Chris "Pwyff" Tom didn't need his nose to SEE that Dragonica Online could be the game that beats Maple Story! Read on to find out why!
Every now and then my appetite for the ridiculously cute awakens, and I am often left to my own devices to feed this voracious craving for things with big wobbly eyes, or small dainty paws. If I'm lacking in either of those, I tend to just eat Goldfish crackers. Either way, this time around, no such Pepperidge Farm Nacho Fish-o-cide took place, as I managed to sneakily get into the closed beta of Dragonica Online... just as it went to open beta for its last few days. Sneaky boasting aside let me be the first to tell you that if you were looking for an uber-cute game that beats the stuffing out of Maple Story, has some very smooth graphics, with really low system demands, and a fairly robust combat system (rarely seen in a 2D scroller), then Dragonica Online may be the game you should check out when it goes to full Open Beta on June 10th.
Developed by Barunson Interactive and published by THQ*ICE in America and gPotato Europe in... Europe, Dragonica Online is one of the few free to play MMORPGs set to hit the European and North American Market that is actually new, and not just a port-over with lipstick from the Asian markets. The game itself is a 2D side-scroller with graphics that remind me of Odin Sphere, but perhaps if everything got... rounder, smaller and... cuter. Combat, on the other hand, feels a lot like Streets of Rage meets Secret of Mana, but give yourself a plethora of instant abilities and everything can be combo'd!
Players start out with the ability to choose from one of four starter classes: the Warrior, the Magician, the Archer and the Thief. At level 20 from their respective starter classes, players can then class change up to become a Knight or Gladiator (Warrior), an Acolyte or Battlemage (Magician), a Hunter or Ranger (Archer), or a Jester or Assassin (Thief). Following this, there is also the opportunity to class change again at level 40 as an 'evolution,' although there is no more 'path' choice. Apparently there are also 'secret' classes that can be unlocked if a player stays as a starter class to level 30 instead of changing at 20 - the Duelist (Warrior), the Doctor (Mage), the Gunslinger (Archer) and the Bard (Thief). It looks as if the development team is planning to add more skills and (potentially) more upgrades (or different upgrade paths!) as the game matures and, to be honest; this makes me very happy on the inside.
Once players pick their character and select a suitable pair of big googly eyes that apparently compensate for having no nose (awww so cute), the game pops you into the 5 minute super-easy tutorial, or gives you the option to skip ahead to the starter town. If you're not a fan of having your hand held, go ahead and hop into the game, because the controls are really not that difficult. Movement is controlled by the arrows on your keyboard, and double tapping one allows you to dash forward at the expenditure of a small amount of MP (MP regenerates fairly quickly in this game). Players can attack with X, jump with C and perform more actions with the spacebar and Z. Abilities can be dragged and dropped into the hotkey toolbar, which allows you to use the first four letters of the top two rows on the left side of your keyboard (Q W E R A S D F), and pop items into the item toolbar, which is bound to 1-9. That's pretty much it, although you can combine some actions like a dashing jump or a dashing attack.
What makes combat so much fun, however, is the fact that you can combo together many of your abilities. Some abilities throw enemies up, and players get access to a fair number of skills that allow them to juggle enemies in the air, or damage them heavily as they fall back to the ground. Perhaps the only one who doesn't seem to 'combo' too much would be the Magician, who, instead, explodes things.
Of course, as with any MMORPG, Dragonica Online really places a lot of emphasis on its combat and for players to focus on fighting for their experience points. While I can't really tell you how I'd feel after fighting my 1,000th sheep, I do have to say that the game manages to keep itself fairly entertaining. Monsters that die can explode off the screen and occasionally crack the glass on your UI (for a moment), and on most maps, there are little 'monster counters' that award you neat treasure chests for killing 100 monsters, then 200, then 300, then 500, then 800, then 1000 (I think). To be honest, I had no idea that such a simple reward would make me feel that much better about killing random things, but it really did.
Not only that, but players can group up to take on difficult missions, or they can go into these missions solo. At the end, depending on how quickly you completed your task and how much damage you took, players get a 'grade' for the mission and are then given 1-4 random pieces of cool equipment (the number of random pieces is dependent upon your grade). It's very possible to get items for other classes, so multiple runs are probably suggested, but the experience points and the bonus EXP are fantastic as well.
Graphically, this game is extremely appealing aesthetically. Maybe it's the fact that I'm missing a nose, and so my other senses are sharpened (bad joke, I'm sorry), but they really did a stellar job in crafting this game. The graphics don't go out of their way to be the perfectly modeled polygon, but instead they went for very simple, soft-shaded models that are cute, but also easy to load. Not only that, but the game plays very smoothly. I recall playing Maple Story when it was in its infant years in North America, and the only thing I can really remember is how it didn't feel fast enough. Dragonica Online, on the other hand, launches you up and down the map via 'hyper-jumps,' and movements are very nicely animated. The cuteness also helps.
Ultimately, however, it's difficult to really see where Dragonica Online truly pushes outside of its boundary. I think there's a pet system on the way, but for the most part, they've simply created a very solid side-scrolling MMORPG. On the other hand, I will say that, without a doubt, the moment Dragonica Online goes open beta or live, I will be one of the first players toddling around with a noseless Archer.
I'm not too sure. This game just inspires such an incredible amount of nostalgia within me, it's difficult to not be enamoured with it. The combat reminds me a lot of some of my favourite games like Secret of Mana, Legend of Mana and Odin Sphere, but polished up until it really shines. The class changing system with different paths is very reminiscent of Seiken Densetsu 3 (if you know this game, you know what I'm talking about), and I really hope that the devs implement the 'branching' class changing system that SD3 did so well. In reality, this team has taken all of my favourite games from the past and added in all of those little things that I always wanted but couldn't have. Then they polished up the whole thing and made it ridiculously cute.
An MMORPG specifically designed for Pwyff?
It just may be.
Chris "Pwyff" Tom