Facebook MMOs Go Retro with Fantasy Online

Between the draw of social networking and the addictive nature of most mainstream massively multiplayer online games, it is logical to think that a Facebook-based MMO could hold the potential to monetizing the genre to new heights. However, it seems that the right formula has yet to reveal itself. While most companies tend to lean towards the more serious route, such as Ohai’s City of Eternals, an interesting app called Fantasy Online is using a very… different path.

The open beta MMO is basically your typical fantasy RPG, but rather than work with the new evolution of technology, Fantasy Online goes with a more satirical, retro feel. The game is done in entirely 16-bit visuals in an almost completely top down point of view.

Players start out as a very simplistic, and very naked, hero. Obviously, this means your initial customization of your character doesn’t exactly take too long: Hair, eyes, and skin are all that you get to mess with, though at 16 bits, that’s hardly an issue. In fact, it’s more of a joke, as even the play button is along the lines of “it looks just like me! Can we play already?”

From here, MMO players ought to recognize the now-standard quest setup. Non-player characters with exclamation points above their heads have quests, and ones with yellow question marks are those you turn quests in to (when completed). These are fairly typical of most new player quests, tasking users with the basics of kill 10 of these, find five of that, and simple messenger quests (go talk to Bob in the hills).

As players complete quests and kill enemies, they earn experience, stats, and hopefully, some clothes. As they level, new equipment can be found, bought, and equipped, and statistics distributed to where you see fit.

This is actually where a little bit of customization comes into play. Eventually, players will be able to purchase new abilities for use. At the start, using a hotkey bar similar to World of Warcraft (for the record, a lot of the UI elements are similar, 16-bit, versions of WoW), players start with a special physical attack and a heal. Not exactly exciting, but at level five, new ones can be bought from a vendor. However, beyond a level requirement, each ability requires X amount of one of the four stats – stamina, strength, agility, and intellect.

Easily, this becomes the part of Fantasy Online that holds the most potential. You see, most MMOs make you pick a class such as mage, rogue, or warrior. Here, however, you are building your own class, similar to how it was done in Ultima Online. In Ultima, players could level 700 points worth of skills, with 100 being the maximum for each one. A similar rule, but to a lesser degree, was in effect for stats such as intelligence, strength, and dexterity. With this freedom, players could mix and match warrior and mage skills, healing and archery, taming and poisons, whatever they wanted. Basically, that same feature is here. It’s to a lesser degree of course, but that level of customization, for an RPG player, is greater than any avatar or virtual space.

This 16-bit title is intended to be a satire on fantasy MMOs. Even the name seems intended to be generic, and the in game dialogue is littered with amusing character dialogue and MMO jargon such as “noob” or “leet.” Nevertheless, while this is funny to some people, those that do not play such games frequently will likely not get the reference. Moreover, it doesn’t make up for the dull game play.

Basically, combat is simple point and click. There is no sound, no music, and no animations, just numbers appearing on the screen. When you finish a fight, you automatically regenerate health and energy (mana), which is used to cast abilities and spells. Granted, as you get to higher levels, and actually need to use abilities, this becomes more interesting, but early on, there is just no hook. Furthermore, even when more abilities becomes a requirement, there just isn’t all that much style to be had, and nothing really keeping the player’s interest. It’s just going around whacking stuff because some NPC said to do it.

The fact that Fantasy Online is an MMO does save it a little bit though. For those that like to spend their time chatting and talking to other people, the game comes with that too. As a matter of fact, the chat logs are very full most of the time, and it is refreshing to see people talk about more than how good their gear is in Warcraft.

Overall, Fantasy Online has some good parts, but they are held together weakly. The core of any MMO should be whatever the primary means of leveling is, and in this case, it is combat — and frankly, it is boring in this game. Sure, there are those that are going to argue, “but it gets good later on,” but that is the key problem. If the player is bored in the first 5-10 minutes, there won’t be a later on.