In which I list the games I’m playing or played recently, and give brief reviews on the same.
First up, the newest addition to the stable, Atlantica Online, currently in open beta.
This is cool. I’ve only played this for an hour or so thus far, but I expect to spend much more time with this game. It’s a “turn-based strategic MMO”. Weird yet? Combat is sort of like a quick paced Suikoden; a tactical beastie where you can have up to nine members of the party in multiple rows who all specialize in single or multi-target attacks. I’ve not reached the point of running a guild yet, but apparently guilds can conquer cities, and alliances of guilds can control countries. They can even wage war with other alliances. So not only are there tactical elements, but there are larger strategic layers. The art is gorgeous, the story is interesting (so far), and it seems pretty stable. I’ve got to give it a high recommendation, if only because it’s something pretty innovative. I’m also a sucker for a good tactical/strategy game, and this particular genre mashup is good fun. I suppose time will tell if it’s actually any good, but it does have the huge virtue of being free to play. I’m not losing anything but time trying it out.
Next up is Wizard101. I played the beta for this one, but never did have much time to devote to it. I wish that I had, since playing it now, it’s only free up to a certain point, reached fairly quickly in the game. It’s still a great little game. It’s aimed squarely at the tween Harry Potter market, with a cartoony art style and kid-friendly features. Even the Death School teacher may just be a misunderstood, deeply grieving man. Combat is based on a card game with a fairly laconic pace. That’s not a bad thing in any way, as I can often multitask while I play much easier than if I were playing something more demanding. There are a few little niggling mechanics that I don’t like, but for the most part, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable experience. It even has minigames that remind me of Puzzle Pirates, a perennial preference of mine. That’s definitely a notch in its favor. It’s also nice that I’ve gotten scores in the top ten on a few minigames, largely because of my PP experience. If nothing else, I’ll sign in to Wizard101 to tinker a bit with those. Wizard101 is a great family game, as there are some great mechanics to allow parents to play with their little gamers.
Speaking of Puzzle Pirates, if you haven’t tried that one out yet, you’re really missing out. The stable of puzzles has some real gems, the economy is spectacular (they make microtransactions work, killing RMT as they do so), the community is fantastic, and above all, the game is skill based. There’s no grind unless it’s self-imposed, and skill with puzzles is the ultimate key to success. Plus, the puzzles are just fun to play. You can also play the game completely free. I’ve spent a few dollars on the game, but that was for something cosmetic, and because I think they deserve some support for a job well done. It’s possible to never spend a dime on the game, but still have a fantastic time.
If you do head over there, I’m Silveransom, an artist on the forums and general armchair designer. If you ever see Nemo, please tell him “hi” for me.
I recently tried Perfect World. It’s a free to play Eastern MMO, which means most Americans will snub it on general principle. I never did play too much with it, mostly because it played like a WoW clone with that stupid “click to move” mechanic. I hate that mechanic. Even so, it looks good (not fantastic, but better than WoW, in some ways), and apparently it has a big following in the East. If they had let me play a male pet class (like WoW’s Hunter), I’d have stuck with it for a bit longer, but as it is, I find that if the game is going to try to mechanically be WoW, I’d rather just go play the ten day trial of WoW again. WoW may be a relatively shallow MMO experience, but it’s polished, and playing other games underlines that. Perfect World isn’t bad… it’s just not really what I’m looking for.
In the same vein, 4Story is even more like WoW. It’s currently in beta, and the translation is abysmal… but the gameplay is pretty decent. The pet class (Summoner) works almost right out of the gate (no “level to ten before you get a pet”), and it has some interesting mechanics. The graphics are pretty much on par with WoW technologically, but stylistically it’s obviously more Eastern than Western. That’s not a bad thing, by the way, just different. I may come back to this one if they can get some good translators… but I’m not sure that I’ll have the time. Still, the player community was helpful, with plenty of English speakers who were very helpful on the local/global chat channels. The game was pretty fun, all in all. I guess I just love comprehensible writing more than I thought I did.
I also tried NeoSteam, another free MMO. This one is set in an interesting steampunk world, which is what initially caught my attention. (Besides that whole free part, I suppose.) The “click to move” mechanic rears its ugly head here as well. The translation is a bit off, but it’s better than 4Story. I really wanted to like this one because of the setting, but I never did get much into it. The map system is confusing, or at least I was baffled by an early quest that teleported me… somewhere. I had to “hearthstone” back home to the city, and never did find the beach again. Also, it’s a bit baffling to me that I couldn’t make another character on the other “side” of the major story conflict. (Think Alliance/Horde; once you pick one side, all your characters are on that side.) The classes aren’t limited, so the choice isn’t a big deal for game balance, but I’d have liked to see the other capitol city, at least. As a minor bonus, my NeoSteam account also worked for 4Story, since they share a publisher. I think.
So yeah, I’m going the rounds of free MMOs. I’ve played Puzzle Pirates for more than two years, but these others have just been within the last two months. I find, more and more, that I’m just not an MMO kind of guy. At least, not with what currently exists. Also, those Eastern MMOs have some extraordinarily busty women with rather… racy clothing. Yeah, that’s the game industry (a rant for another time), but it seems that those Eastern artists love their flesh fetish a bit more than I typically see around Western MMOs, Age of Conan notwithstanding. Perhaps it’s not really all that different in the aggregate… it just seemed a bit more blatant to me. I call that a con, some call it a pro. Take it for what it’s worth.
I’ve also been playing Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria. It’s a lovely game, pushing the art limits of the PS2 with a great art style and some truly beautiful settings. The game is just as quirky as the original Valkyrie Profile, but in new ways. The story makes me want to go back and play the original, which to my mind, is a good thing. VP2 is both a prequel and a sequel… which is interesting in and of itself. I’m only about halfway through, I think, so we’ll see if the final story turns out to be great, but for now, I’m enjoying it. The gameplay mechanics are great. Exploration and dungeon crawling uses a 2D platforming style (set in 3D, so it looks pretty) with some cool mechanics. Combat takes place in a 3D arena, but still manages to feel like the original in a lot of ways. That’s a good thing, since that was one of the greatest atypical combat engines of the Playstation RPG era. VP2 is a bit more tactical, incorporating spatial positioning and “kill the leader” mechanics, so it’s a bit deeper than the original, while maintaining the things that were so cool about it.
If nothing else, it cements Tri-Ace high in my “favorite developers” list. They are up there with Squaresoft, Blizzard and Nintendo. Yeah, they are that good. Star Ocean 2 and 3 were also brilliant, so if you have a hankering for some good JRPG goodness, those are staples of a good library.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Kingdom Hearts 2, which I finished a little while back. I deliberately played that one a bit slowly, savoring the experience. I absolutely loved the first Kingdom Hearts, and even thoroughly enjoyed the side game, Chain of Memories. Bottom line, the KH series is my favorite set of games, hands down. The Chrono games (Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross) and several entries of the Final Fantasy series are very close behind, followed by a smattering of other games (like the aforementioned Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile, as well as Knights of the Old Republic). Still, if I had to cut my entire game library down to one game, it would be Kingdom Hearts 2. If I could have three, I’d grab the original and FFX.
Perhaps one day I’ll wander down memory lane and talk about my love for Microprose, Interplay and Maxis, but in the words of old Rafiki, “it’s in the past”, so I’ll save it for another time. Looking forward, I’m looking forward to picking up Guild Wars and Final Fantasy Tactics Advance 2, and I’ll probably pick up Brain Age 1 and 2 again. Puzzle Quest is looking like it might need a revisit as well. And then there’s that game design of my own that I should probably work on again…