Rise and Shiny: Divina

Divina screenshot
Ah, another week; another Anime-inspired free-to-play game, right? Well, not so fast. I've become pretty dismissive lately in my minimalist-gamer haze, but games like Divina, the title I looked at over the past week, are some of the only titles that are quite reliable. Sure, there are hundreds of these games now and hundreds more coming soon. It's important to take each one individually, just as I would any title, and judge it on its own (mostly) unique parameters.

In other words, sure it looks similar to other games I've seen before and plays like a lot of other games I've seen before, but it's a free game with a cash shop on top, a reliable formula especially in this day and age of complicated tiered programs and "semi" subscription games. Also, games like Divina can be plain fun -- and fun to look at.

Of course, I'm simplifying, so allow me to tell you about my week and you can judge for yourself.

Divina screenshot
Graphically the game comes from that school of design that makes players wonder, "What in the heck is that?" Every time I think I've seen the most unique, oddball designs, I pick up a new title, one that is chock-full of flaming heads on wheels, flower monsters, and bubble... things. If you take away everything that a free-to-play, Anime-styled game like Divina has, you still must give it respect for art design. I've come across so many titles like this one that are just fun to look at and explore in. Sure, there is a grind usually, even though it is what I like to call a "soft grind" that usually represents only a few minutes and several monsters instead of the old-school several-hour grindfests. But even if I don't mention the crafting and socializing and surprisingly deep gameplay elements, you're still left with fantastic artwork.

These days, Anime in its most fluffy, puffy form reminds me more of a Mark Ryden painting or Tim Burton rather than giant robots and screaming ninja children. The art is ridiculous. Strangely enough, the older I get, the more the over-the-top style makes sense to me -- more sense than an attempt at uber-realism.

Gameplay is grindy, as I mentioned before, but it's not hard at all. I'll go all full-disclosure on you and relate that I was given a high-level character, complete with high-level weapons and cash-shop goodies. Even then, the combat on one of my lower-level character felt about the same, meaning that it was immediate, explosive (literally), and colorful. I played a Machinist, a character who carries around bazooka-like weapons, sets traps, and shoots the living daylights out of cartoony creatures. Later, while playing the high-level character, I realized that I had a sub-class to choose from. When I switched to that one, I found myself in control of a ninja-like assassin who used faster attacks and melee. I enjoyed the exploding mine-layer more, so I stayed with him. Combat with the Machinist felt a bit slow, but that was mostly due to the need for preparation. Once I set up a mine or trap and fired off my first shot, the mini-nukes and other abilities I used were super cool. Some of them took a while to aim and fire but were well worth it. As in many of these free-to-play Anime MMOs, getting to this level of power took some time but paid off in huge ways.

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From what I understand, the gaming culture in East Asia is traditionally centered around group play in cyber-cafes or something similar. The grind is there, but it's not a big deal; after all, the players are hanging with their buddies while it goes on. So earlier levels in many of these titles are simply preparation for the high-level stuff that caps off a game. Once you get there, then you go to one of the many dungeons or other adventures and hope to survive.

I say "hope" because I chose a random dungeon from a list of daily adventures and jumped right in. It was made for levels below mine, so I figured I would be just fine. Little did I know that I would have to use strategy and patience to even survive. I could see how handy forming a good group would be. The interesting thing is that the list of instances was huge, and there was a similarly-sized list of daily quests that I could pop into any time, all of this on top of the usual questing I found within cities and towns. Sure, a lot of this content was similar to the rest, but I think about hardcore raiders I know here in the West and how they repeatedly grind out the same dungeons night after night in games like World of Warcraft or Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. If they would just put aside their prejudice against the Anime style, they would find a treasure trove of dungeons and challenging adventures to explore. Oh, I know, many of them would claim that they prefer to exist in a world more fleshed out with lore and a more Western sensibility, but I'm calling their bluff: They like to raid. A lot. Well, these free-to-play titles have tons of that too.

Crafting in the game was a bit odd, and in my short time, I did not get much of a grasp on it. I didn't find much of an explanation of it, either, possibly because my high-level character had already experienced any tutorials before I came along. Crafting involves synthesizing weapons and items by using some sort of collectible cards. You find a card, gather the materials, and assemble the whole thing at a particular station. I was able to assemble a basic sword but then quickly ran off to kill some more bubble-headed monsters.

Divina screenshot
In fact, most of my time in game was spent killing giant monsters and exploring. There are some wonderful areas to stumble around in and plenty of odd monsters to kill. I grabbed daily quests, attempted to complete them, and helped out local NPCs when they needed it. My experience is probably a little skewed because I didn't pay attention to the level of the quests I took, but I had fun because many of the quests required only that I find one item or kill a few monsters. I think that Eastern games like Divina have caught on to the fact that the old-school massive grind is just not that attractive to many Western gamers, save for those few dungeon-grinders (or faction-grinders or gear hounds) I mentioned before. The pet system is cute, as well, and useful. I sent my pet off to find goods for me; he came back the next day with the spoils. Sure, he was just a cute bunny rabbit named Roy, but he helped out in a pinch more than once.

If you find yourself snickering when you look at the website of a game like Divina, perhaps because you think it's made for kids or tweens, ask yourself whether killing orcs or attacking castles is really "adult-only." (Hint: It's not.) Take the time to try out a game like Divina -- you might find that it scratches that hardcore itch in you, even if just a bit.

Next week, I am picking up my MUD coverage by looking at Aardwulf. It has a nice client configuration and seems pretty deep, but we'll see. I will be livestreaming it on our Twitch.tv page on Monday, the 2nd of July. Join me in the chat room!

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.