Available in Asia on a single Blu-ray disc are the .hack//The Movie: Sekai no Mukou Ni (“Beyond the World” or “To a place beyond the world”) and a new fighting game for PS3 called .hack//Versus. They’re sold together in what’s called the .hack//Hybrid Pack, and this is a review of both the game and the movie as a bundle. They are, after all, on the same disc.
.hack//The Movie stars a girl named Sora, but not the badass player-killing Sora that .hack fans would normally think of. This is an offline Sora whose friends convince her to drop her inhibitions and join the MMORPG called The World. Perhaps confusing to some viewers, her online character looks almost exactly like Kite. (So we’ve got a protagonist that looks like one .hack character and has the name of another.) To the hardest of hardcore .hack fans,seeing the offline lives of several The World players can make for some interesting cinema. For those not already into the series, however, it is, to put it nicely, boring as fuck. We’re talking about school scenes, buying a soda, walking around some, and all kinds of things that have nothing to do with The World. Some of it is necessary for character and plot buildup, but a lot of it seems meant only for serious .hack diehards who care about things like what a The World player’s human version is having for dinner. It functions more as a secret window into someone’s real life, and real life tends to be terribly boring, compared to fantasy. At least it’s a nice excuse to look at a lot of pretty visuals.
On the bright side, every scene treats viewers to gorgeous animation; the whole movie looks brilliant. It’s only available on Blu-ray, and it takes full advantage of its 1080p splendor; it’s the best the .hack franchise has ever looked, in terms of raw visual power. Unlike the various .hack animated series, Sekai no Mukou Ni is animated entirely in CG instead of the traditional anime style. The downfall of this, of course, is that it will inevitably make people pine more and more for a new .hack RPG.
Sekai no Mukou Ni features that chillingly awesome vocal music that makes all .hack audiovisual media special. You know the kind I’m talking about.
We see Sora’s transition from total noob to fully fledged The World player. This involves musical montages of “Kite” and/or the real-world counterpart sitting around looking at menus, losing fights, being shown things by other players, and so on. Might have been made better with Joe Esposito’s You’re The Best Around, but hey, I’m not a director.
Overall, it’s a decent movie that will probably be appreciated by .hack fans, but just leave newcomers with confusion and questions. Given the age and size of the franchise, however, that’s to be expected.
It’s important to keep in mind the purpose of the included fighting game. Just as Journey was not created to be a riveting platforming experience, but to tell a story and convey emotions, so .hack//Versus not created to provide a rival to Mortal Kombat or Soul Calibur. This “fighting game” is largely another means of telling the larger .hack story. Were one to review the fighting game alone, purely on its merits as a piece of competitive software, there would be justified complaints about the small roster of eight characters, the story being more linear than even fighting games are accustomed to, and relatively small move sets.
That aside, the game does provide good entertainment. For series fans, seeing the characters we’ve come to know and love try and cut each other to bits is a fun diversion. The controls work well, everyone’s got cool moves, and the graphics better than the series has seen elsewhere. Like above, however, this may bring things back around to wishing there were an actual new RPG in the series. Still, it’s neat to see the different things the characters can do. The combat system is built around putting together big combos and carefully taking advantage of the tension bar at the bottom of the screen. Players can do things like dash and break free of a combo, but it’ll cost some of that precious tension. One can build it back up by engaging the enemy, so fights can involve both strategy and improvisation.
One progresses the story through battling down the line of predetermined foes. Players can’t choose their own character; they’ll alternate through the roster as the story dictates. The flow won’t have one going straight down a gauntlet, however; one will need to go back and read messages, among other things. This makes it somewhat annoying that the game automatically saves after every little menu action.
.hack//Versus can be played online, but don’t expect to find matches quickly. The time of day in Japan will be one important factor, but even then, we’re talking about a game that was released in pretty limited quantities. Moreover, I suspect that people who bought this were mostly buying it for the movie, not to spend a lot of time playing the fighting game.
.hack//Versus serves to more deeply immerse the player in the amazing universe that CC2 created, and to that end, it’s a nice addition. As long as you’re looking at it as something that probably wouldn’t have existed as anything other than a throw-in with a movie purchase, you’ll be fine. Enjoy the characters, the world, and the story. That’s what you came to .hack for anyway, right?
(Post-review notes for importers. Read the PSLS guide to importing here.)
This is an all-Japanese movie made in Japan, for Japan. No English is to be found, so if you’re gonna do this, you’d better be able to jam. The fighting game can be enjoyed without Japanese knowledge, but without being able to read, most of the story within it won’t be understood.