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What Modern Anime Tie-in Games Can Learn From a Forgotten PlayStation 2 Series

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Anime tie-in games are nothing new. Dragon Ball, My Hero Academia, Naruto, and more have inspired their fair share of games over the years, with various titles releasing to mixed reception. For every Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot there is a Naruto Shippuden: Dragon Blade Chronicles to keep the universe in balance. The core of what makes a tie-in game good can be elusive even well into the modern generation of gaming. However, .hack, a mostly forgotten PlayStation 2 series, gave lovers of the anime the experience they were craving 20 years ago.

Project .hack began in 2002 and spanned across several forms of media and had interwoven plots and characters interacting with a mysterious MMORPG called The World. Each piece of media acted as a portion of the puzzle which, when put together, gave fans a fuller picture of the truth lurking within a seemingly harmless setting that slowly grew more oppressive and sinister. Over the course of the PS2 generation, the series released four tie-in games, which had the player step into the role of Kite, a young man who became embroiled in the enigma that drew people into .hack//Sign.

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.hack Drew Players in By Making Them Part of the Story

Image features the characters from .hack//Sign

.hack//Sign‘s main mystery surrounds a young Wavemaster (the game’s equivalent of a mage) named Tsukasa who cannot log out from the game and return to the real world, her real body locked in a coma. The riddle continues in .hack//Infection as the player’s adventure begins and immediately sets the stakes incredibly high. Kite’s best friend ends up among the many experiencing these symptoms, prompting him to take action to try to find a cure for those who lay comatose with the knowledge it exists somewhere in The World itself.

From the start, the .hack games take painstaking care in recreating the feel of playing an MMORPG. The anime itself primarily takes place within The World, and the games accurately represent both the feeling of playing within the setting and what interacting with the desktop would be like in .hack‘s world. Email chains are answered, forums are visited, and genuine relationships develop between characters all in ways that feel organic and familiar both to watchers of the anime and players of MMORPGs at the time. Players were not only introduced to their party members’ characters, but also the people behind them. They even had the opportunity to form connections with them.

By recreating the trappings of an MMORPG, .hack accurately represented the anime and how its characters interacted. The expanded setting also had direct consequences, as Kite’s adventure had an effect on the entire series moving forward. This wasn’t just a one-off story or a way for the player to get to interact with their favorite characters; this was the player directly participating in events that would ripple forward for decades.

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Modern Anime Games Can Learn From .hack’s Worldbuilding

Tsukasa and his companions unpack the mysteries of The World in .hack//Sign

Project .hack is a unique multimedia experience, and the .hack games are a major factor in that. The games were both a part of the series and not intrinsic to enjoying and understanding it, instead standing on their own and serving as excellent supplements to the anime. They added value to the series, giving fans another way to engage with it, which ultimately should be the goal of a tie-in game. Beyond that, the .hack games are a fun experience that the player doesn’t need to do too much homework to understand, but they still make an obvious impact on the world in which they are set.

By weaving a compelling narrative, introducing players to new and old characters, and deepening the world of the .hack//Sign series, the .hack games added value to the anime as a whole. Modern anime tie-in games should consider what the audience loves about their unique worlds and the many ways they can interact with it beyond fighting. Offering ways for players to deepen their relationship with the universe and even have a hand in unraveling a mystery or two helps get the audience even more invested, and developers should look to the .hack series as a great example of how games can take the whole experience into account.

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