Dot Hack – The JRPG Series That Took Me By Surprise

Considering how big the JRPG genre is, there are a lot of games out there that look like they would be awesome, but end up being really bad. There’s also an awful lot of games that look really bad and end up being terrible.

Rarely do you get a game that, upon your very first impressions, looks empty and dull, only to turn into one of your favourite JRPG series! Yet, that is exactly what happened with the Dot Hack games. So, I wanted to take some time today to talk about these games and my experiences with them. On top of that, we’ll look at the details and aspects of the Dot Hack games that make them truly stand-out JRPGs.

My Introduction to Dot Hack

The Dot Hack games are split into two series; the Dot Hack quadrilogy and the Dot Hack GU trilogy. However, they are actually sequels to a very good anime called Dot Hack//Sign.

Sign was my real introduction to the series, as I stumbled across it on one of those websites where you can watch subbed anime online. As far as I remember, I was looking at “anime similar to Ghost in the Shell” and it suggested Dot Hack//Sign.

On a side note, having watched all of Sign and being a huge fan of Ghost in the Shell, the only real connection between them is the idea of people diving into the net.

Based upon that suggestion, I first watched a trailer to see whether it looked interesting…

Whilst that trailer is a more modern one that the one I saw all those years ago, you can see that there is a mix between science fiction, fantasy and mystery. That instantly got my intrigued. And after watching the first episode, I officially started my very first binge-watching session ever.

So yeah, Dot Hack//Sign has the “honour” of being the first show I ever sat down and watched episode after episode, back to back. I was hooked. However, it’s a rather short anime, especially compared to the likes of Gundam and other such series that I was used to at the time. So when it ended, I wanted more. That was in 2003.

Thankfully, I wouldn’t have to wait too long.

Finding The Dot Hack Games

In Europe, we used to get games far later than the US (and far, far later than Japan). As such, whilst the Dot Hack games came out in 2003 in the US, right in time for the end of the anime, we didn’t get them until 2004. By that time, I have already moved on to other things. After all, I was 16.

Then, one day, I went into our local GAME store (or maybe it was Gamestation at the time, I’m not really sure). Looking through the PS2 shelves, I was on the hunt for a new horror game or an RPG I hadn’t played. On that shelf was a bright white cover with a strange, silver-haired girl looking straight at me. That image caught my attention, but it was the words underneath that pulled me in instantly;

This is still one of my favourite game covers; simple, yet very effective.

I saw the words Dot Hack and I picked it up from the shelf immediately, eyes wide open. Within a few short minutes, I had paid for the game and was on my way home, ready to dive into a game that I assumed was based upon an anime I had loved.

For those of you who haven’t played it, here is a trailer for Dot Hack//Infection;

Don’t Trust First Impressions

Having arrived home, it took no time at all for the Dot Hack//Infection disc to find itself in my PS2. As the game booted and I got to see the opening scenes, my eyes were open wide with excitement.

Then, I got to the first game field.

This is where the issue with the game’s design and structure comes into play, and is also where players are most likely to struggle to continue playing. You see, the exterior field areas before you get into a dungeon are extremely barren. There are great expanses of nothingness, with the odd lake or enemy location scattered around.

If I weren’t already a fan of the anime, this would probably have turned me off from the game entirely. That would have been a crime against both JRPGs and gaming in general.

As I was a fan of the anime, I was able to push through the barren exteriors because I was so curious about how the story would progress from the anime, and from the setup you get at the first dungeon. That is something I would recommend that everyone should do, especially if you have seen the Dot Hack//Sign anime, as the games do follow on from that story!

You see, Dot Hack//Infection is (as mentioned earlier) part of the Dot Hack Quadrilogy. As such, the storyline over the game is extremely expansive. Not only that, but it’s very detailed and enjoyable too.

What Makes The Dot Hack Games Different

Back in the early and mid-2000s, the Dot Hack games were really one of a kind. That is because they were pseudo-MMORPGs.

To emulate the idea that you were playing an MMO, the games had two main sections; the “in-game” section and the “desktop” section. On the desktop section, you could read and send emails, check forums and open up a game called “The World”, logging into it to play.

Once “logged in”, you were taken to the “in-game” section where you actually played the game. In it, there were two types of NPCs; standard NPCs and ones that were designed to act and speak as if they were other players of the MMO. With these “player NPCs”, you could talk or trade, like in a real MMO.

Screenshot by XTG

Throughout the course of the game, you also met other “players” that would join your party. However, there were times when you couldn’t add them to your active party because they were “offline”. The “players” behind those characters would also send you emails and stuff in the desktop section too. All of that made for a very unique take on the console JRPG tropes.

Sure, these days the idea of a pseudo-MMO game isn’t that unique with the likes of the various Sword Art Online games coming out as well. However, Dot Hack//Infection managed to do all of that in 2003 (based upon the Japanese and US releases).

The combat was also simple enough that you could pick it up easily, but challenging enough that you never got bored.

And That’s All Folks

The Dot Hack games work brilliantly as sequels to the anime as well as being great games in their own rights. Both the original Dot Hack games and the Dot Hack//GU games are outstanding.

Of the two, the GU games are the better ones in terms of gameplay, because they came later so the developers were able to learn from the first four games. That’s probably why they got a PS4 remaster called Dot Hack//Gu: Last Recode. So, if you’re looking to try the Dot Hack games out, that might be your best option.

That is especially true as the original PS2 versions are going up in price all the time. But either way, I would highly recommend giving these games a try. You just need to make sure that you ignore the barren exterior areas of dungeons.