Overview .hack//MUTATION is largely a dungeon crawler, and is a direct sequel to .hack//INFECTION, beginning where the first game leaves off. Data can be imported from .hack//INFECTION to allow the player various bonuses throughout the course of the game, or an entirely new game can begin without this previous save data. Since the storyline is a direct continuation, though, it would be wise for players to have played the previous instalment.
Previous Storyline Invited by his friend Yasuhiko (whose in game name is Orca) to play an MMORPG called The World, Kite agrees, only to find out that he’s taken on something more than he’s bargained for. They come across a mysterious creature chasing a girl, who bestows upon them an item that allows hacks into the server. Orca’s character is killed, which should be the end of it, but Yasuhiko falls unconscious in real life too, and Kite remains playing The World so that he can find out exactly what has happened to his friend. Along the way, he makes friends and comes across some obvious issues inherent in The World, and also the creature that had been chasing the mysterious girl called Aura – he is the Terror of Death, Skeith, and the first phase that Kite must defeat to end the situation causing The World to be in such a state and people to fall into comas...
Detailed Synopsis .hack//MUTATION begins with the board containing complaints about the server issues that are being widely experienced by players of The World since the defeat of Skeith. Kite and BlackRose decide to go and investigate, worried that it might somehow still have something to do with Skeith, but when they get there Kite is disturbed to find how corrupted the area looks compared to how it did before. To make matters worse, Balmung shows up also investigating the issue, and proclaims that they are making things worse. It seems to be a total dead end.
Kite receives a message, alerting him to the fact that he has won a Power Up Campaign, which asks that he exchange the Book of Law he was given during the course of the first game for a Book of Absolute. Kite does so, but it still doesn’t work at all – Kite’s character data cannot be overwritten. This is followed by an even stranger message, a garbled help request about helping to save people from comas. After finding out that he is unable to gate out, Kite meets Lios, the rather hostile system administrator who claims that they are deteriorating the situation. Kite angrily accuses him of a cover up, while Lios denies this and instead blames the actions of hackers. He has been investigating The World and its connection to the real world comas, and has come to the conclusion that Kite’s character must be deleted for violating the laws of The World.
Helba then shows up to scoff at Lios’ words: she reminds him of what Kite can do, and announces that he can’t delete Kite anyway, if not for lack of trying (the book prizes Kite had been ‘winning’ were designed to erase his character). Kite asks for advice, but he is given no answers. Helba simply tells him to observe, and introduces Kite to the concept of the Epitaph of Twilight, and explains that The World was based on this poem.
Afterwards, Kite receives an email from Lios, who is now claiming that he will approve what Kite does, but only if his orders are followed. After meeting Lios, who is masquerading as a regular NPC shopkeeper, Lios orders Kite to examine the level of infection on the Lambda server which has just reopened. His concern is that he has no way of knowing what is going on in the protected areas that only Kite has the ability to enter, and gives him the means to enter by providing him with the relevant virus core.
After the option of doing some optional missions (such opportunities will continue for the rest of the game), some of which require cleared data from the previous game, that include an area for Gardenia, a new version of goblin tag, and a board message telling of a great show that will unfold at a certain area but that the person must come alone, Kite logs in to find Elk and Mia. Mia seems to be completely incomprehensible, leaving Elk claiming that the incident which affected the area has damaged the input system on Mia’s computer. After explaining where he is going, Elk and Mia invite themselves along. The area contains a rather nasty data bug, but Elk and Mia have been looking for something specific: aromatic grass. They really like it so they collect it, they explain, while Mia talks about the futility of it. As they return to the , it seems that Mia is now once again sounding coherent.
After reading on the board a specific complaint about a protected area, Lios tells Kite that he must now investigate another area, and again provides the necessary virus cores. The monster presumed to be a data bug instead runs from Kite, but at the bottom of the dungeon, it turns around and fights, revealing itself to actually be the second phase, Innis.
Later, Aura asks Kite to go to a certain server, and Mistral decides to come along. When he tries to explain what is happening to her, she doesn’t believe that it’s anything but fiction until she sees Aura. Cubia then shows up and fights the protagonists, and runs off after being defeated. Helba informs Kite that he needs to release Aura, and he agrees if it will help Yasuhiko.
