I’ve wanted to say this for a while now: You do not need to have played the original four .hack games to understand this. You do not need to have seen any of the .hack anime to understand this. You do not need to have read any of the .hack manga to understand this. This game can be easily enjoyed without any prior knowledge of the series. If at any point you are confused as to what is going on in the game, then you haven’t been paying attention to all of the information the game has at its disposal in the form of dialogue, message boards, e-mails, etc. The only bonus you receive for having the save data from the previous .hack games is a few extra e-mails, and one of the characters has the same name you gave to the main character in the first series. Nothing important, which is even more reason why you don’t need to have played anything .hack in order to play this game.
You take on the role of a person playing the character of Haseo, a PKK (player killer killer…one who kills those who kill others in online games…) who levels up to level 133 and mysteriously turns back to level 1 just in time for you to start playing. A lot of screwed up stuff happens, including your online girlfriend going into a coma, and you have to figure out what’s really behind things and stop it. The story is actually very interesting, but I don’t feel like reciting it to you. Trust me: It will keep you interested until the very end, and then piss you off and make you say “uuugh Jesus Christ when is the next installment coming to the US!?!”
The game simulates very well what online games are like, aside from the fact that this game’s combat is too fun and action-packed for a real MMORPG. MMOs have to worry about all kinds of lag and crap so they really couldn’t have the same type of fighting system. That’s right: The battles are too fun to exist in an MMORPG.
You can send and receive e-mails, read and post on message boards, check out news pages (complete with videos) and change your desktop wallpaper and the music you are playing. Pretty much all the stuff you actually do that is even remotely related to playing an online game. In fact, I have actually found myself getting confused as to whether a message board post I remember reading is from the game or from an actual message board. It’s kind of creepy, really.
There is a lot of interaction with other (simulated) players, as well. While adventuring, you often find people in danger, whether being attacked by monsters that are too strong for them or being attacked by other players who want to kill them and steal their rare items. You can help these players out, and they give you rewards and such. You also get rewards for tracking down and killing the really bastardy PKs who are on the “Blacklist.” Basically, a list of a bunch of jackasses who go around killing people way lower level than them. Just like actual MMORPGs!
The overall look of the game is also very well done. They did something crazy with cell shading that looks awesome (as opposed to Wind Waker, which made me hate the idea of cell shading.) The characters are expressive, the colors are… colory, the towns are… cool. Well, I clearly don’t know how to describe it, but I really like the way it looks. The one drawback in the looks department, which also happens to be the major drawback for the game as a whole, is the fact that there is essentially no variety in dungeon layouts. There are three different areas to go in. Japanesey temple place, grassy/mossy cave thing, and grassy field. The field levels have weather and time effects (ie, rainy night time, sunny day time, etc), but it’s still the same basic place. I can understand why different areas would have to use the same look, since there’s a bazillion possible areas to go to, but I have no idea why there are only three types. This may be the only thing I really, really don’t like about the game, but it sucks.
The game doesn’t just look awesome, it sounds that way too. This is one of the few games where there aren’t any character’s who make me insane with their obnoxious voice acting. I think the voices all fit very nicely. The music is, as it always seems to be with .hack things, pleasant to listen to. So much so that I almost immediately came to the conclusion that I needed to purchase the soundtrack.
Lack of level variety aside, this is one of the most fun games I have ever played. The first game in a long time to make me seriously consider knocking Lufia II down from first place in my all time list of favorite videogames. If you were at all thinking about checking out .hack, I definitely recommend you do it with this game. If you somehow get the special edition, it even comes with a disc that has a recap of the four original .hack games. There you go, even more excuse not to have to play the first four games. In any event, .hack fan or no, you need to check out this game.