Friday, November 20, 2009

MMO Review: Grand Fantasia

For no better reason than my having asked for it at some point, I'm included in the closed beta version of Grand Fantasia. I got a little e-mail notification with extra incentives for beta-only swag, so I thought I'd check it out.

It has a youngish feel with young characters and a pervasive messaging around children saving the world and children training to do whatever, on and on. I get it, kids, children, young adults, it's pounded into my head.  There's no age check-in at the point of registration, though, so it's not like the players themselves are supposed to be a certain age. It's just cartoonish like Asda Story with old kids and preteens like Mabinogi in a fantasy setting like... well, many fantasy MMOs. Why pick one out over another?

Each feature of character design has several choices, like some very manga-style eyes or some pretty creative hairstyles. You can start out as a character class in the beginning, or you can run around as a Novice and decide what you want to be when you hit level 5.  That's a new twist I haven't seen around specifically as such.  Games like Shin Megami Tenshin: Imagine let you allocate your skill points where you like, giving you the control to tailor your character's abilities, but Grand Fantasia adds your skill points for you and you work within a career path.  Personally, I find this a less complex system and it's kind of nice: rather than think about skill trees and remembering which stats will boost which abilities, all I have to think about is what weapon I'm saving up for next.

And there's a new feature: the Sprite. You get a little companion who bounces along behind you as you sprint across the landscape. You can customize your Sprite's look within narrow parameters and it does several things for you. You can have it follow you around and grab the loot as it drops from monsters you defeat, while receiving whatever stat bonuses you've appended to it, or you can dispatch it for a couple minutes and have it do your mining and skinning for you! You don't actually see it run off and attack or dig around, it just leaves the little cottage where it lives and returns after a period of time. It even knows some abilities to help you damage or disable your foes in combat. It's slightly temperamental, however, and sometimes requires special treats to kick up its vitality or motivation. Further customization comes in the form of little knick-knacks with which you can decorate its personal cottage. These tchotchkes not only set an atmosphere but also boost your Sprite's ability to forage/hunt/mine, either by increasing the rate of success or potentially boosting its haul.

Gameplay is fairly intuitive: rushing through the instructions, I figured out how to run around with WASD controls, navigating with the mouse, with a point-and-click option as well. Equipping armor and weapons from the backpack is quite simple, as is activating skill abilities and potions. Note: lots more right-clicking here on items and characters than in other games. That takes a little getting used to. Your character can pretty much run around objects, rather than getting stuck behind them: not quite as smooth as in Asda Story but still better than Megaten and significantly better than World of Kung Fu's comically random trajectory. And at least you can run across the countryside faster than in Ys Online, that really stands out.

Quest pick-ups and drop-offs show up on your little mini-map. The color of monster names does not determine their level but rather whether they're aggro or not. That was also a rude surprise, but I adjusted quickly. An interesting feature is the quest for a level boss, when you've more or less wrapped up a quest story line. The two that I encountered required party cooperation, which in the beta audience isn't necessarily forthcoming. Not the game's fault at all: I just happen to be gaming at a time when people are busy doing their own thing and resisting cooperating very much.

The graphics are excellent and the animation is very smooth. The environment is generally very attractive, with lush vegetation and rolling hills--no sparse plains with token scrub grass intermittently distributed. It looks really nice, and the outfits your character moves through are quite picturesque as well, an anime interpretation of Victorian action gear. The jumping action is feeble: you only gain a little height and no distance, so I'm guessing it's just a dressing rather than an ability you'd actually need in an adventure. The music isn't very interesting: in each realm it's just a sample song that repeats once in a while, and the rest of the time is silence. I didn't notice any insurmountable translation errors so English-speaking players will have no problem getting into the game and following the action. That is to say, translation isn't perfect, but it's close enough to have practical value.

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