As the board comes back online, Kite is able to tend to any further optional missions, and then Kite follows a tip as to where Balmung is. He refuses to give any information to Kite, as he does not want him to be involved. Kite also goes to meet another character called Wiseman to ask about the Epitaph of the Twilight, but he demands a price for that knowledge – he wants an item to be retrieved even though he knows that it's from a protected area, and Kite agrees. After obtaining it, Wiseman is curious about how Kite managed to get it. When he explains, Wiseman agrees to help, sending information by e-mail as he discovers things. He sends Kite on a lead to Net Slum, which is further backed up by a board message about a strange man discussing Net Slum.
A data remnant tells Kite that he should rendezvous at Net Slum, but Lios shows up and deletes what he calls “trash data”; he is worried about Kite no longer following his orders and going further out of his control. Balmung gives Kite a virus core. It’s revealed that the texts that make up the Epitaph of the Twilight were scattered, and so are difficult to comprehend, while Net Slum is a place for either unsuccessful NPCs or character data of those people who have lost their bodies in the real world – it is also where Helba the hacker typically spends time. Angered, Lios tries to delete everybody, but it doesn’t work – The World seems to disapprove of deletion. At this point, Kite and BlackRose are attacked by the third phase, Magus, and Net Slum starts to fall apart. Upon returning after defeating Magus, Kite notes that the root towns are now beginning to show visible signs of infection, and he is beginning to realise that this issue is spreading beyond the network.
GameplayThe initial four .hack games all tend to use a similar system of gameplay; it is essentially one game in four parts. The controls are largely the same as in the previous instalment, with perhaps one or two minor changes. The game’s main menu is a desktop style, and provides the following options:
The WorldThis essentially launches the client for the MMORPG that Kite is playing. It allows Kite to “log in” to the game itself, read the “board”, which is essentially an attached forum, or to “quit” back to the desktop.
MailerThis is Kite’s email inbox; he uses it for correspondence either related to The World itself and gaining information about the strange occurrences, or to have discussions with the friends he has made.
NewsThe news page keeps up to date with newspaper stories in the world outside of the game. While some of the reports are directly caused by game events, others seem irrelevant – they are there to provide a wider context for the game.
AccessoryThis allows for customisation of Kite’s desktop image.
AudioThis allows for customisation of Kite’s desktop audio.
DataHere, Kite can save the game as necessary.
The player may only control the character of Kite directly, and his abilities include being able to hack the system. The two ways he can do this are through using:
Data DrainKite can employ this skill on weakened enemies when they have hit “protect break” mode. It will make them weaker and severely reduce the exp earned from the battle, but, on death, Kite will obtain either an item or a virus core. Some enemies are data bugs, and are invincible until they have been data drained.
Gate HackingWith the virus cores he obtains from data draining or occasionally from other characters, Kite can access areas of The World that have been sealed off, often due to infection-related reasons.
To make up for the lack of party member direct control, Kite can issue orders to his team mates in the field, ranging from vaguely telling them an area to focus on (such as healing), or specifically designating what they should be using. The other characters are largely self-sufficient in terms of resupplying themselves, too, provided they have been to a root town. Kite is controlled much more directly by the player in the field with his own personal battle menu, and, if he isn’t in a dungeon, he can gate out directly back to root town (the game’s version of towns, where there are no enemies and characters can resupply, also acting as a main hub through which to access other areas).
The strength of areas are decided by the servers and keywords used to get there, with different ones affecting things such as levels and elemental properties. Most fields feature a dungeon, some grunty food, and a spring to increase or decrease weapon strength. Should the player raise a grunty, the three different types of grunty allow the player to either find the dungeon entrance, find magical portals, or find grunty food. Magical portals are found frequently in both the field and dungeons, and act as a temporary spawn point, mostly for enemies, but occasionally for chests too.
As the player goes dungeon crawling, boss doors are clearly marked with purple smoke creeping from under the door.