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.hack Preview (PS2)
game: .hack
posted by: Shawn Rider
publisher: Bandai
developer: CyberConnect2
date posted: 09:10 AM Sat Jun 8th, 2002
last revision: 04:32 PM Thu Nov 3rd, 2005

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Videogame otaku and RPG fans mark this in your book: \"Get .hack.\" That\'s \"dot hack,\" a new action RPG from Bandai. But this is not your typical action RPG. In a major turn towards blurring the line between reality and fantasy, .hack centers around a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG) called The World. Of course, there is no real MMORPG called The World, and .hack does not utilize the soon-to-be online capabilities of the PS2. It\'s a wonderfully bizarre premise, and with a strong grounding in A-list anime production, it could be the coolest RPG to hit the market this year.

To lay all this out, let\'s begin with the real world. .Hack is an anime series in Japan. Actually, as things tend to go over there, it goes by a few names, including .hack//Sign and hack project. The anime features characters designed by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, of Evangelion fame, and the story is by Kazunori Ito, who wrote Ghost in the Shell and Patlabor. The anime series centers around The World, a fictional MMORPG. Everything was all hunky-dory in The World until some strange stuff started happening.

That\'s about all you need to know before you dig into .hack on your PS2. The protagonist of the game is a fourteen year old boy named Kite who plays The World with his friend, Orca. Orca is a famous player on The World and very powerful. Still, what with all the craziness going on in the game, Orca ends up being put into a coma. (From some of the synopses I\'ve read of the series this isn\'t such an unusual thing. That\'s how strange this virtual MMORPG has gotten.) Kite, unable to just let his friend waste away, enters The World in hopes of saving Orca. Along the way Kite runs into Aura who gives him the Twilight, which apparently endows Kite with amazing powers capable of doing serious damage to the real person playing the game.

Obviously .hack is very story-oriented, and it utilizes a lot of anime cutscenes to convey the narrative. You can also choose to hear the voice-overs in either English or Japanese, which is just another example of how Bandai is really catering to the anime enthusiast with .hack. For years we\'ve been clamoring to allow us to play games with subtitles. In addition, Bandai is including an extra DVD disc with the game. The DVD features a 40 minute original video animation (OVA) that tells a side-story to the game\'s plot. Mai and Tomonari are playing The World when both lose consciousness. Mai recovers and, in a move very similar to Kite\'s, must work to figure out the mysteries of The World in order to save her friend. This extra movie fleshes out the world of The World even more.

.hack combines standard action RPG gameplay with a whole bunch of other stuff. You\'ll interface with the game (which is the \"real world\" for Kite and his friends) and The World interchangeably. You\'ll have to read email, hang out in chat rooms, interact with other players in The World, etc. By interacting with other players (of course, these are all non-player characters) you collect clues that will help you progress and open up new areas of The World to explore. All of this skipping from reality to reality leads to some innovative and energetic gameplay.

Just writing about .hack is somewhat engrossing. The levels of fantasy are staggering, and the whole concept lends itself to some serious contemplation of just how topsy-turvy a game can get. Bandai has a remarkable track record with anime (Cowboy Bebop, y\'all), and they\'ve sunk a lot into .hack. After reading so many good reviews of the Japanese anime series and seeing .hack in action at E3, I don\'t have a problem expecting a lot from this game. It\'s no wonder that there are already four installments of the series planned for Japan. Although only the first installment has been announced for the US, it\'s no doubt that we\'ll see more, especially if the game is as big of a hit as I suspect it will be.

The World gets a little less stable this October.