I respectfully disagree. The MMO this has always been a large part of the series' identity. The entire series centres around an MMO, so it only makes sense that the gameplay should mimic one. While it's true that the simulation was often imperfect (such as being able to pause the game whenever you open a menu), but those were just the unfortunate consequences of being a one-player game.
Furthermore, just being able to customize a character's appearance isn't enough for something to be an MMO. An MMO puts large emphasis on community and conversation. You can't even access the BBS in .hack//Link because you're basically just playing in simulations of the The World's past experiences.
The "team of people" aspect you were talking about would be a lot more effective if A) you could have more than two characters in your party at a time and B) there was more interaction between the different members. Sure Mistral wants to find rare items, but what does that even have to do with the rest of the "group" Does anyone else in the Twilight Knights care? No. That's less "team" than it is a single person's desires. If it's that sort of thing, then the older games had plenty of that. As it stands, it's less a team and more different factions just happening to be in the same group with barely any interaction between them. The character interactions were just so incredibly limited there's no way I could feel satisfied with something like that. It's true that even in a guild, not everyone would talk to everyone, but in the Twilight Knights, the divide between the SIGN, G.U., etc., etc., groups were so great that it felt like they weren't even trying at all. And though it's true that a small number of extra missions had characters from different titles interacting (such as Albireo and Tsukasa), those felt more like an afterthought rather than a real part of the story. The "personal management" you mentioned was also just manipulating the technical aspects of the game, and not quite as meaningful as you seem to think it is. A guild is more than what you do in it; a guild as about the people in it. In that regard, Canard in G.U. was better than the Twilight Knights ever were. At least all the members talked and interacted with one another.
I've always had a problem Real Digitalize from the start. There was a certain level of realism in past games. Even if a lot of the stuff that happened were impossible as far as the real world is concerned, there was a vague feel of, "ahh, this could possibly happen someday in the future". That illusion added to the immersion-factor of the story. Even if it could never happen in a thousand years, it still felt like it could to a certain extent. But if you expect me to believe that people can be turned into light particles and transported physically into a video game in just ten years, then you've got another thing coming. Just the fact that Tokio is physically transported into the game means he's not "the same" as Tsukasa and AIKA. Maybe this isn't a big deal to you, but to me, this is a very important distinction, and one I'm not entirely comfortable with. I do agree that a series should change and evolve over time, but the one thing it should never do is go beyond the general scope of the world it was built on from the beginning. Maybe you might believe that this is simple the natural evolution of the series, but I sure as heck don't, and I'll likely never agree with that assessment.
Tokio and Saika's "mystery chasing" heavily involves Tokio running around and Kingdom Heartsing it up with the other characters. Saika doesn't even tell Tokio anything until over halfway through the game, so Tokio doesn't even know there's much of a mystery to solve. "Go find the Chrono Cores" isn't exactly the case of the century, you know. I don't care if they try to solve the mystery of Aura or whatever. It's just that Tokio makes no real effort to really LEARN anything about what's going on. He's just following Saika's orders. He blindly, without once questioning the meaning or potential consequences of his actions, makes his way up the Tower of Akasha and messes up Aura. Only then does he realize "Hm, maybe I should have thought more about this." But I know it's not entirely his fault. Saika made no effort to tell him a thing. She just kidnapped him and told him to find stuff. While I do find it a bit disturbing how Tokio doesn't question ANY part of that, I will accept it as part of his character. And that's just it, his character is the problem. Kite wanted to learn more about The World to help his comatose friend. Haseo wanted to learn what Ovan was up to, what AIDA was, everything, in order to save Shino. They had the drive to try and learn what was going on from the beginning, and they even had doubts occasionally about whether what they were doing was the right thing. Tokio never even gets a chance to have such doubts. I do like straightforward characters, but characters who don't really think for themselves, just look and their surroundings and experiences and really think, aren't really conducive to solving mysteries. In the end, Saika, Geist and Fluegal kinda just tell him everything he needs to know, and that's pretty much the end of it. All that's left after that is to beat up Aura.
