Here's the short back story of things, .hack//fragment was developed by CyberConnect2 and published by Bandai as a stripped down version of .hack//Infection, Mutation, Outbreak, Quarantine that has no voice overs whatsoever in any language and no FMV's. So what you have is a game that has a character creator, root town, shops, items, fields, dungeons, monsters; the base game you may have experienced in the IMOQ games.
This old PS2 game released back on November 22nd 2005. The game itself offered 2 modes, an offline mode and an online mode. The offline mode had a short story that let you and your customer character meet up with the characters from the .hack//Infection, Mutation, Outbreak, and Quarantine games including some of the character's from .hack//SIGN. The most notable piece of the offline mode was to acquire the Data Drain ability for your custom character. This character could be any reskin, coloring, height, weight, altered form of Kite, Blackrose, Balmung, Piros, Sanjuro, Marlo, Nuke, Subaru, Elk, Tsukasa, Sora, Terajima, and so much more! Including a special cameo from two unlikely players not found at this timeline in the franchise's lore history. But .hack//fragment is not a canon piece of the .hack mythos timeline, it's more of an experience offered to the players who enjoyed the series. And being able to connect together online for the first time.
There is a short story in .hack//fragment's "Offline" mode, all text no audio. The most important part of this offline mode is to acquire "data drain" for your character's, and this is the only means to get this skill for your characters. You can create a character in either offline or online mode, your characters are transferable between the two modes. But the part in offline mode tutorial where you play with Mia, this is when your character permanently acquires the skill Data Drain. The rest of the Offline mode consists of following characters from .hack//SIGN, .hack//Infection, and even .hack//Legend of The Twilight acquiring everyone's Member Address and allows you to summon these NPC's in root towns to join your offline adventure. By the time you acquire the last member address, Helba, concludes the offline mode's "story" which is basically an extended tutorial. But you can always return to offline mode and grind fields/dungeons with your NPC's who's levels range between level 15 all the way up to level 99.
In the online mode would connected to a central Lobby Server that was hosted exclusively by Bandai. This was the main hub that connected you to all the online players waiting in the lobby to join an individual private server called Area Server. These area servers were the mainstay of people playing together in this "MORPG" not a true "MMORPG". The area servers allowed for up to 3 people to play together, and only 3 people can go to a root town together. Unlike the animes, the root towns weren't bustling with everyone waiting to play together. Players waiting to play together took place on the lobby server where they could chat together, but they couldn't see each others characters from the lobby chatroom.
The lobby server was hosted by Bandai at their static IP address j5q.channel.or.jp and operated between November 23rd 2005, a day after the game's initial release, and lasted longer than anticipated due to popularity in Japan and ceased operations on early 2007. The official service ended on January 18th 2007, in order to not conflict with the scheduled sequel series release of .hack//G.U. Rebirth. Without the main lobby server hub, the game was no longer playable online regardless if people continued operating their area servers. However, regardless of the lobby server discontinued service, players could still play the Offline Mode for all time. So long as they had a working PlayStation 2 console, which was notorious for it's failing disc laser issues.
The area server, were self hosted private servers run through a windows executable file you could download from CyberConnect2 on their website during that time. You'd launch this 32-bit executable file, it would take you to a mock desktop. There were 4 icons on the left of the desktop in Japanese that read Area Server, Map Editor, Display, and Exit. By choosing Area Server in the program, a smaller window called Local Server popped up with nothing on it, because you'd need to either Publish an existing area server your named and abbreviated or create a new one then published. After you've port forward your router/firewall for port 20000 by default (the range available was ports 20000 to 20100), you were set to receive players on your area server.
So what does the lobby server offer that is different from the area server? The lobby server remember is the main hub that all players must access first before being put into the actual game i.e. the root towns, the fields, and the dungeons. The lobby server manages the online mode's:
- Lobby Chatrooms
- Area Server List
- Bulletin Board System (or BBS for short)
- Guild Management
- Guild Shops
- Guild Chatrooms
- Web News
And the area server is where you the players could create custom dungeons and custom fields for your friends to login and enjoy by creating custom words that would be selected at the warp gate. As players would play on your area server, kill monsters, gain EXP, reach the end dungeon chest; your area server would "level up" just like your player would. All new area servers would start out at level 1 and could reach high as level 99. Lower area servers would provide lower leveled fields and dungeons to visit while higher leveled area servers could offer higher difficult leveled fields and dungeons.
In rare instances, one of you area server keywords would generated a "corrupted server" field. This would require the virus cores key items you received from using data drain on monsters of various sizes; small, medium, and large. By using "Gate Hacking" you could enter a corrupted area server field which would have the effects of having it's textures ruined and the monsters having the data bug feature. Data bug monsters would require use of your data drain skill after you initiated the "Protect Break" status by attacking the monster.