So most of us know what HelloKitty is - the backpacks, shoes, funny little kitty images etc. But the makers of Hello Kitty Online, a.k.a. SanrioTown, have taken these things one step further. They have created a virtual world where players, young and old, can interact with their favorite characters from this franchise in a whole new way. And to some, this is a refreshing take on an old genre. A far cry from the standard hack and slash MMOs, with their world of raiding, loot and punishment of the "enemy", HKO focuses more on friendship, doing things for the greater good and simply having non violent fun in a virtual game world.
I had to see for myself what all the fuss was about so I checked out the beta for this. The first thing I noticed was the color scheme. It's very open and approachable, with lots of bright pink, yellow and white, colors that look like they are designed to appeal to a younger crowd. When I first logged in, the character creation screen was pretty generic as well, no "overly defined" male or female types, so I think they did a great job of keeping the game as non defining in terms of sexuality as possible. The last thing kids or younger people really need exposure to in a game like this, is a predefined self image.
I created a male character and started off exploring this game. The first thing I noticed was the completely different approach to a city and its inhabitants. There were no "guards" checking to make sure I belonged there, no random "wts xxxx" yells, no fighting in the city, no "so and so lfg". In fact, what I DID find was a variety of HelloKitty characters genuinely happy to see me and help me with quests to gain friendship points, a unique approach, to my way of thinking. So the first series of quests I did led me around the starting city to meet the other "vendors" and quest givers. They were all extremely helpful and willing to tell me the exact same thing if I forgot something. After I spent a few minutes acquainting myself with the town and various quest NPCs, I got my first quests outside. "Oooh, now the fun stuff I am used to starts," I think to myself as visions of EQ, DAoC and WoW dance in my head. So I checked my quest and...I had to collect some items from the starfish wandering around just outside the city along a seashore.
Well, to do this, I didn't have to kill anything, blow anything up or otherwise permanently injure myself or anyone else. I "bonked" them on the head (with a broom, no less!) until they were "stunned" and collected the item, then moved on. They didn't have an "aggro" radius, they didn't gang up on you and they didn't "kill" your character if the attempt at braining them went badly. In fact, I had to really work at getting my "health" low to begin with. And, even after smacking them on the "head", they just wandered off afterwards. No worry about 5 or 6 of them coming after me and chasing me halfway across a zone. This was extremely refreshing, and actually elicited a chuckle or two from me.
After running up and down the beach braining starfish, I was finally done with my task and headed back to town. I have to say that, while this title isn't really my cup of tea, I could definitely see kids and young adults thoroughly enjoying it. There is happy music, bright colors, smiling faces, and a generally upbeat feel to the whole title, and SanrioTown did a wonderful job in keeping with the Hello Kitty story and theme. With a lack of hardcore violence, players will still find ways to challenge themselves to achieve goals that are more fulfilling in the typical child's eye: from building a house to successfully taming the wild creatures surrounding the villages.
While I didn't delve too deeply into the title, I will say this based on my initial experience - Parents looking to share their love of MMOs with their children or players simply looking for a change in the standard MMO formula may enjoy this. It's quirky, fun and non-threatening with a decent learning curve sure to appeal to players young and old alike. It focuses more on building relationships with others and social interaction and less on "phat lewts" and "raiding". It was a sheer pleasure to test this game out and see what all the fuss was about.
Brian "Wordaen" Kincaid
Senior Content Manager