This week I decided to check out Fantasy Online, an extremely indie browser-based MMORPG by Pixelated Games. I've had my eye on it for a while but hadn't yet taken a chance on it. I liked the 8bit style of the game, but to be honest there are so many 8bit stylings going on right now (could it be more hip?) that it sort of all blends together into one pixelated mess. I have a buddy who makes 8bit music, t-shirts have featured 8bit designs for a while, and entire generations of gamers who never played the original games that the style is based on are diving head-first into the world of primitive graphics. Let's just say it's very popular.
What are the advantages of making a game that looks like it came from 1985? Someone once pointed out to me that an indie developer might have an easier time making a game that doesn't require state-of-the-art graphics. Good point. 8bit is sort of instant indie cred, as well. Just ask Notch of Minecraft fame.
Fantasy Online is more than just 8bit graphics, though, so allow me to fill you in on the details. Click past the cut!
If you look up Fantasy Onlineon Twitter, you will find it described as a "2-D MMO that plays like World of Warcraft and looks like an SNES RPG." Actually, that description isn't bad. Granted, the questing in Fantasy Online is much more primitive, but WoW does feature quite a few kill-10-rats-styled quests, something the games share in common. Of course WoW has a developer team of literally thousands while a game like Fantasy Online probably has a team of literally ones.
Before I say more about the quests, i.e., the sore-spot of the game, let's talk about those SNES graphics. I have to be honest and say that I was never a Nintendo kid. Sure, I'm 37, so I grew up right when the console was the thing to have. One Christmas I received an original system, a small black and white television set to play on, and a few titles including Kid Icarus and Super Mario. I really didn't like Mario and his adventures; I never really have. I don't understand why people continue to buy game after game with the character in them. But looking back, I see that the 8bit graphics were very effective. Some of those games played like movies, and we didn't care that they looked so primitive. The graphical style is obviously still very popular, but many of its fans are young enough to grow up with phones that have 10 times the computing power that an SNES did. So why the obsession with the style?
Watch live video from massivelytv on Justin.tv Well, in a game like Fantasy Online, the graphics not only are charming but actually resemble plastic bits on the screen. Each tree is adorable, but not in a Hello Kitty way. Characters and avatars are simple blocks of pixels. Outfits and weapons are just chunks that are a few pixels wide. The simplistic graphics have a way of impressing upon the player a feeling of solidity. An impression of something is almost always more powerful than a literal thing. State-of-the-art graphics can be nice, but if you want to find characters who are so beloved that they go down in history as figures of popular culture, you will have to look in the world of 8bit. Fantasy Online feels great. The UI and other windows generally feel smooth. The text is hard on the eyes, though, something that 8bit was never able to get right mainly because of the harsh style of the letters. In general, though, I love how Fantasy Online looks. It should be noted that fullscreen mode works much better for this game, and it does really well on my little touchscreen netbook. The touchscreen felt great while I was playing.
All of the quest text and interactions with NPCs are kept humorous and generally family-friendly, possibly a bit PG-13. Your character starts out naked, but not in the Mortal Online way. You later find a diaper and some plain white underwear to use as armor, and further down the line your character can be outfitted in some truly loud outfits. The game even allows players to dress up as different animals and other characters. There is an outfit tab that allows players to wear costume sets. I know many "AAA" games that still do not feature a costume slot. It's laughable.
So while the graphics are charming and the quest text can sometimes be funny, the quests themselves are pretty much of the kill-10-rats variety. I fully understand how hard it is to program and create an involved quest with triggers and animations, especially if you are a team consisting of two or three people. Or one person. Still, I can only kill so many skeletons or hack up so many angry tomatoes before I become bored. On top of the boring questing, the combat is basically made up of double-clicking on an enemy and waiting for things to resolve. Sure, I had a few extra abilities that helped enemies die faster, but generally questing consisted of talking to an NPC, being asked to kill 10 monsters, double-clicking on mobs until I finished my goal, and turning the quest in. I am also fully aware that there is a type of gamer out there who really has no issue with grinding non-stop, but I am not one of those players. For the life of me, I cannot understand how that can be fun unless you are hanging out with a group of your friends at the same time while downing a six pack.
I would love to tell you to skip the questing, but it seems to be an integral part of the game. Luckily the developer has added in different towns to visit and NPCs to interact with. A Holiday Isle was recently added, and you can take a free teleport there and hang out in a snowy playground. I killed some mobs while I was there, and they appeared to drop more coin and experience than I think I was getting in the normal world. There are all sorts of NPCs around who will teleport you to different areas. What those areas are, I am not sure. I didn't do as much exploring as I would have liked.
To sum it up, Fantasy Online is a very charming browser-based MMO that has a lot of potential. The graphics are charming, the writing is often funny, and it can be played anywhere. The main issue with the game is that killing monsters seems to be the only thing to do besides exploring, shopping and socializing. The community is active, there are always players on, and communication from the developers seems to be a priority. For an independent, that's important. I'll take a guess and say that in a year's time the game will have more features and an even bigger playerbase. Hopefully different quest types will be added as first priority.
Next week I am taking a look at Pocket Legends and Star Legends for the browser. Spacetime Studios recently released new embedded versions in the Google app store, so I'm going to see how different the experience might be.
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!