.hack (pronounced “dot hack”) is a game like any other game, if any other game was different from any other game. It comes from the unique idea of having an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) without actually being online. You play the role of a boy (character name: Kite) whose friend goes into a coma while playing the (fictional) online game called The World, and you must go exploring through The World to discover the cause of his friend’s mysterious condition. Along the way you will meet various other players who will help you on your quest by giving you their “member addresses”. Once you obtain a member address you can send a flash mail (instant message) to them, and if they are online they will come join you (and no, they aren’t always online).
The battles are in real-time, and you can choose to attack your enemies with your basic weapons, or use skills. All of the skills you get in the game are given to you by the weapons and armor you equip; i.e., if you take off your helmet, you no longer have any of the skills associated with it. You gain levels by getting experience points from killing enemies, like most other RPGs; however, you do not get any money from killing enemies. You must make all of your money by selling scrolls and equipment you find in fields and dungeons.
There are different servers you can play on (in INFECTION, only the Delta and Theta servers are available, but others will become usable in future games), each with a unique “Root Town” where you can buy weapons and items, and trade with other players who happen to be online at the time. In each root town there is a “Chaos Gate” where you can warp to other servers and to the fields where the dungeons are. To warp to a field, you must enter three keywords, and depending on which keywords you entered, you will be warped to a different type of field with different dungeons in each one. There are many keywords to choose from, combining for an insanely large amount of areas to explore (something like 50 thousand, I’d estimate.). Throughout the game you find different keywords of places where special events will happen to help the story progress.
I know what you are saying to yourself right now: you are saying, “Wow, this game seems a lot like an online game even though I know that it is, in fact, not an online game and only a simulated online game available for my PlayStation 2 for the low price of $49.99, but what other elements make it seem like an online game?” Well, I’m glad you asked. There is also a message board you can visit where you can learn new information about the game posted by other players, and even find keywords of places where special items can be found or unusual events are occurring. In addition to the message board, you can also send and receive e-mail from your friends and others that will help you proceed with your adventure.
Perhaps the most important part of the game is your ability to “Data Drain” enemies. When you Data Drain an enemy, you reduce them to a much lower level, and receive an item from them. Sometimes the item is a weapon or a piece of armor, and other times it is a “Virus Core”. Virus Cores are used to open locked areas of the game. These actions are considered hacking, and as you do them more and more, your “Infection” percentage will go up. If the percentage reaches 100%, your character will be destroyed and you will get a game over. To lower the percentage, simply defeat enemies without using your Data Drain powers. The videogame series takes place entirely online (within the safe confines of your PS2, away from any swearing middle schoolers), and is accompanied by an anime series that takes place at the same time, but shows events occurring in the real world.
This game is the first I’ve ever seen like it. In fact, before this game, I don’t even think I thought about having an MMORPG without actually being online. That’s part of what makes this game so much fun to play. You can get all of the elements of many good online games, such as the people to trade, talk, and fight with, the expansive environments and different weather effects to fight in, the many different weapons and items to find, and even rare equipment to search for after the game is finished. This game even has people making emoticon faces =). One major thing it doesn’t have that mostly all MMORPGs have is annoying people who cheat and run around insta-killing people to steal all of their equipment and gold (yeah, I was upset about it, too).
The replay value of this game is pretty much as high as you can get for any game. There are so many fields and dungeons to explore that you’ll probably never be able to even visit them all, let alone get to the end of all of the dungeons. At the end of each dungeon, there is a treasure box that holds a different item each time you go to it. This makes it so that even if you play the game over and over again, you’ll still be finding new and different items each time you go exploring.
When you beat the game, you also get your data “flagged”, meaning that you can now take your character’s stats, items, and anything else collected during gameplay to the next volume of .hack (MUTATION). This fact alone has kept many a gamer playing for hours and hours after completion, searching for the best weapons and armors for all of the characters in their party.
The background music of this game adds a lot to the environment, setting the mood for every area as you enter. It makes the dungeons seem spookier, the ice planes seem colder, the flowery meadows seem more peaceful, and the crazy/heroic heavy axemen seem all the more crazy and heroic. Some of the best music from the game can actually be unlocked by completing various tasks so that you are able to listen to them any time you want. There is even a bonus track to listen to. Aside from the field and dungeon music, there are also some very good songs that play during certain events and cutscenes, such as music that plays when a certain character comes around, or during a boss fight.
The various gameplay elements (controls, etc.) may be somewhat similar to other games you have played, but the story is very original. The characters aren’t as developed as many people may like, but it’s not much of a problem since this is only the first of four games, and you are only being introduced to the game and the characters in this volume. The unique way the game elements are explained through e-mail and message board posts will keep you interested and wondering what kind of game you are actually playing. (It’s really interesting to see “version update information” on a message board while playing a game on your PlayStation 2. Keeps you thinking, eh?) The high replay value and high funness factor of this game will more than keep you busy until the next volume, and once all four volumes come together, it promises to have one of the greatest stories out of any RPGs out there.