Free for All: Charmed, Zentia, I'm sure

Charm is one of those words that, as a kid, I never really understood. I always pictured some southern gentleman, lemonade in hand, wooing powdered belles from his porch on a hot summer's day: that's how I defined it. But now I think I understand it so much more, and I often wonder why this industry seems to often ignore the word, or has no idea what it means. It's easiest to explain it this way:

You cannot be charming by acting cool. If you act cool, it comes out cheesy. The movie The Matrix, for example: trying to act so incredibly cool, but comes off only cheesy. You must simply be cool to be charming. You can also be truly wide-eyed, which is charming. Or innocent, which is much rarer, but still charming. Be warned: Top Gun was considered very cool, and Tom Cruise very charming, in their time. Shirley Temple, mainly because of the time period her movies were made in, is still charming. A Christmas Story is very, very charming. Reese Witherspoon's work in Election? Oozes charm. Roy Orbison? Cool and charming, despite looking like a grandmother.

The same applies to MMORPGs. Seriously. Some games are trying to be way too cool, and should just relax a bit. Be fun. I recently discovered one of the most charming games yet in Zentia.

Charm is much more powerful than you might think: it invites you in, sits you down and prepares you something good to eat. I think that many of us have grown so used to the immense detailing that happens in our game-worlds that we no longer give it the credit it deserves. This is art, pure and simple, but of the kind that makes you wish you could actually visit the world it comes from. We told you about Zentia before, and I want to encourage you to go grab a closed beta key to try it out. You will probably feel charmed like I did, more than likely within a few minutes of loading the game.

"Animated wisps of smoke, tight alleyways, creatures that can look like 1940's-era Warner Bros. cartoons meets Tim Burton, and an accessibility that keeps the game challenging but always moving forward -- these are the footprints of charm.. "


I love the little alleyways, the clothes-lines hanging from the tops of buildings. These little details are credited to Pixel Soft, the "company responsible for creating the foundation of the game," according to Senior Producer Susan Revelt. "The Zentia localization team at ChangYou works very closely with Pixel Soft to make sure that all of the bits of charm are translated to a more Western audience. Even the players in closed beta are continuing to help us refine the language and game play to make it even more appealing." The wonderful interior details are going to be recognized even more with the release of guild housing, due with "the next big expansion."

The systems are also very charming, very simple to use and understand. One of my favorites is the pet and mount system that allows players to tame creatures from around the world. I have even seen massive 10-person mounts -- flying dragons that flow through the wind. "Some mounts will be very rare and only available through contests, special events, player stalls or the token shop." said Revelt. "An excellent example of this is the Blaze Horse mount. The Blaze Horse mount cannot be found in game and will not be available in the token shop. During closed beta, if our community can finish the first Heavenly Quest, all registered players will receive a Blaze Horse in open beta." While I enjoy taming my own creatures, I was able to pay another player for a bear mount that will not only transport me, but also fight while I ride.

The cash shop will focus on keeping the balance between "time and money," concentrating on fashion and time-saving items. The clothing in the game can be hilarious or beautiful, gaudy or subtle. Despite the fact that you pick from 22 pre-made characters when you start the game, your character can still be very unique thanks mainly to an appearance slot a la EverQuest 2 and Vanguard, and to class selection.

Combat, while on the surface a standard practice, is kept exciting by sudden appearances of helpful NPCs, random citizens in need of help, and instances that feel more like Disney movie sets than an MMORPG. In one case, I was sent deep underwater to fight alongside a trio of crustacean NPCs, but found myself ogling the scenery more than anything. In fact, that happens a lot: I will be in the middle of fighting a boss monster or a swaggle of goblins and will stop to take a screenshot or to go exploring. That's how charm works on me. Just watch the shrimp and crab battle, one of the staff's favorites, to see what I am talking about. It's innocent, cute and epic, a combination that is very hard to pull off. Or, notice the woeful demon in the Governor's house, his head tilted down like a beggar; I actually feel sorry for the little guy.

A game's charm is often not even noticed, but felt. Free Realms uses the same warm feelings to keep players exploring and socializing, but it's interesting to see how Zentia uses it to draw you into the world and lore. Animated wisps of smoke, tight alleyways, creatures that can look like 1940's-era Warner Bros. cartoons meets Tim Burton, and an accessibility that keeps the game challenging but always moving forward -- these are the footprints of charm, a tool not used enough by the MMORPG industry.

Go get your closed beta key, log in and see what I am talking about. If you want to wait, open beta begins sometime around the end of August, but when the exact date comes we will be sure to let you know. Take some time to notice the little details, and to be charmed.
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This article was originally published on Massively.