Nearly 15 years ago Cartoon Network’s anime block Toonami introduced the Western world to the fledgling .hack franchise with the debut of .hack//Sign, corresponding with Bandai’s release of .hack//Infection for the PlayStation 2. Set in an alternate millennium after a catastrophic computer virus, the franchise follows the story of a fictional MMORPG known as The World.
An online game developed for the in-universe Altimit OS, the only operating system to resist the devastating virus known as Pluto’s Kiss, The World functions as a typical dungeon crawler: form parties, fight monsters, collect items, lather, rinse, repeat. Since its 2002 debut in Japan, .hack has expanded as a media franchise, incorporating manga, novels, and a trading card game under the brand. One key component of the franchise was missing though: while the video game series offered a simulated version of The World, fans clamored for a real-world MMO.
Japanese .hack fans briefly got their wish in November 2005 with the release of .hack//Fragment, a multiplayer online game with identical gameplay to the original four-part PS2 series. However, fans in the Western world were left in the dust without a NTSC or PAL release. With the service ending in January of 2007, Fragment looked to be lost forever.
In 2014 however, .hack//Fragment was brought to the English speaking world via fan translation, server emulation, reverse network engineering, and game modification. Thanks to the work of a host of developers and contributors over several years, third-party servers were launched to support the game. The most famous of these servers was Netslum, a play on the in-game universe’s term for hacker-dens uncontrolled by System Administrators and populated by unwanted or discarded AI.