Videogame series (from 2002). CyberConnect2 (CC2). Designed by Kazunori Ito, Kōichi Mashimo, Yoshiyuki Sadamoto.
.hack is a transmedia franchise including Videogames, Anime, novels and Comics, all of which are perhaps best viewed as parts of a single work. Its story revolves around a fictional Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game called "The World", which bears a strong resemblance to the fantasy game EverQuest (1999 Verant Interactive, Win; 2003 Mac) designed by Brad McQuaid, Steve Clover, Bill Trost; the major difference is that The World is played using Virtual Reality equipment. As is true of real MMORPGs, the fictional game seems poised halfway between a fully convincing alternative reality and an obviously artificial construct. .hack//Sign (2002) is an Anime series which concentrates on Tsukasa, a new player who for unknown reasons is unable to log out of the system. Meanwhile, the game's synthetic reality appears to be breaking down, and a mysterious AI has been discovered buried deep in the infrastructure of The World. .hack//Sign is remarkable for the understanding it displays of the cultures of persistent Online Worlds, and the way in which they can offer people a second, better life. In the end, Tsukasa's story is resolved but many other questions are left unanswered.
A series of Videogames, set after the end of the Anime, began with .hack//Infection (2002 CC2, PS2, vt .hack//Infection Expansion in Japan), in which the player takes on the role of Kite, who is himself a player of The World. Soon the player finds that they have acquired unusual powers to access The World's infrastructure, which they must use to discover why many of the game's players have fallen into a coma. The series was continued in .hack//Mutation (2002 CC2, PS2, vt .hack//Malignant Mutation in Japan), .hack//Outbreak (2002 CC2, PS2, vt .hack//Erosion Pollution in Japan) and .hack//Quarantine (2003 CC2, PS2, vt .hack//Absolute Encirclement in Japan), which together make up a single serial story with an essentially linear plot (see Interactive Narrative). Each game includes an episode of the Anime series .hack//Liminality (2002-2003), which tells a parallel story set in the real world. .hack//Infection and its successors are Console Role Playing Games (see Computer Role Playing Games) which focus strongly on the combat and treasure-hunting aspects of The World's fiction. Unfortunately, this makes their core gameplay an all too accurate representation of what is perhaps the least interesting aspect of MMORPGs, without including the other human players who make it entertaining. Ultimately, it is revealed that the comatose players have been caught in a conflict between two AIs: Aura, who was constructed illicitly by a programmer of The World in the hope that she could eventually become truly sentient by learning from the game's players, and her guardian, Morganna, who has gone rogue. Resolution comes when Aura merges with Morganna, becoming a benevolent goddess in The World's machine.
.hack//Legend of the Twilight (2002-2004), written by Tatsuya Hamazaki, is a Manga set after the end of the game series. A separate version was produced as a Young Adult Anime, also called .hack//Legend of the Twilight (2003). The story focuses on attempts by the owners of the MMORPG to delete Aura. A second series of interlinked projects, sometimes collectively referred to as .hack Conglomerate to distinguish them from the original .hack, began with the Anime .hack//Roots (2006). Conglomerate is largely set within "The World R:2", a new version of the MMORPG created after a catastrophic failure of the original. This new World has been overrun by players who enjoy slaughtering other players' characters and is slipping into anarchy; meanwhile, Aura has disappeared. A series of three games follows the Anime: .hack//G.U. Rebirth (2006 CC2, PS2, vt .hack//G.U. Resurrection in Japan), .hack//G.U. Reminisce (2006 CC2, PS2, vt .hack//G.U. The Voice that Thinks of You in Japan) and .hack//G.U. Redemption (2007 CC2, PS2, vt .hack//G.U. At a Walking Pace in Japan). The player character is the protagonist of Roots, who has become a dedicated killer of player killers within The World; the plot centres on the results of a failed attempt by the game's owners to resurrect Aura, in the hope that she could salvage their creation. This second iteration of the concept suffers from a certain degree of repetition, both in the gameplay and in the various manifestations of the story. Nevertheless, the well-drawn characters and intriguing situations remain of interest.
A third revision of the franchise was launched with a Manga, originally published in Japan from 2007 and later translated into English as .hack//Link Volume 1 (2010), .hack//Link Volume 2 (2010) and .hack//Link Volume 3 (2011), all written by Megane Kikuya. In this variant, which acts as a sequel to .hack//Roots and the .hack//G.U. games, The World has been rebooted as "The World R:X". As in the film Tron (1982), the comic's protagonist is mysteriously transported into this artificial reality as a fully physical entity, to discover that the virtual world is mutating in inexplicable ways. .hack//Link (2010 CC2, PSP) is a CRPG loosely based on the Manga which has only been made available in Japanese; reviews were mixed. Other associated works include the Anime series .hack//Quantum (2010-2011) and the computer animated film .hack//The Movie (2012), which was only released in Japan. Stories set in The World R:X, in any medium, frequently feature the return of characters from the many previous core narratives and spinoffs in the franchise, to an extent that sometimes makes them inaccessible to those who are not already dedicated fans of the milieu. Arguably, the .hack concept has now reached the point of diminishing returns.
Related works: .hack//fragment (2005 CC2, PS2) is a version of The World implemented as an actual MMORPG, only released in Japan. It was generally considered to be severely limited compared to competing games such as Anarchy Online (2001), and was shut down after a year. .hack//Enemy (2003 Decipher) designed by Mike Reynolds, Chuck Kallenbach is an award-winning Collectible Card Game set in The World, in which players adopt the role of monsters attacking characters within the fictional MMORPG.
AI Buster (2005) by Tatsuya Hamazaki is a prequel to .hack//Sign, describing the appearance within The World and subsequent suicide of a failed prototype of Aura. AI Buster 2 (2006), also by Hamazaki, is a collection of short stories set within the franchise. .hack//Another Birth Volume 1 (2006), .hack//Another Birth Volume 2 (2006), .hack//Another Birth Volume 3 (2007) and .hack//Another Birth Volume 4 (2007), all by Miu Kawasaki and Kazunori Ito, are novelizations of the original four .hack games. Similarly, .hack//G.U. Volume 1 (2009), .hack//G.U. Volume 2 (2010), .hack//G.U. Volume 3 (2010) and .hack//G.U. Volume 4 (2011), all by Tatsuya Hamazaki, are novelizations of the three Conglomerate games, while .hack//G.U.+ Volume 1 (2008), .hack//G.U.+ Volume 2 (2008), .hack//G.U.+ Volume 3 (2008), .hack/G.U.+ Volume 4 (2008) and .hack//G.U.+ Volume 5 (2009), again written by Hamazaki, are Manga adaptations of the same material. Other Ties to Conglomerate include Ryo Suzukaze's .hack//CELL Volume 1 (2010) and .hack//CELL Volume 2 (2010), which follow the parallel stories of a seriously ill young girl in our world and an identically named character in The World who charges players for allowing them to kill her, and the Manga .hack//Alcor (2009) and .hack//4koma (2010). [NT]
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