Review by Super Slash
"The first .hack video game series finally reaches its conclusion"
Even if you've never played any of the games in this four-part series, this review will explain everything, since there's no difference at all gameplay-wise between all four games. The gameplay in all of them is exactly the same. If you've managed to play this far into the series, then it's likely that either the story is keeping you hooked, you're a really big .hack fan, or both. For me, it was both. The gameplay is really repetitive and gets old fast, but the story makes up for it.
The story kinda starts off slow, pretty much throughout the whole first game. You play as a boy named Kite in this simulated online MMORPG called "The World". It's a massive online game with millions of players, and is pretty much the most popular game around (no, this game isn't actually an MMO, it's a simulated MMO). However, unusual things happen in The World: there are a number of players who end up in a coma in the real world because of certain events that happen in the game. In the beginning of Infection, Orca invites Kite to join him in a Level 1 area. On their way out of the dungeon, they encounter an unusual monster chasing a girl named Aura. This monster uses an ability called Data Drain on Orca, which places him into a coma. This is where Kite's journey to discover the mysteries of The World begins. Aura is a mysterious girl who pretty much guides Kite throughout his quest, giving him keywords to new dungeons that advance the storyline and such. Kite obtains a bracelet that allows him to use Data Drain, which he will need to help him discover the truth behind The World.
You may not think the story sounds very compelling, but trust me, it gets really interesting. It's definitely not cliche. There are many twists and turns throughout all four games, and everything will become clear by the end of this chapter (or at least a lot of it). If you don't understand certain parts of the story after finishing this series, chances are, you're not supposed to. Watch the SIGN anime and the Liminality DVD series the four games come with to understand it even more. Overall, you will find that the story is very interesting, and that is what keeps a majority of people hooked to this series, including me.
Here's where the games fall short. The battle system is so incredibly repetitive and bland, you'll get tired of it half way through Infection. Battling is literally just a button-mashing fest; a majority of the time, you're just tapping the X button to attack an enemy while issuing commands to your partners. By pressing Square on the field or in dungeons, you can tell your party members to do certain things like "First Aid!", which makes them heal you when it's necessary. This actually makes the game so much easier, but it still remains hard enough to where you'll actually have trouble quite often. You can also order an individual party member to do something; it doesn't have to be both of them. Issuing commands to your party does actually make the game a bit more unique, but it fails to make the battling any less repetitive. You also have this ability called Data Drain, which cannot be used until a monster has been damaged enough so that you break its protection. You'll then see a message saying "Protect Break", making it where you can use Data Drain on it. If you wait too long, however, it'll restore its protect and you'll have to break it off again if possible. Data Draining a monster guarantees you an item from it (maybe even a rare one), but that's not the important thing about Data Draining; the real use in it is Virus Cores.
You only have a slight chance of getting a Virus Core each time you Data Drain; it depends entirely on luck. Depending on what size of a monster you drain, you'll get a different kind of Virus Core. Data Draining has a huge downside, though: it increases your Infection level slightly each time you use it. It starts off blue, then goes to green, then to yellow, then to orange, and finally to red. It doesn't take nearly as long as you might think to get up to orange or red, however. When in "Danger!" mode (aka red), you have a chance of dying after Data Draining, netting you an instant Game Over. There are also other negative side effects, such as getting debuffs cast on you, dropping your HP/SP to 1 on everyone (this is rare), and even making you lose 400-1000 EXP (yes, it's possible to de-level). Take caution when Data Draining, keeping these things in mind. To decrease your Infection level, you have to kill enemies normally, and I think Kite has to get the finishing blow with a normal attack (that is, an X button attack; no skills or anything else involved). The whole Infection level thing can make finding Virus Cores VERY tedious and frustrating.
There are more aspects to the game that I haven't explained yet. When you start up the game, you can either log in, check the news, check your mail that your party members have sent, or check the message board. It's pretty much just like a real MMORPG, as you can see. You can reply to emails, but only between two set choices; you can't type up your own reply. You can't reply to all emails or replies sent to you, however, otherwise you'd have a neverending conversation going for the whole game. You can't post or reply to anything on the message board, either, save for the very beginning of Infection when Kite posts a topic of his own (even then, you're not directly doing it; the game does it for you). Throughout the games, you'll meet various people and get their Member Addresses. This allows you to add them into your party at any time you want (well, sometimes, certain party members won't be available). There are four different servers by the time this game comes for you to log into. Each one has a small Root Town to explore, but they're all pretty much the same in terms of shops. The only difference are the NPCs you'll find. You can also trade with NPCs or your party members, and even give your party members items.
Finally, there are Grunties you can raise, which are basically pig-like creatures that can talk. You can raise your own in all of the serves except for Delta (the first one). To feed them, you need these alive...things you find outside of dungeons, on fields. When you feed them enough, they'll grow into an adult, the most common one being a Noble Grunty. After you raise your first Grunty into an adult, you'll get the Grunty Flute. You can use it on a field to avoid any Magic Portals and go straight for the dungeon or search for more Grunty food. I had forgotten to explain Magic Portals, so I'll do so now. They're basically these spinning yellow orb things. When you approach one (if you're not on a Grunty), you'll engage in a fight between some enemies that spawn from it (sometimes only one).
The graphics are neat and cool-looking. The character models are all rendered pretty well, and the cutscenes you can't flip through yourself are pretty good too. The scenery and such is nice and artistic, and there aren't many flaws with the graphics. The only problem is that all five types of dungeons look exactly the same; changing that would've improved upon the graphics a bit.
The sound isn't so bad, either, though it can get a bit annoying hearing "OrRue Rom!" five times in three seconds over and over. Aside from the characters yelling out spell names time and time again, the sound is fine. If it really bothers you, then just mute the TV when you're not watching a scene, since the music isn't that great either.
For an RPG, the music really isn't very good. The soundtrack is very limited since each type of dungeon has its own respective music, which plays over and over. However, I really enjoyed the Phase battle themes for a lot of them (Skeith's theme is my favorite out of all of them). Overall, the music is okay, but nothing special.
Replay Value: 6/10
You really expect a game this repetitive to have replay value? Well, it does, actually...for a short time. After you beat the game, you can save your file and continue off of it. This makes a number of extras available to you; more than the other three games. For starters, you get to go to an optional 15-floor dungeon which many people have trouble with. You also get the Member Addresses of Tsukasa, Subaru, Sora, and another character which I won't mention to avoid spoilers. The extras more than make up for the rather crappy ending this series ended up having.
Buy or Rent?
I don't suggest doing either if you haven't played the other three games first, simply because the story really won't make any sense if you do so (there's a brief summary when you start the game, but definitely not enough to clear the confusion you'll be having). If you HAVE played and beaten the other three, then I suggest buying. You could probably beat it in a rental's time, depending on how long the time is, but this game could take you longer than Mutation and Outbreak (possibly Infection, too) because of the Virus Core farming and the occasional grinding.
After reviewing the whole game, I give it a score of a seven out of ten. Overall, the game is good, but I don't recommend playing it (even if you're a .hack fan) unless you've beaten the previous three parts first. The summary at the beginning is not enough to really get you into the story, but if you've beaten the other three, search for this game on something like Ebay as soon as possible. It's pretty hard to find at a cheap price, much less at all, so Ebay is your best bet for this one.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 10/15/08
Game Release: .hack//Quarantine Part 4 (US, 01/14/04)
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