A Game for Couples
I love my wife. But there are precious few games she’ll play with me, and even less MMOs. If she wasn’t so sweet and pretty, I swear I’d kick her out (kidding). With this in mind, when the folks at Gamania told me Lucent Heart is the perfect game to get my wife to try MMOs, I scoffed. But then last week I had the chance to sit down with Jon and Mark from the team, and well… I’m starting to believe that they’re onto something. Sure at first glance, Lucent Heart looks like little more than another F2P MMO ported from Asia. But I was surprised to find out just how deep the rabbit hole went, just how cheap and well-planned the cash shop is, and just how much my wife loves the cuter more “romantic” aspects of the game. Heck, during the closed beta they had a 45% female demographic… and believe it or not real women were playing female characters!
The guys set me up with a level 45 Moon Flame Envoy (think ranged caster or OMGWTF DPS and you’ve got the idea). What’s interesting about the class and character system of LH is that players choose their zodiac sign. I know plenty of games have this in one way or another on the F2P field, but Lucent Heart actually ties your abilities, strengths, and weaknesses to your given Zodiac sign. A Scorpio for instance will be well-suited to ranged DPS, casting, and so forth. Jon and Mark were quick to tell me however that the statistical advantages received for this are minor, but they won’t be overlooked by min-max players. Additionally, the game gives you a fortune every day with different star ratings for different categories such as combat, money, and the like. If you’re having a bad combat day, it might behoove you to find a friend to help you out for example. You’ll still be able to hold your own, but your crit chances might be lower, and you hit ratio might suffer.
There’s a pretty spiffy, cute, and helpful social system in the game, referred to as the Cupid System. Throughout the day, a cupid will show up and hover in the middle of the city, and players can run up to him and sign up to be matched with other players based on pre-selected qualities. It’s a lot like Match.com actually, because you can select your interests and your desired match’s interests as well. In the Japanese (original) version of the game, you couldn’t select same gender matching, but the Gamania folks realize that more than just for romantic roleplaying, the cupid system can be used as a great group-finding tool. So once you’re matched up you’ll be able to level and play alongside them and earn relationship points which can then be used to get considerable buffs in-game. All of Lucent Heart is actually built off of the notion of socializing, roleplaying, and if you feel like spending around $2 in the cash shop you can buy an item that lets you pick your “Match”. Ever wanted your wife to play with you in these games, but couldn’t get her to? Well, LH might just sway her if you don’t mind the cute anime presentation and themes.
There’s a pretty spiffy Prayer System in the game too, whereby your friends can log in, pray for you, and while they’re doing so you receive a buff to whatever stat they’re praying for. Now the person praying can’t play while they’re offering up their prayers, but that’s the idea. You want to log in and do some questing, but your friend doesn’t? Maybe they’ll be a mench and log in long enough to set their character to “Prayer Mode” and you can still receive some of the benefits of having friends in Lucent Heart. Your character even gets on his knees and folds his hands together while praying so people know you’re not just sitting AFK for no reason in town.
Another way which Lucent Heart promotes socialization in more ways than questing and dungeon running is its Activity Board. This bulletin board in the main city has running events all day long for players to gather and participate in. The most popular one is a trivial pursuit style server-wide game, where players and guilds compete to win a trivia match of multiple choices, and the questions and answers are all based on pop culture, movies, anime, comics, games and so forth. It may seem kind of weird and out of place in an MMORPG, but once you realize that hundreds of beta participants are enjoying it you don’t really care… because it’s fun. And to top it off you can get some pretty serious XP and item rewards if you win.
There’s crafting in Lucent Heart too, and it’s a little bit different than what you may be used to. All crafting materials fall off of monsters in the game, and while the schools of crafting are basic (alchemy, tailoring, jewelry, blacksmithing, and so forth) the way in which you sell your wares can be interesting. There’s a board near the crafting trainer where you post your known recipes with the fee you charge for making things and players can supply you with the goods to make them for said fee. So there’s no auction house, rather players offer their services and interested parties come up with the goods while adventuring. Additionally, though it’s a point of contention in the beta right now, most of the game’s best weapons and items are obtained through crafting, with item drops being a distant second in terms of how players improve their gear.
More along the lines of the socialization features in Lucent Heart, there’s a Dance System coming down the pipe. Basically you’ll be able to take the game’s pre-entered animations, upload your own songs from your PC, and then choreograph dances to said songs. Then you just pop into the city, start dancing to Lady Gaga or Led Zeppelin or Muse and people can run up and join in by clicking on a button to dance along. It’s silly, it’s kind of pointless, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t cool.
Don’t start thinking that Lucent Heart is all about the social features and lacking in the action department. There are hundreds of quests in the game already with more being added, and in this way the game really lends itself to solo and small group play. If however you’re a dungeon-fan, there’s plenty here for you too. Called Star Core Dungeons, players in Lucent Heart will find Star Core fragments throughout the game that can be used to create randomized dungeons. Each core has a level assignment, and each corresponds to a part of the dungeon: loot, monsters, and setting. So basically you can mix and match any of the three and come up with a randomized dungeon experience. The monsters in these Star Core dungeons are really quite tough, and not for the weak. Jon and Mark compared them to the kind of EQ1 experience hardcore gamers would love, and that what they lack in story they more than make up for in replayability thanks to the randomization and player-created content element.
Combat is standard tab-target fare, but all spells in the game have element interactions. For instance, hitting a mob with fire will weaken it against water or ice based spells, and water spells will weaken the same mob against electricity. The idea is for players to work together to decide who is using what spell when and coordinate their attacks for the utmost damage potential. It’s a pretty involved system, with roots, snares, and heals all playing a major role. It’s kind of a strategist’s dream, and will be absolutely necessary in the Star Core dungeons.
Lastly, I was shown some of the pets in Lucent Heart. The game has very deep roots in pets, with some of them meant for fighting, some boost your stats, and others still will be Zodiac-themed pets that interact with your astrological sign. They’re all ridiculously cute in design, but it’s funny to see a fat frog hopping around absolutely wrecking large enemies along with its owner. There are a bunch of mounts to be found and used in-game, including llamas… or was it alpacas? I can never tell the difference. Either way, Jon and Mark assured me that all pets and mounts are earned in the game with in-game currency and drops, and not through the cash shop.
Of course they’re looking at bringing some to the store, but they really want to use the store for other convenience items like backpack space and Cupid keys: stuff that will make things easier to get a handle on but not make the gameplay itself easier. When I asked how much something like that would cost players, Mark was happy to tell me just how cheap they’re able to keep everything with 30-days of additional backpack space costing a mere $1.50. Gamania doesn’t seem to be about nickel and diming their players. Their notion is that cheaper goods make for happier players, which means more players and in the long run a more successful game anyway.
I don’t really like anime, if I’m being honest. Neither the mature, violent sort nor the cute Pokémon style on display in Lucent Heart. But I found myself not caring with Gamania’s couple-centric experience. It runs well, plays smoothly, and is a lot of fun if you’re not afraid to let go of the “serious” MMO player in you. Beneath all the crazy but extensive and addictive ancillary features like dancing, the cupid system, and trivia Lucent Heart is actually a pretty deep traditional MMORPG with a lot of crafting, dungeon-hunting, and questing to be done. Is it going to rock the MMO industry? Not a chance. But it might just get your wife or girlfriend to give the games a try. And that’s pretty impressive in and of itself.