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Hands-on: .hack//Link


The .hack franchise has always been a series we've wanted to like: CyberConnect 2's transmedia story combines an edgy, inspired style with a unique premise filled with intrigue. However, the original PS2 games -- spanning the .hack// tetralogy and the .hack//GU trilogy -- skimped on gameplay, failing to actualize its overly-ambitious vision.

Perhaps the only thing more surprising than the fact that the franchise's finale will appear exclusively on PSP is that .hack//Link has the potential to be the best game ever created in the long-running RPG series. Although not formerly announced for a US release, we find little reason for Namco Bandai Games America to skimp on a localized version: The demo at Tokyo Game Show had a fresh, "fun" attitude that's evident in both the game's new art style and its combat system.

We didn't have a chance to see much of the game's story in our demo. However, Link takes a page from the other compilation games so popular in Japan right now (Dissidia: Final Fantasy, Tales of VS), by populating the game with many faces from the various .hack games, manga and anime series. Playable partners in the TGS demo included Haseo (from .hack//GU) and Tsukasa (from .hack//SIGN).


Unlike previous games in the series, players will only have one partner character in their party, controlled by the AI. This may seem like a limitation, but the addition of "unison combos" -- Link's take on QTEs -- makes battles feel far more dynamic than before. .hack's plodding pace is absent in the PSP game: characters run faster, jump faster, and strike faster. With its new pacing, the game's combat feels very similar to Kingdom Hearts. However, the insertion of quick button-mashing mini-games make the combat a bit too reminiscent of PSP's Birth by Sleep.

Link may not offer the most original combat system, but it works well with the PSP's control scheme and is, most importantly, fun. Considering Link can potentially include every major character from the franchise, there's a lot of inventive ideas for the .hack team to explore. It should be evident from this teaser trailer that .hack//Link will be a stylish affair: the anime graphics translate well on the PSP, and the manga-styled cutscenes are particularly eye-popping. We're most intrigued by the story: How will CyberConnect bring together all these characters while simultaneously bringing "The World" to a close? It seems like an insurmountable challenge destined only for disappointment -- but for now, our interest in .hack is renewed.

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