Tuesday, December 8, 2009

MMO Review: Twelve Sky

This isn't going to be a comprehensive review by any means--indeed, it will mainly be visual. Recently I received an e-mail update explaining that all Twelve Sky accounts would be transferred over to Twelve Sky 2, per player option.

Up to this point, I thought they were two separate games. I mean, if you've got one perfectly fine MMO up and running, why take it down just to run a similar but evolved game? Then I realized I didn't know any of the differences between the two systems and thought I'd play them both.

Good lord, are they different. Essentially they look alike: you start out in a large stone stronghold wherein reside all your trainers and support. You're surrounded by terrain inhabited by monsters of increasing grades of threat. There are three clans of humans pitted against each other (I play Fujin) and your clan determines what kinds of weapons and abilities you'll master (my weapon is the lute). You gain quests and increase your capacity for power, similar to many adventure/fantasy games.

But in 12Sky you can run through the NPCs in the city. In 12Sky2 you collide with them like they were made of brick, and that's irritating. But in 12Sky, my sprinting ability costs me energy for as long as I leave it up; in 12Sky2, it expends only when I click on a new destination, which is so much handier. One thing they never thought of in designing 12Sky is one of my favorite elements in 12Sky2; when you talk to an NPC, they actually speak a line of dialogue. I don't speak Chinese, but I love listening to their voices because they illustrate who that character is quite well. They cough, sigh, giggle, grumble, and the effect is charming.

The NPCs have changed, too. They've been renamed and they look better, I think. Where 12Sky had fun making subtly attractive or wry, wizened characters, the NPCs in 12Sky2 are more heroic, more over-the-top. It feels more like the realm of heroes, something closer to a supernatural experience. I'm not sure what the aesthetic consideration was in that revision, but I can't say I mind.

Here's the Fujin blacksmith, formerly Blacksmith Chenin, now Blacksmith Kew.

Gambler Gary
Gambler Gouta

A fairly minor character, the gambler serves to offer players the chance to increase (or dramatically decrease) their money. They're in charge of lotteries and cashing in special money-making tickets, as well.

Gambler Gary only has a humble little table but he's in the center of the social activity, while Gambler Gouta is shoved off to the side behind a row of buildings but is clearly possessed of a greater zeal for life. Gary's a hunched-over old man with gin blossoms, a pathetic dish towel-cum-shawl knotted about his shoulders. His breath smells like curdled milk and he tells the same three anecdotes over and over.

But Gouta's the one to watch out for.  Look at that face: is he the Monkey King in disguise, or simply a rat-faced bastard? If you don't think he has complete control over those dice or those joss sticks, save yourself some time and just hand your wallet over to him. Or better yet, just don't hang out in that part of town.

Elder Sangwan
Guardian Fohchoy
Elder Deison

On the left we have Elder Sangwan, the leader of the village in which you start, but in 12Sky2 his duties are divided between two individuals. He fulfills the function of Elder Deison but is clearly the conceptual progenitor of Guardian Fohchoy. Guess it was a look they liked too much to do without.

Lute Trainer Lin
Songsmith Seiren

Songsmith Seiren's name is an interesting example of an excellent translator on staff at Aeria Games. I'm thinking "Seiren" is a play on the Greek mythological creature, the siren, who used song as a tool to lure sailors to their demise. So too do these tutors, Lin and Seiren, teach the lute-wielding warrior to use song for destruction. And someone a little more than fluent with English had to have come up with "songsmith" for a job title, so you can see a lot of work goes into the production of these completely free games. It appears the character was so hot, the developers didn't have it in them to rewrite this trainer entirely, just give her a little makeover.

Lady Gayon
Guard Captain Yang
Guard Captain Fashu

What does this gently pretty young woman have to do with these two hard-bitten roughnecks? In 12Sky2, Guard Captain Fashu takes up both job responsibilities formerly split between Lady Gayon and Guard Captain Yang, in that he commands the guard and issues quests to you but also handles the game's merit system. The way 12Sky handled it, you could convert your online gaming time into "Loyalty Points," and these worked as a kind of cachet, they built up some esteem for your character, some form of clout. I don't know exactly how it worked, I never leveled high enough in the game for it to become relevant to me. But in 12Sky2, you go to the battlefield and fight the other two clans in mini-skirmishes, and for your participation you can win little medals. Once a sufficient number are amassed, you trade them in for status. I'm pretty sure that's how that works, though I'm likely wrong--like I said, it doesn't really enter into beginner-level gameplay.

