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My History With Dot Hack – Dot Hack Tribute Day August 6, 2020

Posted by Maniac in Dot Hack Tribute Day, Editorials, Uncategorized.
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Nearly two decades ago, before my home had access to G4TV, I would watch the digital cable network over at my cousin’s house whenever he needed me to fix his computer. They were lucky enough to have a house geographically located in a spot that received regular utility service upgrades, and because of that their cable provider was able to offer them digital cable and high speed internet half a decade before they offered it in my area only a twenty minute drive away. In 2003, if you were a gamer, G4TV was absolutely incredible. They even had gamer-focused channel bumpers which showed commercials for new and upcoming games. That’s where I first learned about .hack//.

I know that’s just a silly bumper but it was the best I could recover, but I thought it would be fair to show you how devoted G4 was with gaming back then. My first actual experience with the franchise came when I witnessed a review of the third game in the series, .hack//Quarantine for the PS2. Sadly it has been impossible to find that original review online, but after learning about the game I wanted to learn more.

.hack// (pronounced Dot Hack) was a truly transmedia property made up of video games and animated series. It presented the question of just what it would be like to be trapped inside a VR MMORPG everyone in the world played. Massively Multiplayer Games (MMOs) had taken off in the second half of the 90s and by the early 2000s they were poised to revolutionize how games were played (this would eventually come to fulfillment in 2004 with the release of World of Warcraft). It’s cyberpunk theme, grounded futuristic setting, and honest comprehension of the gamer lifestyle was really up my alley. The only problem was I didn’t own a PS2, and could not afford to play the original games. However playing the games weren’t my only option to getting into the world of .hack//, there was another.

Do you remember when I said that .hack// was a transmedia property, with not just games but animated series to go along with it? At the same time G4 was in its heyday, another US station, Cartoon Network, was airing Japanese-created content in a now-legendary programming block known as Toonami. .hack//SIGN was the first animated series produced for the franchise, and its story tied directly into the events of the original PS2 games. To a kid like me, this was a next level of technological integration. Heck, Toonami would even review the games themselves during channel bumpers.

This was a great time for the franchise and for lovers of games and anime, and unfortunately I missed out on nearly all of it. By the time I finally got my own PS2, it was impossible to find copies of any of the original episodic games on store shelves. Online marketplaces willing to resell used copies demanded high prices (something that continues to this day). In fact the final game in the original series, .hack//Quarantine, is one of the rarest and most highly sought after used game in the entire PS2 library. By the mid-2000s, I had fallen out of following the franchise, however the franchise continued to receive fresh new content throughout the world.

A second episodic game series was primed to come for the PS2 in the second half of the 2000s, .hack//G.U. Three games would get released for that series, and its players (who had played the original games) would unlock some extra in-story nods. On the transmedia front, an exclusive prequel series, .hack//ROOTS, was released to tie into G.U., but it wasn’t very well received by critics or fans. The G.U. games, on the other hand, were better recieved by critics and fans than the original .hack// titles.

The era following the release of the G.U. games was a dark period for fans outside of Japan. .hack//LINK for the PSP was never released in North America, nor was the PS3 .hack// fighting game (which came bundled with a CGI-film was was also never released in North America). Manga was seeing fewer English-language releases due to ongoing issues with the American publisher (Red Bard, who we featured earlier today, had a whole video on it). By the 2010s, it seemed that the West would no longer be seeing anything in the .hack// franchise. At this point I had tuned my attention elsewhere, and it seemed I would be parting with the franchise.

At the end of 2017, something I never would’ve imagined happening…happened. BandaiNamco officially announced they were porting all three of the .hack// G.U. games to the PC and PS4 with a whole bunch of new content.

This was the best news I had heard in a very long time. With this HD re-release I would finally get the chance to play some of the .hack// games myself on a platform I actually owned. While I quickly learned they were not porting the original four games, I still appreciated BandaiNamco’s effort and bought a copy with the hope this meant we would be seeing more from the franchise down the roads. The games ran great, kept their original visual aesthetic and had new features. It was everything that should be expected in an HD Remaster of a game.

Once I had the PS4 game, I quickly realized just how out of date my .hack// knowledge was. I had missed out on not just the original four games but multiple animated series and several books. Thankfully, FUNIMATION had re-released all of the shows produced for North America in DVD boxed sets and I spent a pleasant month tracking down copies of everything I could.

My search was a success, but once it ended, nothing further has been published in the West from the world of .hack//…or has it? I discovered an entire community of gaming enthusiasts, anime fans, otakus and lovers of Japanese culture were out there and they all had a lot they wanted to say about .hack//. That community is part of the reason why I decided to devote this entire day to the franchise. I want to give props to YouTube Channel ModalBeat, who’s in-depth discussion of the first games was instrumental for my understanding G.U.’s background. Since I had previously devoted an entire Sunday to his video series in my Gaming History You Should Know articles, his videos are not going to be featured today but if you haven’t checked out his work you totally should.

Sadly, there hasn’t been much news coming out of BandaiNamco since .hack//G.U. HD was released. At the very least I’ve been hoping they would port the earliest games, or localize a title that had never come to the West, but nothing new has been announced. That’s part of the reason why I’ve devoted this day in tribute to the franchise, because I believe the publisher needs to know how much we love this franchise and want to see it return…again.

If you’re interested in watching anything that is currently available in the US, you have just a few options. .hack//G.U. HD Remaster, which includes HD ports of all three G.U. games as well as a fourth bonus episode, is currently out on the PS4 and PC (through Steam).

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