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CyberConnect 2: Understanding the Digital Connection in .hack

Heath Hindman

As you may know, CyberConnect 2 and Ban Dai recently let gamers know about .hack//Fragment, an online/offline hybrid similar to Phantasy Star Online. Before this announcement, the way people expected .hack to go online would be to simply make "The World" as it's seen in the .hack series into a real MMORPG. But is that they way things should have been? Is .hack//Fragment and its half-online play the best move for CC2 or should the company have gone the way of the MMO? Let's examine...

As you know, an MMORPG is played entirely online. Thus, 100% of its strength lies in the online content. Take a look at .hack's "The World." What does the simulated MMO that lies within that series offer? Grunty Racing, Goblin Tag, and...and....well, nothing. The only thing with any sort of lasting appeal would be the combat, which players can find in any other MMORPG. Said game will likely have much more aesthetically varied dungeons and fields, to boot. The locations in The World got repetitive by the second volume and dull by the third (meaning about 70 hours of gameplay), many looking almost identical to each other. You won't find this problem in the superior online worlds like Camelot (DAoC), Vana'diel (FFXI), Azeroth (WoW), or Norrath (EQ series). I'm not saying the battle portion of The World would not be tremendously more fun if all characters were played by humans–it most certainly would– but that can be done in .hack//Fragment, so there is no need for a full MMO to experience it.

People who played the four currently available .hack games can attest that the real strength of .hack was not the minimal fun that The World offered, but the intriguing story of .hack. The World didn't have a story of its own; it was simply a setting. This would be lost in the transition to MMORPG, as the idea of a million Kites running around Data Draining things is ridiculous. Keep in mind that an MMO transition would require the ability to select a class and customize one's appearance. Again though, this will be present in .hack//Fragment; a full MMO is not needed.

What hurt The World the most is a lack of interaction with the environment. Players could ride Grunties around, pick fruit, and take treasures. That's about it. Compare that to the player-world interaction real MMORPGs. Here's a player discovering the beautiful Northern Lights of Xarcabard in Final Fantasy XI. Also in FFXI, here's a picture of me and a friend sitting next to a bon fire in the middle of an adventure. Mmm, and speaking of bon fires, here'a a shot of one I chilled at by myself in Dark Age of Camelot. You just can't do this stuff in The World.

The "keyword" system of transportation to leveling areas was darn cool in .hack. In a real MMORPG, however, manual transportation can be very fun, and joining an "adventuring party" with the goal of simply seeing new parts of the game world is often a blast. Like many other things, this would be missing from The World Online.

But environment interaction isn't the only kind The World was missing. Aside from message boards and in-game email, The World lacked community interaction. There were no player-owned houses, no dance parties, and none of various other things that competing MMORPGs offer. CyberConnect 2 is smarter than that. The company added necessary community features such as guilds with .hack//Fragment, but the game does not lose anything by not having other standard MMO features. Why? Because it's not an MMO; it's an offline game with fantastic online bonuses. The strength of the game is not measured in the online content alone therefore it doesn't need these other things. The World Online would be held to different standards.

The expectations for Fragment are already high, and those for a full MMORPG of The World would be even higher. Fans have found much to love in the .hack saga, from the PS2 games, to manga, to anime. Players of the next game would expect the joy and excitement they've felt when living those adventures to be matched, if not exceeded. A bland, empty port of The World would not be able to do this. On the other hand, .hack//Fragment sounds like it has the potential to satisfy. The PSO format is much more like what a .hack fan is used to, as the whole world was made just for one small group of characters, rather than to be shared with thousands at any given time. Likewise, when a PSO player wants to play some offline action, he/she can. Having this present in Fragment is just what the player ordered.

Furthermore, we come to the point about monthly fees. With a game like .hack//Fragment, which is heavy on instancing and ditches the "massive" part of MMORPG, it seems the resources used don't add up to an amount that charging players a monthly fee is absolutely necessary for the developers to make money. The World Online and its massiveness would use such resources and require players to shell out some cash once a month. So take your pick: The World upped to MMORPG status and costing $15 a month, or .hack in all its offline glory with the new ability to jump online and battle alongside friends, costing nothing?

The World simply made into an MMORPG would require tremendous changes to even be remotely enjoyable. No matter what email I get or message board I read, no one in favor of the MMO version mentions any of this; they simply cry for the same sub-game they played in .hack to be made real. The reality is that such a game would fail, and even the most adamant supporters would find the game boring in a short time. The features of .hack are what made those games fun--not the shallow gameplay of The World.

Sticking with its offline strength while letting people see what it's like to play with others is the better way to go, and those in charge have made the right move. If offline co-op is also added, .hack//Fragment may be close to perfect.

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