I decided to take a broad look at the two major areas: First, I wanted to try out the social network area of their site. It's standard stuff, really, but works well and is fun to fill out. I also wanted to try out some of their mini-games that are hosted on the site itself. Next I wanted to look at one of their games, Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine Online. There are a total of 16 titles to choose from, so I decided to go with one that I had enjoyed the most. It's been fun so far, and I'm glad I am going to be able to shine a little light on one of my favorite publishers!
The Social Network
Many game companies are going the way of the social network lately, and you can see why. Essentially, it gives the players a reason to return not only to the games, but to the publishers' world. Not only that, but it allows players to meet each other to play the games. A social network is so much more than a meeting place or just somewhere to get access; the social network is a place to call home as well as a place to remain loyal to. Sports teams bring out the same loyalty, and fans proudly walk around with their teams' jersey on for other fans to identify with. The MMORPG culture is all about what team you are on, or what group of friends you have. It's also about crafting an identity for yourself, a special identity that might be completely different from your "real life" identity, and Aeria's social network has all the tools you need to do this. You can upload a picture, become friends with others and chat with them in real time, write about your gaming in your free hosted blog or read Twitter messages and watch official videos from the tool bar at the bottom of the page. The social network is brilliant, really, in the way it can pull a player into the developers' vision.
The mini games, and there are a lot of them, range from challenging to mind-numbingly easy. Still, never underestimate the time-warping power of a gem matching game. I would like to try out the site on a portable device to see if any of the mini-games work, allowing a player to log in to update their profile while playing a game. Allowing your players to have constant access to some aspect of your brand seems very smart to me, and explains many successful social games.
I have mainly been a player of Imagine Online and Dream of Mirror Online for a while now. Granted, I level as slowly as a glacier because of my gaming schedule and the sheer number of games that I have to look at, but both games allow me to go at my own pace without making me feel that I am missing something. There are always new players around and new opportunities for grouping/making friends, so I never feel like I am playing in empty worlds.
"Allowing your players to have constant access to some aspect of your brand seems very smart to me, and explains many successful social games. "
The combat is what really shines in Imagine Online. Basically it is dependent on the player knowing what abilities might block or counter the enemies' abilities, and when to use them. It's not so complicated to frustrate the player, but does become very challenging at points. It's slow, but the hits feel very powerful so it's not boring. But, I am not sure that just through the information in the game that a player could learn as much he or she needed to feel comfortable. So, asking a friend in game or finding a small guide will probably help. Soon enough you learn what mobs have weaknesses to certain attacks, but you never run into a mob that cannot be downed in a few different ways. This is where your pet comes in handy, helping you not only attack the mobs but to heal you and even resurrect you when you die.
It's also exciting to see your relationship grow with your pets, but it is not as involved as a virtual pet game that can have you logging in at 3 AM just to change their diaper. Also, fusing two demons together can come out with some fantastic results, and seems to be a game in itself.
I asked a more seasoned player for help a few nights ago, and within moments I was running through higher-level areas that were filled with mobs that could kill me in one or two hits. He walked me through it and gave me some tips to help me survive. Sometimes I would just watch him fight mobs and would try to pick up on what he was doing. By watching combat off to the side of battle, a player will be able to see why this game can be so attractive. It looks more like a cartoon than a game, and feels very dramatic. You would also be hard-pressed to find two players that look alike, thanks to the myriad of choices you have in customizing your character.
I am tempted to find and play some of the console versions of this game, being that it feels like it comes from such a solid (if not insane) universe. It feels like I am just getting started in more ways than one, which is a very good thing.
One of the few gripes I have about some of the Aeria games is the seemingly inability to grasp "proper" WASD movement. While the games do offer the movement style, it can be either clunky, sluggish or (in the case of DOMO and Imagine) completely bonkers. For example, when I click W I move my character forward. Then, I can turn with the A and D keys, but the camera does not follow. Hitting S only runs your character towards the camera instead of walking backwards, forcing you to always use two hands for proper driving: one for camera control and one for moving. Even if you choose to click-to-move, you still have to constantly adjust the camera.
Anyway, I am starting to move on to Hello Kitty Online (I HAVE to or the editors will beat me up) and Wolf Team for a little bit of actiony goodness. If the developers keep going at this pace, (notice the sign at the bottom of the site saying "More Games Coming Soon!") players will never have to leave the site. Check it out, make an account and try as many games as you want. There seems to be something for everyone's style of play.
Just make sure that when you sign up that you find my profile (the name is beauturkey) and leave a comment. My page just looks sad.