.hack Part 4: Quarantine is the fourth and last instalment of the .hack series, which follows the story of an outlaw player named Kite, who is trying to find out the mystery behind a virus that is plaguing ‘the world' and also attempting to save his friend Orca at the same time. As people are falling into comas, the CC Corp (creators of ‘The World') are under increasing pressure to close the game servers down but, this will mean certain death for the coma victims, including Kite's friend Orca. ‘The World' is a fictional MMORPG that has over 20 million players; this is the setting of the game, which boasts vast areas and plenty of fields and dungeons that are accessible through chaos gates.
At the start screen, you can choose to load character data from the third game into this instalment, which is a cool add-on, especially for those who have invested time in the previous three titles. When the game begins, you are given a brief summary of the last three chapters. You are then brought to the ALTIMIT screen where the player can choose to read their emails, read the news or enter ‘The World'. If you choose to read your emails or the news, you will be bombarded with a lot of reading material that is irrelevant to this point in the story. There's also a message board that has a lot to read but, some of these topics contain codes that unlock dungeons at the chaos gate, and are vital to gaining certain challenges through out the game. Even though it is boring, it is best to read the board messages as this is the easiest way to obtain the dungeon codes.
Once you enter ‘The World' you are brought to one of several servers. You'll see simulated players run around on screen, and you can interact with these by either talking to them or trading with them, while this helps generate a MMORPG like feel, this doesn't quite work because AI does not substitute for an actual person, who will think and act differently to the prompted messages given. Each server is in the form of a town or village, whilst the settings are unique, the layouts are always similar and the graphics seem rather basic.
The chaos gate is the main source of access to the servers and it also allows you to gate travel into other environments in the game. There is almost an infinite number of these environments, with a dungeon in every one, as each environment is defined by a three word code; choosing a code at the chaos gate from one of three blocks, there are 65 words for the first block, 64 for the second block and 63 for the third block which literally makes the possibilities endless. Although this is a very nice feature, a lot of the dungeons contain useless items and there only seems to be about 10 different main environments, making the rest very boring variations. In these environments, you can wander around, finding treasure and killing enemies for EXP.
The whole point of this game is to unlock the mystery of 'The World', as the story is carrying on from the previous titles it is quite easy to get very confused if you haven't played any of the previous three games. Having said that, the game play is quite easy to jump in and out of as it isn't really too complex. The story revolves around Kite and his other online friends that are trying to figure out why people are falling into comas after playing the game, this is all under the clock as CC Corp threaten to bring the servers offline, Kite must figure the mystery of the small girl Aura and what the motive of the virus is. The game boasts new bosses, new magic and summons; however, this does not really affect the game play much as this is standard for a sequel.
The fighting system claims to be improved from the previous titles but this is hardly recognisable. Kite can only perform a simple melee attack, which feels sluggish and slow. The camera angle is also a big issue as you have to constantly press R1 or L1 to adjust the camera and make the enemy visible. Saying all this, the magic system works pretty well, with a few separate types of spells containing different kinds of offensive or defensive magic. The party system tends to get annoying because party members are not always logged on (just like in real life), and sometimes you find yourself with no party members when you need them and all of your party members when you don't.
The "Data Drain" technique can edit a monster's data and degrade them to a lower level. All this actually does is give you an item, which has a 50-50 chance of being good or bad, unless used on the correct enemy, and if it is a boss you use this technique on, it will lower its level to such an extent that its EXP becomes worthless, which is not what you want from a boss. The game also has a new data drain technique to learn, which can now drain multiple enemies.
The character designs look good but they are not very complex. They aren‘t as bad as a lot of games out there however, they do stay true to the anime style the game focuses on. The rest of the graphics are hit and miss; with the environments looking plain, while the cut scenes and the data drain sequences look very impressive. The presentation feels dated as most of the backgrounds and enemy designs seem like they have been used from the previous games, whether they have or not.
The in game music does not really make an impact on the player, with boring melodies that are simple and repetitive. It is easy to ignore though, as the sound doesn't seem a major focus in the game. The voiceovers are recognisable as a lot of the characters have voice actors which have done other cartoons or anime. For example, the main characters voice is Izzy from the old Digimon cartoon, which is pretty cool as he is not a bad voice actor for this type of game.
For those who will play the whole game through, there is a ten minute cut scene and once you've watched that you have a chance to play the epilogue, and thus show the true ending to the game. Fans of the series will probably be jumping for joy with this final chapter, but for those who aren't fans of the previous games, I recommend picking up another RPG.