Very Much a Niche MMO
Hello Kitty’s friends have been put into a deep sleep and she needs your help to rescue them. In order to do this you must travel into the world of Hello Kitty Online; a virtual playground based on Sanrio’s signature Kawaii art style. You will meet and help Sanrio’s most popular characters: Hello Kitty, Dear Daniel, Keroppi, Badtz-Maru, My Melody, and many others. While you’re trying to save the day you can keep other players up to date with your progress via the game’s integration of SanrioTown’s social networking features.
Aesthetics – 5
The game’s graphics consists of 2D sprites in pastel colors in a vibrantly decorated world. The Sanrio style is stamped on everything giving the game a cartoony feeling. Everything is cute, even the monsters. So, if you’re prone to cuteness overload you may want to limit your exposure to HKO. The game does offer only two resolutions: 800x600 or 1024x768. This means that playing in windowed mode is the best option if you have one of the larger monitors available today. Otherwise, the lower resolution of the graphics is very obvious.
Unfortunately, you won’t be able to play as one of Sanrio’s popular characters. Instead, you are offered a human avatar. These avatars borrow heavily from generic Asian Anime themes having the usual big eyes, small mouths, and genderless bodies. Character creation presents few choices so everyone looks similar when they arrive in the tutorial area. This does change further along in the game as many more personalization options become available in higher-level areas.
HKO’s music is very happy and playful. Its upbeat tempo underscores gameplay and highlights the action of mini-games. At one time it did get so cheerful that it became distracting and had to be turned off.
The user interface is simple and intuitive. It contains the usual elements you’ve come to expect in an MMOG: a compass, health (energy) and stamina (action points) bars, chat box, hot keys, and menu bar that allows access to the production window and quest log. Once open the various interactive windows can be moved around so they don’t overlap or interfere with other gameplay. Movement is by mouse clicking and there is no way to scroll around the area for a better view of your surroundings.
Gameplay – 6
When you’re finished creating your character you are transported to the tutorial area called The Dream Carnival. Here you’ll learn basic movement, inventory, and combat gameplay in a comprehensive mini-tutorial called the Dream Rooms. Once this is complete you are free to explore the rest of The Dream Carnival. Exploration of this area allows you to master all aspects of the game including farming and crafting. If you don’t feel like taking advantage of the tutorial area or already know the finer points of the game you can bypass this area by clicking on the arrow at the lower left of the dock area. You will be teleported out of the tutorial to Sanrio Docks and the main gameplay area.
PvE focuses on crafting, farming, and gathering. There are a lot of quests but the majority of them require you to craft, gather, farm, or deliver something. In fact, the majority of your time in game will be spent gathering or growing items to craft with. Levelling up is not dependent on combat. It is possible to reach the game’s max level (currently capped at 35) without ever engaging in combat. This is a more difficult path to follow, as you will have to bypass some quests in order to do it.
Questing and crafting aren’t the only aspects of the game to keep you busy. You can build a house on your farm once you’ve obtained a building certificate. When it’s complete there are many ways to customize it using different wallpaper, flooring, and furniture. There is also a pet system in place that allows you to have up to three different pets although only one can be active at a time. Pets can be obtained by receiving a Pet Card in a drop after a mob battle. While the pet system is simple it does provide some useful features such as extra storage and player buffs depending on what kind of pet is active.
The last notable PvE aspect of the game is the mini-game feature. There are both single-player and multi-player mini-games available. These games range in theme from typing games to an emote-based form of “Simon Says”. Rewards for playing these games range from Loyalty points to Dream Fragments. Both are game currency that can be used to buy items from Dream Constructors or the Item Mall.
PvP – There is no direct PvP in the game. There is an indirect form of PvP where players can compete against one another in the various multi-party mini-games.
Combat consists of clicking on the target to hit it with your weapon. There is no death in the game. You do not kill the monsters and they do not kill you. Instead, you hit them until they fall asleep for a period of time. If they get the better of you, you simply go to sleep and are teleported to the nearest safe area to recover your energy. There is no blood or gore at all and the whole process is very innocuous.
Innovation – 7
Sanrio has integrated the social networking features of its SanrioTown website into the gameplay of Hello Kitty Online. This allows you to blog, upload and watch videos, and email other players from in the game. They have also integrated many of the mini-games available on the website into the game. This makes sharing high scores, tips, and tricks quick and easy.
Polish – 5
HKO is not without its bugs and glitches. Some of the mini-games lack instructions while others hang on the loading screen. A couple of them had no way to end them except to let the game time out so you could submit your score and collect your reward.
Aside from the buggy mini-games there were quite a few other glitches. Some of the NPCs would not respond to quest completing clicks and a couple of the Dream Constructors would not open their shop windows when requested. At one point the US/Canada server disappeared from the server list. Rebooting the game cleared up all these issues.
One of the more frustrating bugs that need attention occurs when a group of moles appear on your farm. You cannot continue to farm while they are there but they won’t leave no matter what you do. There have been numerous complaints about this bug over the past months but no official fix has been issued. There are many unofficial fixes that range from rebooting the game or reinstalling it to simply giving the moles a couple of hours to leave. Luckily, the group that camped out on my farm left after a quick reboot.
Longevity – 4
The Hello Kitty franchise is very popular and loved by many. Unfortunately, the popularity of and love for a franchise does not automatically grant longevity to any associated game as Lego Universe players found out earlier this year. HKO has a loyal following but the game was deserted when I played it. While traveling through the starting areas I saw a grand total of three other players. I believe at least two of them were alternates running through to where their main characters were. Another telling clue to the future of the game is the fact that the news posts displayed by the game client are from Mother’s Day 2012! Lack of community updates for months and a non-existent game population does not bode well for HKO.
Social – 4
While Sanrio has integrated the social networking features from its SanrioTown website there needs to be a viable player base in order to use it. I saw three other players the entire time I was in game and none of them were social. Two of them ran right through the area I was in and the third never responded to my attempts to socialize. The game could have the best social features of any game ever created but they don’t amount to much if there is no one around to use them. The forum was little better. There was a little more interaction but it was mostly people seeking help for gameplay issues, missing Item Mall purchases, or account problems.
Value – 7
HKO is free to play with an Item Mall. The Item Mall contains everything from clothing and hairstyles for your character to limited edition pets and specialty land certificates to help you build your house. These are bought with Sanrio Cash Points (which you buy with real world money) or Sanrio Loyalty Points (which you earn by participating in various SanrioTown site and HKO game features). So, while you could use cash to buy premium items, you can also earn them via participation on the Sanrio websites.
Is the game worth its price tag? Certainly. It’s free to play and you can earn premium items through participation instead of paying real world cash for them. No matter how you slice it, you can’t beat free.
Hello Kitty Online is not for everyone. It is very much a niche MMOG aimed at a younger audience. It is a very cute, child-friendly, upbeat, easy to play game that avoids violence. Instead, it focuses on crafting related activities, mini-games, and social networking features to engage the player.
Anyone who dislikes cartoonish settings, vibrantly colored graphics, cheerful NPCs, or bubbly music should avoid this game. It also isn’t for those who enjoy combat, graphic violence, or PvP. So, if you’re into Darkfall this game is definitely not for you.
Sadly, the game may not be around much longer if it doesn’t get an influx of new or returning players. The main game areas are empty, the game client displays news from Mother’s Day 2012, and there is little forum activity aside from attempts to get some customer service. Perhaps hosting a holiday event or adding new content would entice new and old players back to help Hello Kitty rescue her friends.