The closed beta countdown for Prius Online is in full swing, and the new MMORPG from gPotato is targeting a spring 2011 North American launch window. Prius is a new free-to-play fantasy game (new to the American market, at any rate), and no, it doesn't have anything to do with Toyota automobiles. We recently sat down with the guys from gPotato to talk about how they've spent the last little while working hard to localize Prius and how it differs from your average F2P MMO.

The game has been out in Korea for a couple of years now and was one of the more unique titles we saw at this year's GDC on account of its three-character control system and an unusually elaborate narrative focus and pet mechanic. Join us after the cut for the full scoop on Gigas, Animas, and all things Prius.

Prius was originally developed by NetMarble and released in Korea two years ago. Development started one year prior, so by the time the game reaches American shores, gPotato is confident that it will be one of the more polished F2P titles around.

The Giga

Gameplay is centered on the player's interactions with two available NPC companions, and while it's easy to initially dismiss them as mere pets like you find in typical MMOs, Prius actually takes its NPCs quite a bit further in terms of the gameplay significance and emotional content of each interaction.

First up is a companion called the Giga, which is basically a large warrior-type used for facilitating combat encounters including instances, dungeons, and PvP. The Giga comes in various visual flavors, and he has his own set of quests, progression opportunities, and itemization paths that tie in with Prius' signature NPC.

The Anima

The raison d'etre for Prius, and the mechanic the gPotato team enthused over during our demo, is the Anima companion. The Anima is a mysterious young girl who becomes available to the player at level 10, and in story terms, she has no memory and no sense of direction or self. Through questing and combat encounters, the player raises the Anima and molds the character in one of several possible directions (gPotato told us that she can be imbued with passive, active, or independent personalities), with the long-term goal being to discover her backstory and ultimately decipher how she relates to your main character via a shared past life.

A large part of Prius' gameplay revolves around getting to know your Anima's personality as well as gauging her moods and persuading her to help you with your game goals and various quests. According to gPotato, the Anima is a quantum leap when it comes to MMORPG pet design, as she not only requires character progression of her own apart from your main avatar but also serves as a gateway to the game's crafting implementation.

Prius also features quite a bit of customization when it comes to the Anima, both in terms of visuals (with items obtainable through gameplay and the cash shop) and abilities.

Classes and skills

In terms of your main avatar, gPotato is intentionally withholding full details on the game's classes and skills in the interest of building up a bit of excitement for the forthcoming closed beta period. We were given a brief look at character creation and a few of the options (including tank archetypes, a riflewoman/gunslinger class, mages, and more). Characters will have roughly 75 skills to choose from (though they won't all be available depending on the choices you make), and you can get an idea of what's in store by visiting gPotato's teaser website and hitting up the class section.

PvP

Prius also features a standard trading and auction house system, and the current Korean version is putting quite a bit of emphasis on building out the game's PvP component. Competition includes arena events with 18 players per side as well as guild battles featuring 40 players on each team. Guilds also compete for points over a week-long period followed by a battle royal between the top two earners every Sunday.

Finally, a unique bounty hunting system is on its way, and players will be able to register the names of both individuals and guilds with a bounty NPC in one of Prius' hub cities. The players and guilds with the most votes will become wanted (i.e., targeted by everyone on the server) and will give out monetary rewards when they die. Wanted players and guilds also receive rewards, and gPotato says there will be some benefit to being a bad guy.

Prius is currently counting down to its North American closed beta phase, and Massively will be bringing you all the news that's fit to print on the new title as it happens. Be sure to check back for our closed beta key giveaway over the next few days!

This article was originally published on Massively.