread. Using Data Drain also gets you Virus Cores and other items, and is necessary to defeat certain enemies.

Overall, .hack is one of the most engrossing concepts I've ever run accross, and one that so easily could have been a complete failure. But Bandai pulled it off, exceeding all of my wildest expectations.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 02/18/03, Updated 02/18/03

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