While the original four .hack video games followed the travels of Kite, these books tell the story all over again from the view of Akira Hayami, also known as BlackRose in The World. When her younger brother Fumikazu falls into a coma while playing The World, Akira decides to figure out why it happened. So she launches herself into the most exciting, and dangerous, journey she will ever have to encounter. Here she meets the twin blade Kite whose friend Orca has fallen into a coma too. Together they venture to find out The World’s innermost secrets, meeting new friends along the way who aid them in their journey.
This book is a light novel – and one that is a bit on the lighter side than most. However, it doesn’t take anything way from the impact that the story has for me as a .hack fan. It’s great to see such a memorable set of games be described from the view of BlackRose, who I really liked as a character. It’s the chance to see what she was dealing with in real life outside of The World rather than having to remain with the stoic and quite Kite. In terms of what makes this book different, I would have to say it comes from the unique combination of real-life combined with the virtual game. The true source of the interplay between these two settings is that the characters are recognised and shown to be in both places yet exist separately in each.
There are also some characters that do not leave the setting of the game world due to their totally digital nature, and these characters usually defy the usual rules of what is allowed in the game. One such character is the mysterious and ever-illusive spirit of The World that we have all come to know as Aura. This character, along with the questions of possible hidden artificial intelligence that may lurk out there, is not controlled by the forces that first created it. Reading this story gave the AI a lot more depth and a lot more time to reveal herself and how she has developed as an independent entity within The World. Also, seeing this free-willed AI from a different perspective, learning what BlackRose initially thought of Aura as well as reading about her in a different medium, was a great way of reviving all the nostalgia I had for the games franchise that arguably spawned a collection of similar games because of its popularity.
Those who have experienced The World beforehand know that it is a complex and well-developed landscape for this light novel’s perspective of events to take place. There is so much of this digital world that the games didn’t really touch upon – the social side, the ways in which people use their avatars and role-play and, perhaps the most interesting, the impact that getting sucked into these kind of games can have on a person’s real life. As BlackRose got closer to uncovering the secrets of The World, eager to slip into her online personality as a heavy blade wielder in The World, we saw her friendships and school life suffer on the other side. Akira almost becomes BlackRose’s other identity, rather than the other way around.
On the negative side, the writing wasn’t the best. There was nothing bad about it, but I felt that a lot of description about The World and the social and psychological aspects of spending a lot of time in a digital universe (particularly one that you know is capable of putting you in a coma if something goes wrong) was overlooked – and by doing so they’ve missed a treat. I, for one, would have loved to hear more about this side of things. I know light novels aren’t exactly the easiest thing to translate and there are language and culture gaps to be considered when writing a novel of any size, but I was left with the feeling of wanting a little more. It felt as if it was written with the expectation that the reader is already familiar with the .hack games and the overall concept and imagery of The World.
Although I wouldn’t warn anyone off reading this story if they aren’t already familiar with the .hack universe, I would say that this is simply a must for any fans of the franchise. It tells the well-known story from a completely different perspective and gives yet more breadth to The World and its workings that a video game couldn’t possibly offer.