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There's a big tendency in our western MMO-loving way to simply write off all Asian-imported games. I can understand why. Traditionally, they're little more than carbon copies of one another. But this has been changing now for the past few years. Japanese console developers have long been discussing how their Western counterparts managed to scream far ahead of them in terms of design, and it seems they've actively been trying to catch up in recent years, or at the very least shake up their own preconceived notions of what a game should be.
As the Devil and as a gamer (for your parents always told you games were bad) I believe that especially in regards to a few titles coming out over the next couple of years, the same can be said of the Asian MMO. They're not the same old "grind-fests" they used to be, and while they'll always retain their own distinctive look and feel, Asian MMOs are getting better and better. Here are just a few cases where it can be argued that Asian MMOs are better off than we give them credit for.
Runes of Magic
I know… “Bill, it’s just a WoW Clone!” It sure is, but it also happens to be one of the best examples of an Asian (Taiwanese) developer taking lessons learned by the west and applying it to their designs. What speaks loudly about RoM isn’t that it bears so much in common with Blizzard’s game, it’s that many of its little intricacies could do well to be picked up by other AAA subscription games. With Runes of Magic, in many ways you get the experience and features of a subscription game, without the need to pay a dime. Is it the best and most original thing ever? Nope. But it’s still probably one of the best examples of a quality F2P game, and it’s imported no less.
Again, I know Aion failed to meet the massive expectations folks had riding on it at launch. But that’s one part marketing’s fault, and another part our fault for buying into it so easily. That said, in the time since Aion’s rocky North American launch, the developers of NCsoft West and East have done an exemplary job bringing the game’s NA version more and more in line with what players on our side of the Pacific expect to see. More so, the game’s visuals are continually update to keep the game looking stunning, and the entire flow of the leveling process and content has been altered completely. It’s still an Asian-looking game, and for some there won’t be getting past that. But if you don’t mind an Anime-slant, and if you’re not going into Aion expecting the world’s best PVP (it’s still not quite there), you may be surprised as just how good this game’s become.
We really don’t have too much to go by on this yet, as the NA beta is a ways off still. But En Mass was formed with the sole purpose of taking Blue Hole’s game and catering/tailoring it directly to the western audience. Again, this one has the visuals of an eastern-style game, but just because the looks are influenced by anime (with ridiculous proportions on both monsters and weapons) doesn’t mean the game’s going to suck. There are a ton of promising features listed in TERA’s lineup, and with any luck they’ll all come together in a satisfying way. Satisfying enough that TERA can stand up to the incredibly stiff competition it’s facing in 2012.
I really wish we knew more about this title, and believe you me we (MMORPG.com) are trying often to squeeze more news and info out of Jake Song and crew. The game doesn’t yet have a North American publisher, but that can only be a matter of time. Marketed as a throw-back to the days of Ultima Online where the world was entirely driven by the players, ArcheAge seems to be the game many of our readers have been waiting for. Only the first bits are “theme-park” in essence as a lengthy tutorial to teach the game systems and show players the story. Beyond that, the game breaks wide open to allow everyone to do whatever it is they prefer in their virtual lives. Mounts, naval warfare, construction, massive siege battles, crafting galore, the actual growing of trees and produce; there’s a lot this game is promising. And should it find its way West you can bet that more than a few gamers here will be ready to try it out.