Ah…so many memories. The .hack// video games hold a special place in my heart. When I first joined Mygamer, some of the first games I covered were the original .hack// games, starting all the way back with .hack//Mutation, the second game in the initial foursome of games that took place alongside the then-popular .hack//Sign anime series (which I watched every single episode of, religiously). It’s been a long, long time since then. The .hack// series has had a LOAD of what can be accurately labeled as machine-gun installments, with anime and novels and manga and a card game (that FLOPPED). So now that I’m long removed from the series, I must say that when I first heard about a new line of games, I was happy, though mildly self-loathing for having no idea what happened over the past three years.
The base story of .hack// has remained the same throughout, however. Way back when on Christmas Eve of 2005, a ten-year old boy literally destroyed the internet with a virus named Pluto’s Kiss, which pretty much shut down the world. The only surviving computers were the ones that used a fictional OS named Altimit. And with it, came a MMORPG named The World. Because in Japan, every form of entertainment has some sort of huge, dark conspiracy at its core and a load of manipulators behind it, The World had a small glitch that ended up sucking people’s brains into the game, erasing their memories and tapping their consciousness into their unconscious bodies in the real world. At the root of this is a psychotically lonely programmer who wanted to create an imagined daughter with a dead woman who he failed at attracting who he became obsessed with. His digital child would be created in the form of the perfect AI, named Aura, which would be constructed through a program, named Morganna, by reading the reactions of players in The World. Well, the program goes crazy, eats people’s brains and reads their emotions as it sabotages their e-Life. Sounds like a lot? It is. Then the first game series starts up. Morganna, seeking self-preservation as it will cease to be after ejaculating the perfect AI, so it eats more people’s brains to obstruct the creation of Aura. The hero, Kite, ends up chasing down the mutated people who take the forms of monsters, and in the meantime, the Morganna’s swagger and power ends up spilling out into the real world, as cities get blacked out and buildings get shut down because of Morganna. Long story short, Kite fixes it and things progress in such a way for the rest of the series.
Which takes things to //G.U.. In //G.U., The World has, essentially, been rebooted, and the rules have been rewritten, resulting in a dog-eat-dog, PvP world much like many other extinct MMOs. The series follows a player named Haseo. Haseo is regarded by other players as the best player-killer killer (PKK) around, and if you’ve ever seen the deceptive-though-entertaining trailers for the original //G.U. game, it’s pretty telling. Well, during his exploits, Haseo ends up in the Hidden Forbidden Holy Ground, a church that has been a setting for important moments in the series, where he encounters Tri-Edge (or so he thinks), a player killer who is allegedly so beastly, people don’t even log back in afterwards (oh…and he looks like Kite). When Haseo attacks him, Tri-Edge beats him down thoroughly (with one hand), then data-drains him, the technique that initially sucked people’s brains into the game.
From there, the //G.U. series picks up. Haseo is left ruined in the game, being dropped back from level 133 to 1, left with no items, his buddy list wiped and just about every other thing that would lead a WoW player to a self-tied noose (though his brain was firmly lodged in his skull). It gets into some more stuff…Aura being resurrected…more data-draining…even MORE people getting their brain sucked out and all those other .hack// trademarks. Either way, if this is the first installment in the series, then you’re not going to have any idea what’s going on.
So, now that the story is out of the way, here’s the deal with the actual combat. Gameplay-wise, //G.U. Vol. 3 is identical to the other two in the series. And the //G.U. series is near-identical gameplay-wise to the original series of .hack// games. It has a basic “square-square-square” battle system, essentially making it a button masher. There is also blocking (though it’s unnecessary, really) and special skills that got mapped to the R1 button, which is pressed together with one of the face buttons (no magic, though). The main draw of the .hack// games isn’t the gameplay, though. It’s the environment. The game uses the unique presentation, with the pseudo-PC with the opportunity to e-mail party members, collect desktops, and listen to music. Not to mention the densely-populated cities with interactive AI-controlled players. Outside the well-preserved MMORPG simulation style, the game is still just a button-mashing dungeon-crawler. Just like the gameplay, the graphics and sound are just slightly improved over the last series, but with a better, darker tone.
Ultimately, though, playing the original two //G.U. games is a must if you are hoping to tackle this one. And at least some of the anime and original game series are prerequisites for the first two //G.U. games. People well-versed in the series are encouraged to finish off the series with this one. Everyone else interested should check out the used DVD and PS2 game section in their local game store. Look for this to hit September 10, 2007.