MMObility: Killing the bland in Iruna Online

Iruna Online screenshot
Once again, Droid Gamers sent me a sweet tip regarding yet another Android-based MMO. This time around, it's Iruna Online, a real and actual MMO complete with open worlds, "millions" of other players, quests, equipment and monsters. In fact, the game reminds me in some ways of Final Fantasy XI. Iruna Online is not the first mobile MMO that has felt like the Square-Enix favorite, perhaps because they all share a similar art style. As I played, it struck me that the newer smartphones have enough power to run a game that looks as good as Final Fantasy XI, albeit with some graphics options turned down or off.

The similarities basically end there, however. Iruna Online is one of the newer stock of mobile MMOs that show mobile massively multiplayer gaming is really here. It should not be shocking or surprising anymore. Just as in the PC market, we are going to see many titles stream from the Eastern market. Many of them will be duds, but many will also be very, very cool.

Iruna Online screenshot
I should start this off by saying Iruna Online appears to be in a sort of testing phase. The game's official website and Google Play page don't tell you, but at some point (during a patch download, I believe), the client told me that the version I had was an "alpha." I wasn't surprised to know I was playing an incomplete game. The official website is horribly lacking in information, and the descriptions in the Play Store are barely there, but even still it doesn't quite play like an alpha. The gameplay is smooth, and there is a decent amount of content so far.

"While it does seem like the trend is slowing lately, many independent and foreign developers stay silent on this much of the time."

What seemed really curious to me was the lack of any obvious attempts to make money from the game. I couldn't find a cash shop or subscription button, and the client download was free. I knew that without some sort of cash coming in, the game was either in testing or very poorly designed. The sad truth is that my confusion is nothing new; I have played many, many games in the past without knowing what state they were supposed to be in. While it does seem like the trend is slowing lately, many independent and foreign developers stay silent on this much of the time. It's possible that the Eastern ports are just busy trying to get the game basics put together and will later fill in the informational gaps, but the stereotype of the silent foreign developer or the airheaded indie developer exists for a reason. Many games just do not tell you much from the beginning and never will. My gut instinct tells me that Iruna Online is one of a series of games that will come from this same publisher or developer and all will be similarly slopped together, but the cost to the player will be minimal.

The controls in Iruna Online are standard for smartphone use, sort of. You drive your character on the screen using a touchpad and control the camera using your right finger or thumb. It works smoothly for the most part except for the fact that the camera control touchpad appears only within a small area in the bottom right-hand corner. The mobile MMOs with the best controls have either a much larger touchpad area or a touchpad that appears anywhere you put your finger or thumb within a certain side of the screen. The camera is also a bit too sensitive with no options for tweaking. I'd like to see more mobile MMOs have more options for the cameras like a follow cam (a camera that follows the character, behind the head) or switching touchpad sides. What if someone wants to drive the character with his right hand? No-can-do in Iruna Online.

Many of these options might come out later, of course. But then again, they might not.

Iruna Online screenshot
Combat is pretty typical for the mobile market. You walk up to a monster and either a targeting cursor or a marker pops up around the monster nearest you, or you can simply touch on the monster you want to attack. Another touch fires off your attack, or you can hit a hotkey. It's a simple system that can occasionally lead to some confusion, but overall it works quite nicely on the smaller screen. I tend to prefer the Pocket Legends-style of combat that utilizes auto-attack and targeting. It's better suited for action-style games, though, but could be tweaked for games that offer more traditional MMO combat.

Quests are from the classic (and boring) book of kill-10-rats and fetch-10-items. There is even a small NPC at the beginning of the newbie starter area who explains to new players the four main types of quests they can expect to see in the game. It was honestly a bit depressing to see the developers of the game admit defeat right from the beginning and lay out the long, gray road that players could expect to slog through. I have been playing MMOs for around 13 years now, and the last thing I wanted to see, especially in the hip genre of smartphone MMOs, is an explanation of the same old boring quests. Luckily, the little guy hands out a few of the quests to show just how standard they are, but it's not much to get by on.

Playing the game with my thumbs while holding the phone up is rarely my preferred style. I usually play for shorter bursts, around 30 or 45 minutes, and play with the device sitting on something. Smartphone developers have got to be aware of the issues with playing on a small screen. It's not that it is a bad experience, but developers have got to know its limitations. Spacetime Studios smartly allows players several ways to play, but even from the beginning, before those devs added such features as browser versions of all of their titles, they allowed players to jump in and out while on coffee breaks or while waiting at the doctor's office. That's smart design, and it explains much of the studio's success.

In the end, Iruna Online just felt like another bland MMO, mobile or not. Of course it is early in its development so things can very well change for the better. I will keep it on the old 'droid for now and will continue to check back for updates. Hopefully, before too long, the game will shape up and become much more than it currently is.

Each week in MMObility, Beau Hindman dives into the murky waters of the most accessible and travel-friendly games around, including browser-based and smartphone MMOs. Join him as he investigates the best, worst, and most daring games to hit the smallest devices! Email him suggestions, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
This article was originally published on Massively.