Being trapped in a video game is a premise that anime viewers are well familiar with. Though it has been played out many different ways, the .hack// franchise (read as "Dot Hack") utilized the idea to capture the hearts of fans across the globe. Despite its critical success in its heyday, this intellectual property has been largely dropped by its creators. Even so, corners of the anime community still hold it in high regard, sometimes elevating it well above series like Sword Art Online or Log Horizon that came after it. This begs two important questions: What exactly happened to the .hack// franchise, and is it ready for a real comeback?
The .hack// titles surround the many mysterious events that occur within a fictional MMORPG known simply as "The World." It first graced fans' imaginations back in 2002 in Japan with the anime .hack//Sign, which aired on American televisions the next year alongside other breakthrough classics like Yu Yu Hakusho and Rurouni Kenshin. Following a wide cast of players in "The World," it largely focused on the events surrounding the mysterious character Tsukasa, whose powerful Guardian and inability to log out of the game connect him to an increase of coma victims among the game's players.
This anime carried a sense of intrigue and challenged ideas about personal identity while featuring a large ensemble of nuanced and developed characters. Even so, its main appeal was the fact that its run coincided with the initial release of the four-part .hack// video game series. Uncovering the secrets behind "The World" and the forces that threaten it and its players, both the games and .hack//Sign constituted the first generation of .hack// works, establishing it as a strong multimedia franchise.
Enthusiasm would follow for a number of years after the initial game's conclusion. The first storyline was closed out with a manga titled .hack//Legend of the Twilight, which spawned its own anime series and zeroed in on the next generation of players in "The World." The momentum picked up by this generated further manga, OVAs, novels, online games and more. Most entries in the franchise at this time made it to American audiences, though the online game .hack//Fragment was a notable exception.
All of its popularity would come to a head in 2006 with the start of the franchise's next major cycle, surrounding the .hack//G.U. trilogy of games. Similarly accompanied by its own contemporary anime, titled .hack//Roots, this phase enjoyed mixed success compared to its predecessors. Though the games were praised for their gameplay improvements, the anime and other aspects were controversial among fans. Even so, the trilogy finished strongly and added some well-loved entries titles to the oeuvre.
However, it was at this point that .hack// began to fall off the map. While a number of other pieces of media came out in the following years, the most significant of which was the PSP game .hack//Link, the vast majority of it received no official overseas localization. The sole exception to this was the OVA series .hack//Quantum, which was licensed by Funimation but was unceremoniously released on DVD and Blu-ray at the time. Though reasons for this are unclear, it preceded a sudden drop in the number of new main entries, with one of the last being the Japanese release of .hack//The Movie in 2012.
Nevertheless, fans still remember the titles fondly, frequently comparing it to newer anime franchises with similar premises or settings. Even without much in the form of a new release, there is still a considerable amount of affection. As recent years have shown, nostalgia-fueled revivals of long-since departed series have performed exceedingly well among consumers, which would make this the perfect time for a new anime set in "The World" to kick off another cycle of works.
Additionally, as with any franchise comprised of such a massive body of characters, .hack// could enjoy massive success as a mobile game with a gacha system. Bandai Namco, which has been the longtime publisher of the franchise, has a considerable amount of experience in the mobile game world thanks to its many Tales of... series mobile games. Though it is true that .hack// did have a short-lived spiritual successor mobile game in 2007, which even featured a crossover event with Sword Art Online, this was before the international heyday of gacha games and was never brought over to global players.
Of course, one demand fans have long been clamoring for is the rerelease of the original four games. Though the .hack//G.U. trilogy received the remaster treatment along with a follow-up fourth game, the first series of games has only ever been playable on the PS2 and is now among some of the console's rarest titles.
Should publishers give .hack// devotees what they've been asking for, it would also be a great chance to revisit the .hack//Sign anime that started it all from a fresh perspective. But no matter what the future holds for the .hack// franchise, longtime appreciators will always be around, waiting for another chance to log back into "The World" once again.