Aika is currently in the Open Beta phase of its western development and is the newest MMO to be published by Gala-Net (gPotato). Combining a slew of traditional MMO facets with some of its own improvisations, Aika could wind up being one of the more impressive free games on offer. I'll be honest here, going into my first play session with the game, I was initially about ready to write it off as yet another Asian import with little value other than a pretty (if uninspired) art style. There were a lot of signals that immediately told me to run screaming, but being a brave gamer I stayed and found more than a few reasons to be intrigued by the title. Mind you I've only played a few hours so far, so take this all as merely my first impressions and not a final review.
The game begins as any other: with the task of selecting your class and personalizing their looks. There are six classes in total that run the gamut of traditional fantasy roles: fighter, paladin, dual gunner, rifleman, warlock, and cleric. I don't think the specific styling of each class needs to be explained, with the exception of the dual gunner. Unlike the rifleman, the DG specializes in middle (not long) range damage and damage over time abilities... plus they just plain look cool wielding two guns. I selected the traditional fighter because I am a boring guy like that, and I was off into the starter zone (of which there are two to choose from).
Here I was met with one of a few signs that dared me to log out and never look into Aika again. Had I not been playing for the purpose of previewing and sharing my experiences with all of you, I might have done just that. First impressions are important, and all that. You see, gold sellers and their spam are already rampant throughout Aika. It is the open beta phase for this game, and the first chat I see when I log into play my first character is how much of a deal I can get if I act now and order some in-game funds. The general chat channels are just filled with the advertisements to the point where discerning between ads and actual chat is nigh impossible.
Luckily the game's rather pretty visuals made it so that I didn't have a hard time ignoring the chat interface. With an art style that is reminiscent of Guild Wars, it's hard not to like what you see in Aika. The anime-influenced style isn't exactly my cup of tea, but as with Aion, it's pretty enough that I simply didn't give a hoot about how much my male fighter looked like that actress from "Just One of the Guys".
Aika's not a game that's trying to break the MMO mold, this much is certain. And that's not a bad thing mind you, but this is hardly the place to break into that debate. Questing is a fairly straightforward affair in the early levels. Kill this, visit this person, collect these. Nothing new here. What makes it less tedious to me is that quests involve a sort of back and forth conversation between your character and the quest giver. It's not like a BioWare game where you choose the path of the conversation, but it's nice that your character is given a voice even if it's textual. I do wonder though if the novelty will wear off and how soon I'll start using the "skip" option which is thankfully provided for players who could care less about the story.
I had chosen the fields outside of my nation's city to begin my adventure, and one of the first quests I was given was to help clear out some rather nasty pigs... yes pigs. Cliché aside, at least there were plenty of the mobs for all of us new players, and they spawned aplenty. Combat is fairly fluid and straightforward and is akin to pretty much any similar MMO you've played. Highlight and hotbar action all the way. The one niggle I have to bring up is that every time I use a skill on my hotbar my auto-attack is cancelled. It's not a deal breaker, and I quickly grew used to the cycle but it's an annoyance nonetheless.
After doing some quests in the area, and gaining a few levels I was sent off to obtain my very own Pran. Not a Prawn. This isn't District 9. A Pran is sort of a fairy as far as I can tell by their lithe figures and flapping insect wings. That and they flitter around like Tinkerbell quite appropriately. The Pran is similar to the pet system found in Perfect World International. You must do a few simple collection quests in order to earn your "daughter" as they are sometimes referred to, and then you get to pick from a few different types. Fire is for offensive help, Water is for defense and recovery, and Air is more for evasion.
You'll have to get a number of different drops in order to get the type of Pran you want, but doing so is a fairly easy task even if it takes some time. If you're not in the mood to do the gathering yourself you can always buy the essences off of other players. Once you've done this, you have your own little fairy girl to follow you around, annoy you like Navi from The Ocarina of Time, and help you a bit as well. She'll even change her appearance based on what you feed her and how you interact with her. Pretty cool stuff that reminded me a little bit of days spent with my mag in Phantasy Star Online.
Aika also does a fairly good job of herding players toward the idea of grouping for both PvE and PvP early on. One quest before you even hit level ten will send you off to an instanced area, and much akin to World of Warcraft you soon will be directed to Battlegrounds which are exactly what you're thinking as you read this. Players get to decide how big each battle is (teams of 6 to 24), how long each can take, what the mode will be, and what the winning score is.
Sadly, I don't have more impressions of this portion of the game yet. My first glimpse of PvP in Aika will come with my second set of Open Beta impressions next week. There is a fairly large focus on PvP in Aika with a set up similar to that of Dark Age of Camelot of Warhammer Online. Five warring nations (which don't seem to have any differences other than the color of their logo) vie for territory and the destruction of each other's guardian stones, as well as stealing from each other's national altars and the ownership of buff-granting relics. By all accounts from fellow players, the system seems intricate and with five opposing sides I can imagine things getting fairly hectic. Battles are supposedly supportive of up to two thousand player simultaneously, a feat I'd like to witness for myself before passing judgment.
Some other smaller things I noticed during my first session? Aika seems to automatically adjust the resolution of your entire PC display on its first load. I set it back to my screen's normal resolution, but when I closed down the client I had to reset my regular display as well. It didn't happen again with other sessions so I'd call it a minor annoyance, but still a game shouldn't enact that sort of change on its own in this day and age. I'm not sure how effective it will be for botting and whatnot, but a pretty nifty feature for people who have had the unfortunate occurrence of a compromised account before is that players must create a four digit pin which is used for creation of, deletion of, and logging in of each of your characters. Considering the amount of gold sellers already in the game? I was glad to see such a feature included... I just hope I don't have a key-logger on my machine.
All in all despite some early warning signs my first foray into Aika was a heartening one. I am anxious to play again, and hope the game continues to impress as I get to dive more into the PvP and group encounters. I've yet to try crafting, but it seems fairly on par with what you might expect in a traditional MMORPG. The real key, as with any F2P game, will be just how much the cash shop plays into the game as a whole, especially the PvP. In my second impressions we'll dive into a little more of the game's player versus player system and its crafting, and we'll see just how much closer to madness the gold sellers can drive me.