As a kid who grew up in the 90 and 00s, the internet wasn’t alien to me. Sure, we had the kinds of connection speeds that take what felt like an hour to load a Neopets gallery disguised as a shop, but we weren’t far off from the future--the boon of browser-based gaming and F2P MMOs from portals like gPotato and Aeria Games that would give us something new to play seemingly every other weekend. So where are they now?
Today, AAA titles like World of Warcraft, Elder Scrolls Online, and Final Fantasy XIV continue to soak up the Western MMO market, leaving the titles of our past without the players they need to survive. The days of diving into another new and exciting online world on a whim feel long gone as a result.
But if you’re sitting at home (or even your office) yearning for the days of yore, you might be surprised to hear of just how many classic MMORPGs have made the jump to mobile. From bringing your parent’s store-bought machine to its knees to playing as smooth as butter in the palm of your hand, these are the childhood MMOs you can now play on your phone.
Old School Runescape
Starting with one of the most intact mobile ports of the lot, Old School Runescape is the full adventure millions of us enjoyed back in our early-00s browsers. It’s the perfect example of a game that doesn’t need stand-out graphics to captivate the masses. Old School Runescape is an expansive open-world MMORPG that didn’t need to be downloaded to enjoy. Now, it… does. On mobile, at least.
Being based on the Java platform, Old School Runescape runs about as well on your phone as it did on your Hot Wheels desktop PC. But hey, that’s part of the charm. Grab the tiny download from your device’s apps store and you’ll be in Lumbridge in no time. If I can download and play it while trapped on a water-logged train between Edinburgh and Manchester, it’ll be there for whatever spell of boredom you find yourself struggling with, too.
From there, it’s up to you whether you want to light fires, chop trees, plant herbs, mine rocks, smelt steel, beat up chickens, dragons, players… well, you get the idea. Runescape has two-dozen skills to max out in what is these days considered one of the most iconic grinds in gaming’s long history. It even has some of the most meaningful, story-driven quests in the entire genre.
Showing up around the end of my persona; gaming portal MMO addiction, Dragon Nest was what TERA was to World of Warcraft for me--proof that MMOs could be more than simple tab-targeting and slow rotations. There’s no shortage of these types of games anymore, but back then, Dragon Nest was new and excited.
This is more or less the full monster grinder you experienced on PC back in the day: only on a much smaller screen, with the opening chapters being condensed to help with onboarding a demographic that needs instant gratification from their games. Graphics are similar to the original PC release, though, so those almost iconic low-resolution face presets are here to stay whether you like that or not.
There’s an auto button like most other mobile MMOs, but its inefficiency in combat means it’s more for mindless grinding than meaningful combat. Speaking of combat, it’s pretty darn close to the original in terms of look and feel. You get the option of a 2.5D or the original 3D camera view and can quickly switch on a whim, and there’s even a new gyroscope option for the masochists who like to pass camera controls over to a swiveling office chair.
Aura Kingdom was one of the first full-fledged mobile MMO ports around, setting the stage for a mobile boom that could rival the golden age in no time. It’s the complete game experience you can still find on PC to this day, though if you’re looking to mix nostalgia with a fresh perspective, the recent release of Aura Kingdom 2, a remake of sorts, could be the better option.
Being an older mobile MMO, the Aura Kingdom port takes a few artistic liberties to play well on what would have been far less powerful devices back in the day. Frame rates are fixed (and choppy) and a fixed camera angle follows you around the world, but towns and dungeons are faithfully recreated to a degree that should keep players of the original happy.
The recent release of Aura Kingdom 2 as a mobile exclusive should be enough to tell you just how popular the original release was on handheld platforms. Like any MMO, the existence of something new and fresh won’t ever render the original obsolete. The amount of hours we put into these kinds of games are hard to simply let go, so the original Aura Kingdom--whether on PC or Mobile--likely isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Ragnarok M: Eternal Love
If you write a list of the 20 most popular old-school MMOs and somehow forget to mention Ragnarok Online (or ROM as it’s known), you better believe someone will question your intelligence. It’s a cruel world out there, but at least you can play the beloved classic on the john these days.
As what many would call one the first proper anime-inspired MMO, Ragnarok M retains the smooth, cel-shaded visuals and all the gorgeous set pieces you’ll use to make your own little anime safe-haven. Ragnarok Online was more about living a cute and cushy life than fighting fate for many players of the past, and this on-the-go version knows it.
It’s not a pixel-perfect port of the original. The developers often cite it as more of a remake, instead. But look around the internet and you’ll see enough Ragnarok veterans endorsing the nostalgia trip that is Ragnarok M.
Looking to the future
What we have here is far from a complete list of classic MMOs you can play on mobile these days. Between titles that have since shut down, fallen into development hell, or never managed to make it out of places like Korea, there are plenty more mobile ports you’ll find evidence of having existed in the vacuum of game development space somewhere along the line.
At this point, chances are any of your favorite MMOs from the golden age have some form of mobile port, prequel, sequel, or spin-off out there; it’s just difficult to see through some of the marketing fluff to know what you’re getting into. Dark Eden? Sure. Trickster? You bet! Heck, even Tibia got a mobile version. It’s just so heavily P2P that there’s likely nobody still playing it eight years on.
With plenty more familiar MMO names already confirmed to be mobile-bound in one way or another, it’s fair to say the golden age of MMOs is back with a vengeance. Spending on mobile platforms has always eclipsed PC microtransactions, too. The F2P and P2W models we’d often blame for a game’s failure have finally found their true target audience.
Featured Image via Old School Runescape