khantael's .hack//QUARANTINE - Part 4 (PlayStation 2) review

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More dungeon crawling and frantic searching than story

.hack//Quarantine is the fourth game in a series that follow Kite playing a MMORPG called The World. Unfortunately, people have started dropping into comas from playing The World, and Kite’s friend is one of those victims. There are odd things going on in The World, and Kite’s the person with the key to stop it – as he’s been given certain powers allowing him to “hack” the game. 

.hack//Quarantine plays in much the same manner as the previous .hack games. You play as Kite and he is the only character you will directly control. You can create a party by calling up your friends for going into battle. The game uses a class system, similar to many MMORPGs, so you can strategise in planning your party. Since the game is simulating being an MMORPG, you’ll find that characters are not always available due to being “offline”.

This combat system has its strengths and weaknesses. You can give the other characters basic commands, such as whether they should heal or use magical attacks, but not anything very specific. The characters do follow these commands fairly well – and when they don’t, it tends to be presented because MMORPG players won’t always do what you want them to do. A big problem is that your fellow team mates only have a small number of healing items or resurrects, and it gets to a point where it’s best to handle all healing yourself just in case you end up dying – you’ll want the one or two resurrects they carry to be ready to be used on you rather than needlessly when Kite may have fifty of them. It’s always a rather odd game design when you may find yourself healing more in a fighting game than actually fighting as no other character can reliably handle it.

The big failing of .hack//Quarantine is that with it being the last in this series of games, you’d expect it to have huge plot advancements and be a quick moving story, and fairly easy to play if you’re now familiar with the mechanics of the game. In actuality, what you will find is that you will spend the majority of your time collecting virus cores for hacking gates. In previous games, there is generally some gameplay between this and you’ll only be hacking one gate at a time, so it’s bearable. In .hack//Quarantine, you may find yourself needing 20 or 30 virus cores for a number of different gates and be completely stuck finding them as a data drain does not always result in a virus core – and as you end up data draining more in desperation for cores, you have a lesser chance of getting virus cores due to overusing your hack powers. The result of this is an immensely frustrating experience where you spend so much time wandering around collecting things that the story starts to get lost.

It doesn’t help that .hack dungeons always stay in a very similar theme, so you’ll find yourself crawling through dungeon after dungeon after dungeon that looks exactly the same. When you’re on the fourth game, this can only be described as tiresome. The only visible difference in dungeons is the boss door, where you can see the smoke and know a boss will be there. 
The final dungeon, too, is flawed in its utter, utter dependence on luck. In my own playthrough, on no less than three occasions I went from a totally clean infection level to red with flashing WARNING!! signs. Most enemies can only be defeated with data drain (and you'd better hope Kite gets last hit on them to knock down his infection level) and when you get the rare regular enemy that can still destroy your party, you're again fumbling around practically solo to make sure Kite gets the kill and you don't die. This followed by a boss fight that honestly seems to never end due to constant regenerations just feels cheap rather than difficult - at one point I was being to suspect I was caught in a loop of a bug on the boss battle because it just kept coming back. Again. And again. And again. And again.

.hack//Quarantine is a game only really worth checking out if you’ve played the previous three, and are curious enough about the ending to be able to ignore the incredibly repetitive gameplay and long periods where you’re unable to do anything but data drain many, many things in the hopes of getting virus cores.

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