Herb Master Yemok
Herbalist Chang

The herbalist is who you consult when getting healing remedies, medicine to increase your mana, or any related and sundry items. They stock medicine that's far too powerful for you to put into your frail body, and for no little coinage they'll sell you teleport passes back to the city.

There's not a tremendous amount of difference between Yemok and Chang, it seems. They're both old (and with that age comes great wisdom!), short, and a bit shaped by their experiences. It's Chang who would provide the last-minute solution to the hero's most vexing trouble or who could ably counsel a powerful and just lord. Yemok is more likely to fall asleep behind his desk, or to forget where he placed his medicine... or yours. And while you'd like to start giving your business to Herbalist Chang, it seems that Herb Master Yemok is your girlfriend's grandfather, and she would totally take it the wrong way if you stopped supporting him.

Good thing he's getting phased out in 12Sky2. Bring on the Chang!

Mall Manager Ryong
Trader Xhai

Now, this tells a very clear story! Clearly, Mall Master Ryong has passed the baton to his granddaughter, Trader Xhai!

"Take my overloaded backpack," he instructed her from his deathbed. "Travel the world far and wide to provide the Fujin with the best spices, the rarest items, and all manner of vainglorious frippery." She readily promised, eager to explore foreign nations and peddle her exclusive gewgaws and gimcracks in her hometown. His sunglasses and umbrella are on display in her apartment, the artifacts of her proud and vibrant legacy of trade.

They have some subtle differences. He uses an oversized bamboo and palm-frond umbrella to shade himself from the sun, where she only requires a hand fan. Ryong loves shades of red, while Xhai's evolution expresses itself in purple. He's got a sporty little Mongol vest; she favors Uggs. They do, however, serve the same function between 12Sky and 12Sky2: they vend all the very powerful or showy items you can buy with real money to show off in-game.

This is how these free MMOs support themselves, in large part. With real money, with credit cards and PayPal transfers, players can spend real money to buy stuff in the game, be it a very powerful sword or simply a stylish face mask. These are in-game items you can't earn by playing the game, they don't turn up in any dungeon; this isn't loot dropped by any mob. This is the commercial bridge between the real world and the virtual realm. Would that we all had such disposable income, eh?

Yellow Gate Master Qwan
Gate Master Miko

Here are the two gate masters in 12Sky and 12Sky2, respectively. Yellow Gate Master Qwan's duties are probably a bit more specialized than Gate Master Miko's. I don't know, I've never availed myself of Qwan's services. What's up with those ineffectual, stunted arms? Does he also have heightened olfactory lobes, like a Tyrannosaurus Rex? Does he also scavenge decaying carcasses? I can see him being one of those petty bureaucrats who holds a middle management position in a death-grip, never aspiring to climb higher, ever fearful of slipping lower, whose only pleasure in life is posing an obstacle to all who require his services.

But I can tell you, I would go anywhere Gate Master Miko wanted to take me. Rrrrrow.

Tailor Yaming
Tailor Terai

When you listen to Tailor Terai, in 12Sky2, she sounds like a terrible flirt. You don't have to speak Chinese to understand what her voice is intended to do: she's a girl who likes the boys. She knows she looks good, too, yes she does. And if what they're wearing is any indication of their prowess, players in 12Sky2 are going to look sharp.

It's not that Tailor Yaming isn't glamorous. That's surely a smoking chinadoll dress, with a bad-ass wooden skewer holding her hair-head-thing in place... but only just barely. She's lookin' a little frayed around the edges. If Terai is the party girl, Yaming is the morning after. She probably wore that dress to the bar last night and woke up around 11:30 AM and crawled to work half an hour late.

If you can take a break from saving the world, get Tailor Yaming a glass of water or maybe bum her a cigarette. 12Sky can't end soon enough to suit her.

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