I was drawn to Mabinogi out of curiosity. Although the name Mabinogi sounds as if the game comes to us right off the shelves of EB Games Japan, Mabinogi is actually a collection of Welsh and Celtic tales which have nothing to do with any Asian cultures.
A western mythology based MMORPG is an all around good idea. I'm not sure about putting it into an anime setting. The world of Mabinogi runs on on what appears to be a somewhat late model 3D engine. The characters are 3D characters with a 2D anime style texturing, complete with blocky highlighted outlines around them.
Mabinogi uses a traditional free to play RMT revenue based system. With free access, you get 1 character card (character slot) with a limited set of customizable features. The access to premium options begins with character creation. Only a certain number of cosmetic features are available for free play, but you can upgrade your account to have more customizations which really aren't that much different from the standard set.
At character creation, you can also set your avatar's age. It was a bit confusing at first because the only cue the game gave about what age does was a warning that it is harder to play younger characters.
The user interface was, well, unique. I'm an old Solaris / Linux admin type, so I found the old XWin style interface a bit welcoming and nostalgic. I'm not quite sure what sort of reception this interface will receive from a North American population born and raised on Windows 95, XP and Vista. One UI disappointment was the lack of customizable key mappings as I'm also an FPS/MMO WASD and Arrow Key movement kinda guy.
This is the part of the review where I normally tear apart the poor infamous Asian MMORPG that just beached itself upon our medical waste filled sandy beaches in a rickety old junk, aspiring to be the next Asian crossover wonder.
I can't bring myself to do that. Mabinogi is fun in an old Commodore-64 demo scene sort of way. It's not that great. It's also not terrible. Most importantly, it's not a cut, paste and translate sort of game. There's lots of interesting features in the game. As you level up, you can choose any skill path you want. Another ingenious idea in Mabinogi is rebirthing. With rebirthing, you can create a new level 1 character off the skill and ability points of your main character. This allows players to explore different character development skills without have to acquire ability points all over again.
Another neat feature in the game is eating. In most MMORPG's you can guzzle down meats, juices and ales at will. In Mabinogi, characters will gain and lose weight depending on the foods they eat. If you eat fatty foods, you become a fat ass. Eat healthy, and you can maintain that chiseled MMORPG physique we are all so used to seeing.
When you look past the sub par interface, the over anime-ization of the character models, late model graphics engine and click to move interface, there's something charming and unique with the game. The game offers a lot more socialization options than our run of the mill turn of the century WoW clones. Also, killing little cute and cuddly furry animals never gets old.
Mabinogi's entry into the North American market nearly 4 years after its release overseas, probably will not get much attention or recognition here in the U.S. Unlike every other Korean crossover I've tried, aside from Requiem: Bloodymare, Mabinogi offers the user more than just mob grinding and loot whoring. It wasn't a terrible experience. The most redeeming quality of Mabinogi is its ability to relive MMORPG's of old, a chance to say "Gee, I wish more mainstream MMORPG's had stuff like this in them."