.hack//QUARANTINE is a game set in a simulated MMORPG. Data can be imported from the third game, .hack//OUTBREAK, or a new game can be started without the benefits of optional characters, weapons or bonus bosses that clearing the previous games allows you.
In the previous games, Kite has just started to play The World when his friend, who has introduced him to the game, falls into a coma following a strange encounter in the game wherein he is data drained. People falling into comas when playing The World is a worrying trend, and Kite is spoken to by Aura, a mysterious girl who was being chased by the being that caused his friend Orca to fall into a coma. She gives him the ability to “hack” the games, and so Kite uses those powers to find out what is going on. Kite also finds out that he needs to defeat eight phases on his journey. .hack//QUARANTINE begins after defeating the fifth phase.
The World is getting increasingly corrupted as time goes by, and now it’s even started to affect the home towns visually. More and more people are noticing that there’s a problem. Mia is also continuing to deteriorate quite rapidly, and things quickly come to a head where exactly what has been going on with her is revealed as Kite battles the remaining phases and Cubia in trying to put an end to people falling into comas while playing the game.
Gameplay is fairly simple. The initial desktop style screen provides various features that reinforce the fact that this game is about a person playing an MMORPG:
- The World – This launches the interface for the MMORPG, which has three options – “Log In” to play The World, “Board” to read the simulated forums, used mostly for sidequests and some interesting information but occasionally used in story events, and “Quit” to take you back to the desktop..
- Mailer – This is the character’s e-mail. The character tends to get e-mails about story driver events, side quests, or just general chat from his in-game friends.
- News – News reports that the main character can read. These are sometimes tied to The World, but are often just random news reports used for contextualisation.
- Accessory – This changes the image of your desktop.
- Audio – This allows you to change the desktop audio.
- Data – This allows you to save your game.
Kite is controlled by fairly standard controls; he moves with the left analogue stick or arrowkeys, camera is controlled by the right analogue stick or L1 and R1, L2 puts you into first person view.
Since Kite is the only character who can hack the system, these are also important elements of gameplay. Kite’s hacking skills come in two varieties:
- Data Drain – This is something that Kite can do to finish off an enemy when it hits “protect break” mode (the game will inform you of this). Data draining an enemy significantly weakens them, and in place awards Kite with an item or a virus core. Certain bosses can only be defeated by data draining; they are invulnerable without it, and tend to be easy to identify as they look deformed, as if the data has been corrupted. As Kite uses data drain, his infection level rises (represented in a coloured diagram of his body), which can lead to various issues such as being severely debuffed or even leading to a "game over".
- Gate Hacking – This requires virus cores, obtained from data draining bosses and regular monsters. This is where Kite is able to gain access to areas that have been locked down, normally due to data corruption. These areas are generally very visibly distorted and the screen appears to “glitch” frequently. As the games progress, more and more of the story takes place in dungeons that have to be hacked in order to gain access.
He can also operate two menus. The first is a personal one, which allows him to use skills (including data drain) and items, view key items, get rid of items, check his status, equip himself, and form a party if the people he wants to contact or online. If he is in the home town of each server, he is also able to log out. This option becomes the ability to “gate out” if you’re in the field, although if you’re in a dungeon this is no longer an option.
The second menu is a party menu so that you can instruct your allies how to fight. The options you are given allow you to request what their priority in battle should be: healing, using skills, buffing or debuffing allies or enemies, avoiding using skills, physically attacking or using magic. You can also choose from four different strategies, and request they use a specific skill or change their equipment. If your allies use up their items, you’ll generally find that as soon as you head back to the home town of the server, they will resupply, although they do not tend to buy many items and often rely on you to get them better equipment.
Each server has a home town which is sometimes used to advance the story, but is essentially a hub to transfer between servers or log out, buy or sell any equipment, trade with other players, and create gruntys for ease of moving around the map. You can’t fight in these areas.
In The World, the majority of the game takes place in dungeons. Dungeon areas are accessed through use of keywords – the server name, followed by a string of three words put together to create a location. An example of this would be “Omega Writhing Betrayed Battlefield”. The keywords can be input at the Chaos Gate which can be found in the home town of each server. As you play through the story, you will be given keywords to story locations. Important keywords will be saved in the “Word List” function, so you can revisit them at any time.
If you don’t wish to go to a specific place, you can also use the “Random” function which will offer you a random dungeon to play in or if you want to make up your own keywords, you can do so through the function “New Keyword”. These places that aren’t relevant to the story will be stored in the “Warp History” if you wish to revisit them. The Chaos Gate also allows you to change the server that you are on.
When you warp to an area that isn’t one of the home towns, you’ll enter the field. This is where you can battle enemies and find chests. Nearly all field maps have a dungeon entrance and a spring that you can throw weapons into in the hopes of making them become stronger (although they can also be weakened). Enemies are avoidable by riding on a grunty, and every server has three types of grunty: one who can find the dungeon entrance, one who can find grunty food, and one who can find magical portals (which often become enemies, but sometimes become chests). They can also be ridden around on manually without using these functions.
The dungeons themselves are very similar and have a number of levels to them. There are enemies and chests in dungeons, and as you get further into the dungeon the enemies get stronger. Most story dungeons will have a boss in them; you can tell which room the boss is in as purple smoke will be visible in front of the door.