And finally, that thing about how everyone's connected? That's... kind of a given? Everything that happened across the original Project .hack series was connected. Everything centred around a single large mystery. G.U... was considerably less so, but the idea of the third season having everything be connected isn't quite the grand revelation you seem to be making it out to be. While it's certainly interesting, see, just being connected isn't really enough. All this really means is that a bunch of random players (some less random than others, admittedly), were involved in a large number of incidents headed by someone else. The thing is, while everything may be connected, it doesn't really satisfy me, which is what my original post was about. It may just be me being spoiled by the past to series, but they left a deep impression on me (the first season moreso, admittedly) and it left me wanting more. This... isn't really the more I wanted. What I want isn't a greater scheme or a deeply intertwined series of events. What I want is a good story
, a story filled with mystery, speculation, interactions, revelations. I want to see the characters desperately struggle to find the answers that they need, I want to see them doubt their actions before they finally succeed, I want to see them strive towards a goal that they must achieve no matter what with everything they have. Tokio and Sora only fulfilled that final qualification.
Sakuya the first two of those qualifications to a degree (though she never really learned what "goal" she had to strive towards since in the end, since she just stumbled onto Hermit and he told her everything she needed to know), but ultimately, I think Quantum is my favourite of the third season at this point. Unlike Tokio who was clueless and Sora who was just told by various people what to do, Sakuya and and Iori still tried to do what they can on their own, despite having nothing to really go on. Of course, in the end, Saeki just kinda figures everything else herself while Sakuya and Iori are still more or less clueless. It wasn't quite everything I wanted, but I think it was a step in the right direction; it had a larger quantity of what I wanted out of .hack. A greater mystery, the protagonists desperately trying to solve that mystery. A certain drive that Tokio and Sora lacked.
And, perhaps this might be a bit more OPINIONS!!!111!! than necessary, but I've always felt that atmosphere was a very important part of the .hack series. The first Project .hack series had a wonderfully unique era, a mixture of fantasy, mystery, reality and cyberpunk. It was very well done. .hack//G.U. was somewhat less so, but still preserved some of that atmosphere. ... I'll be frank. I think that the atmosphere in the stories of the third season is completely inferior to that of the ones before it. Like there's an imbalance, like something important is missing. The original .hack and even G.U. to an extent was pretty reliant on human psychology to an extent. The mind of Harald, who was the origin of everything. The psychology of the Epitaph Users, and the AIDA that was interested in that. The current season lacks that psychology aspect. You don't really go as deep into the minds of the characters as prior seasons. That's just really disappointing to me. Even if the series changes, I don't think the importance of the characters' mentalities and psychological states should become any less important. The World is created by its players, so doesn't that mean the players' minds should get a large amount of focus as well?
No, it's not even anything that complicated. Basically, I just want to see the characters just sit around and talk. Just talk. About their emotions, their experiences, their interests. I want them just... be people. I want to see glimpses of their life, what they like, what they enjoy, what they dislike. .hack//SIGN had the characters just talk and enjoy each others' company, telling each other bits and pieces about themselves. .hack//Liminality gave us glimpses of what kinds of lives the three girls lived, their interests, such as Mai and her violin, Yuki and her resentment towards her sister, Kyo and her general feeling of "in-between-ness" in the town she lived. .hack//Roots feature heavily on that too, and the games gave us e-mails. The third season just... doesn't have that. The characters feel less like people and more like, well, characters. It's like their lives aren't important, like the pasts that shaped their personalities in the present don't matter. This is very, very sad. I want the characters to be people
. This has nothing to do with the story or the overarching plot, so why does it have to change? Why can't CC2 give the characters, the ones who are building the story around their world, more focus?
Yes. In the end, I think that's what matters most. I can forgive whatever changes CC2 makes the to the world, whatever kind of huge plot they want to do, so long as they bring that "people factor" back.
And this is just my own complete selfishness so you can ignore it, but I miss Kajiura. :(