Cloud Nine screenshot
You know, I haven't been as head over heels in love with the graphics of a game in a long time as I am with Cloud Nine. As I get older, I find myself disliking more realistic graphics and tend to enjoy cartoony, or even better, stylized graphics that do not quite push into cartoony territory. It's not like I'm trying to relive my youth; I just take a game more "seriously" when it attempts to look less serious while actually being pretty serious. I'm talking about games like Free Realms or Ryzom or Glitch: games that are cartoony and not ultra-realistic but do boast some serious gameplay or even lore behind the art. I love that.

So when I first logged into Cloud Nine, you can imagine how I felt.

Cloud Nine screenshot
I hate to generalize, but I think after doing this for years in semi-professional and now professional ways, I have the right to generalize a bit. So here goes: Anime-inspired MMOs can sometimes play and look all the same.

There, I feel better.

Some of you who might laugh at the fact that I'm not being harsh enough -- why didn't I say something like "Anime free-to-play Asian games are nothing but broken Engrish and big-eyed cartoons and grind"? Well, "Engrish" is offensive, and "Asia" is made up of a lot of different places. That would be sort of like saying "North American music." It's meaningless. What I would rather say is that there are hundreds -- no, actually thousands -- of foreign free-to-play titles out there. Out of the few of those games that happen to land on my hard drive for whatever reason, many of them can be very similar to each other. Let's not forget that this also happens with good old 'Merican-made MMOs. Heck, I'd say that the percentage of samey titles from "Asia" is about the same as the percentage of games from our own neck of the words that do nothing to differentiate themselves from each other.


"I love graphics like these: detailed, bright, full, beautifully animated. All of this adds up to a visual experience that is fun to watch but easy to run."

Now, I am not going to say that Cloud Nine is light years ahead of the rest of the free-to-play market; it is not. It's actually quite similar in the way it plays, but the graphics are so damned charming that it makes my stomach hurt. I love graphics like these: detailed, bright, full, beautifully animated. All of this adds up to a visual experience that is fun to watch but easy to run.

Of course, the gameplay sort of consists of nothing but nabbing a quest, going out and killing X number of mobs, and running back to town to turn it in, but there are details hidden within much of that gameplay. These details are the fine differences between all of these titles. We have to remember that many of the games from Korea or China are played by people inside internet cafes or other large groups. Playing MMOs is much more of a social process over there than it is here. So grinding or repetitive content is not that big of a deal simply because players can entertain each other, chat, or have a bite to eat all while gaining levels in an MMO. For us in the USA, playing in a group often requires finding a group, and the most we talk to each other is to say on Skype or Ventrilo, "Bob, will you chain that fire spell, please?" The point is that we could be folding paper boxes all day and it wouldn't be as bad if we were doing it with friends.


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Luckily I've noticed that the massive grinds that often came with older free-to-play MMOs like ROSE Online or Rappelz are largely being dismissed. Instead, players are asked to kill fewer monsters but with bigger rewards. I can level faster, travel farther down the road, and explore much more easily in many of today's foreign free-to-plays than I could even five years ago. I call the new grind a "soft grind." Killing monsters over and over is still the design of the day, but at least it has softened and can sometimes even be quite fun. It becomes almost hypnotic. Put on some fun music, have a chat while you do it, and today's grinding isn't bad. Sometimes.

The main issue with Cloud Nine is that much of the English in the game is so broken and oddly translated that I have no clue what I am supposed to be doing or where I am going. Luckily there are plenty of bright arrows to point the way, but even then I have no idea how to get my first mount or how to find the "human cannon." The community was very nice, but many of its members are from outside the US. Several of them tried to explain to me where to find my first mount quest, but afterward I was more confused than ever. It was a nightmare. The saddest part is that the game's localization is almost there, but it can be much more confusing when there is just a little proper translation than when there's none at all. Your brain fixates on the few words that makes sense and the rest just becomes gibberish.

If this game had a second pass by a fantastic localization crew, I would probably feel as strongly about it as I do Zentia, another fantastic, cartoony, smart, mega-charming free-to-play MMO that I used to gush about. It's a game that makes you feel like you are playing through some kind of foreign version of a Bugs Bunny cartoon, but with some pretty darned serious gameplay and interesting lore. Cloud Nine could be as good as Zentia if the developers would take the time to fix its issues. The poor translations, the confusing back-and-forth questing -- these need to go. The graphics and feel of the world are wonderful, and I would recommend it just for that. Hopefully, however, the team will fix the rest of its problems soon. If not, go play Zentia.

Next week, I am playing an old favorite called Fiesta. This time, however, I am playing the new browser-only version. I will be not only taking a new look at the game but checking out how well it works within my browser. This should be fun!

Each week, Rise and Shiny asks you to download and try a different free-to-play, indie or unusual game, chosen by me, Beau Hindman. I welcome any suggestions for games -- drop me a note in the comments or email! You can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook!

This article was originally published on Massively.