-.hack's original story is in four parts, much like the original game. The first part, (which I consider as the prelude to the whole story) is .hack//AI BUSTER
, a short novel revolving mainly around a Long Arm player named Albireo.
One day, he runs into a mysterious girl NPC, one who seems to go wherever he does in the game once he meets her whether she oughta be able to or not. Albireo soon finds himself teaming with a scantly-clad Wavemaster named Hokuto during his efforts to find out why the NPC is tagging along with him, resulting with the pair discovering the first hints of the World's problem. The novel also covers a very important event in the lives of two characters from the original game.
-The next major chapter is the anime, .hack//SIGN
The anime is what I consider the first proper half of the original story. For those who haven't seen it yet, it focuses on a Wavemaster named Tsukasa who finds himself experiencing the World as if it were reality: no way to log out, no console by him or headset or controller felt on his body. He soon attracts the attention of a group of characters across the game's player-base, ranging from the casual to the hardcore-devoted. These players come together for various reasons but all centered on discovering what sort of situation Tsukasa is in, why he's able to suddenly do things not within the game's known programming and if it has anything to do with the Key Of The Twilight, a rumored game-breaking item that lets you do anything you want once you have it. More talk then action in this chapter of the story but it does set up things to come in the next.
-Said next chapter being the original game or games
as most tend to think of it. I usually tend to think of .hack//INFECTION
, and QUARANTINE
to be four parts of one whole game however.
For those who never had a chance or didn't want to bother trying it, the game focuses on a Twin Blades player named Kite. Brought into the game by his well-known friend, Orca, Kite's introduction to the World's gameplay goes horribly wrong when a unknown and unkillable monster not only kills Orca's character. The truly bad part comes in when Kite discovers that Orca's player has actually fallen into a coma at the same time his character fell. Not long after, Kite soon finds his own character altered, giving him possibly the only chance he has to find out what happened to Orca and perhaps save him. With this being the first .hack game, it's somewhat understandable that the game had it's flaws. It tends to be unduly slammed in a lot of reviews however thanks to players who don't quite get the idea that it's one game chopped up into four parts and thus it shouldn't have major changes in each part, such as graphics-improvement. While it can get monotonous at times with it's gameplay, there's a good story in there waiting to be seen.
-It wouldn't be right to move on just yet without mentioning what could be called the 'Side-B' to .hack's second half of the story, .hack//LIMINALITY
LIMINALITY is a four-part OVA made to supplement the game's story. Each part was packaged on a second disc with each of the game's parts, telling the story of a group of people in the real world who slowly come together due to the same problems that are afflicting the World. Mai Minase, Yuki Aihara, and Kyoko Tohno all know a World player named Sieg. After he drops into a coma in the same fashion as Orca, they end up being brought together by a man named Junichiro Tokuoka who knows a little more about what's going on then the general public. While each OVA-part occurs at some point of their corresponding game-part, it's a good idea to wait until completing said piece of the game first as the OVA has one or two spoilers on what occurs within The World. Especially the final part which ties in to the game's final battle.
-The final major piece of the story is a three-volume manga that soon became an anime. However, it's the manga's telling of .hack//LEGEND OF THE TWILIGHT
The manga's main protagonists are Shugo and Rena Kunisaki, twin siblings who win a contest 4 years after the end of the game's events, a contest which reward them with more child-like versions of Kite and his partner, the Heavy Blade known as Blackrose. While they have fun and make friends within the game, Shugo soon finds himself outfitted completely like Kite as his character's given the same game-altering abilities as Kite had. This draws attention both good and bad from not just the World's owners but a mysterious little girl who insists that Shugo help her find her mother. Due to the general light-heartedness of the story as well as it's short length, I usually tend to view it as an epilogue for the entire original .hack story, wrapping up everything in one nice bow.
Besides what I mentioned here, there's also some other media that connects to the first .hack plotline.
-A sequel to AI BUSTER was released. However, AB2 was a collection of short-stories rather then one regular novel, the events taking place from AI BUSTER's point of time down to LOTT, filling in some holes here and there in the plot though nothing major at all.
-.hack//ZERO was another (abet untranslated to English) novel, taking place in the timespan between SIGN and the game. It involved a female Heavy Axeman named Carl who would find herself meeting a couple of characters from SIGN. The story tends to be mainly about what occurred to a few of the SIGN characters after the anime ended. ZERO would also end up having a connection to LIMINALITY.
-For those not into playing the game or up for a different take on it's events, there's the four-novel series known as .hack//ANOTHER BIRTH. While the game follows the events through Kite's eyes, AB does it through Blackrose's POV, including showing events in her real life as well as incidents in the World that happened while Kite wasn't around.
-.hack//XXXX (or X-fourth as it's meant to be pronounced) is a manga version of the game's events. However, it tends to veer from the established plot and tell it's own way, much like how some stories tend to be different in their manga and anime telling. The biggest change is the addition of an unknown player who somehow manages to have the same hacking abilities as Kite does and perhaps even stronger as he actually destroys one of the game's main bosses by himself.
-While SIGN is considered a 26-episode anime, three half-hour specials were made that fall under it's banner.
-The first is Intermezzo. It takes place during the first days of the World for one of SIGN's characters, Mimiru. Visiting a dungeon in SIGN's timeline with another character from the series, she divulges to him the adventure she had with the first player-character she made in the World and how it and the dungeon brought her into contact with an slightly unusual Long Arm named Mimika.
-The second is Unison. Considered non-canon, it takes places a few months after the end of the game's events, showing off eventually a celebration that brings the cast of the game together with SIGN's. It's still worth a watch though you'll only find it officially in the US as part of a Limited Edition of the final SIGN DVD.
-The third one is known as .hack//GIFT, the name coming from the fact that it was offered in Japan to those who bought all four parts of the game and found here in the last LIMINALITY disc. The half-hour special is basically one big parody of the characters from the game and SIGN, with it's plot revolving around members from both casts trying to find a special hot-springs field set up just for them in the World with the mystery of who killed Orca used as an excuse to see who can reach it first.