Launched in January 2011, Cardmon Hero was a noteworthy MMORPG which received a fair amount of attention when it was initially announced (in Korea) back in 2006. One year after the launch of the global English version, has the game held up well over the years? Well, from what I can tell, its problems run a bit deeper than just its age.
Aesthetics - 5/10
The graphics in Cardmon Hero follow the cute anime style that's similar to recent games like Divina, Iris Online and Spirit Tales. Characters and enemies in the game are all beautifully textured in bright colours. There's a nice variety of weapons and outfits for players to equip, the environments are decent to look at and everything fits in well with the anime theme that much of the game's promotional artwork is based on.
As expected, Cardmon Hero's engine is dated and obviously not going to be as aesthetically impressive as many of the other more popular online games out there right now. Fancy graphical tricks that we've grown accustomed to over the last few years are conspicuously missing and the environments are not nearly as impressive as what some of us may be used to in games like Aion or Guild Wars.
The game's GUI takes up a large portion of the screen and even scales up (annoyingly) to whatever resolution you're running it in. I found this to be a real inconvenience as it makes everything feel so cramped, with much of the game world obscured by rows of icons and other what-not. Opening windows for your inventory or crafting just makes things worse as more of the visible world gets blotted out.
On the left side of the screen, you'll see the face of the 'oracle' who accompanies you on your journey through the game. The blank stare on her face changes occasionally whenever she informs you (with a sneer) that your ability recharge timer hasn't reset or you're unable to summon any more mercenaries. She'll also smile approvingly when your crafting/dismantling attempts succeed. A full sized version of her greets you in the help menu (accessible by F12) with a variety of different expressions as you click through the various topics available. More often than not, I found her presence to be wholly unnecessary as her mug shot takes up valuable screen space that's already largely blotted out by an obnoxiously big GUI.
Gameplay - 5/10
Unlike a lot of other MMORPGs out there, Cardmon Hero doesn't exactly force you to conform to any one specific class. Items and abilities that you can equip are governed by your character's statistics. It's very possible to alternate between being a spell caster or a physical damage dealer provided you have sufficient stat points to equip the relevant weapons/gear for the class.
Fans of instance dungeons will be pleased to know that there are plenty to choose from in almost every zone. Each one has varying levels of difficulty that can be set by players prior to entry and the lower difficulties can actually be soloed if you have a few good mercenaries by your side. Rewards are, as expected, better if you choose to tackle the ones on harder difficulty settings. There's also level segregated PvP and the game will make very sure you know of its existence through the incessant announcements near the top of the screen.
Aside from the stuff mentioned above, Cardmon Hero's main gameplay feature revolves around being able to summon a personal army of mercenaries to fight alongside you. This is done via the use of 'cards' that are either crafted, purchased from the game's vendors or dropped by monsters you defeat. There are around 100 unique mercenaries in the game, each with their own special abilities and they'll assist you in combat by buffing you, healing you or attacking your enemies.
Similar to RTS games, there is a 'population-cap' that limits the number of summoned mercenaries that can be active at any given time. All mercenaries you summon will also have a timed lifespan, with some lasting as short as a minute and others as long as 3 minutes. Recharge timers for mercenaries will always be longer than how long they stay active by your side, so it really helps to have a large variety of cards at the ready to cycle through.
Whilst running through the game with my entourage, I found it incredibly easy to plow through all the monsters on my hit-list with 5 or so other fellas tagging along. Combat was chaotic, as my mercenaries were unleashing abilities all over the place and enemies would be keeling over faster than I could even select them. The game gives you a few commands to instruct your personal army as to whom they should attack, or whether they should cease their current actions, etc. I found these to be unsatisfactory as there is no way to directly control the skills they used and whom to use them against. Some mercenaries also tend to use AoE attacks frequently, often resulting in a lot of unintended aggro from monsters that weren't my intended targets.
As if things weren't interesting enough, my mercenaries would sometimes attack monsters on their own without any instructions from me. This was an irritatingly frequent occurrence and I really dreaded the moments when I had to run through a large group of docile monsters with a bunch of summons in tow. Everyone in my entourage would feel the need to express their violent tendencies by stopping right in their tracks to attack anything within their aggro range.
Innovation - 5/10
The somewhat interesting spin that Cardmon Hero has on player abilities / items is that all of them are actually 'cards' which can be dropped by monsters. Aside from purchasing abilities from the vendors in town, it's also possible to obtain them as drops from the monsters you slay. Equipping multiple copies of the same ability won't do you much good though, so it's better to just sell the extras or dismantle for ingredients.
Aside from being able to conjure up your very own group of hoodies and the collectable aspect of various mercenary cards, I have to unfortunately say that Cardmon Hero doesn't do much to differentiate itself from the multitude of MMORPGs out there. There's this overwhelming 'been there done that' feeling to many of its gameplay features, and chances are high that you've probably experienced almost everything there is to see in this game, one form or another, in some other MMORPG out there.
Polish - 5/10
Apart from some (expected) issues with the localization in the quest text for many characters plus the occasional bug here and there, I found Cardmon Hero to be a relatively well-polished experience (for the game itself, at least). Some of the characters in the game even had character-specific lines that were dubbed into English, much to my surprise. The game's 'Level-up' announcement though, is still left as a very heavily accented Japanese 'Rebaru Appu'.
Wait a second, isn't Cardmon Hero supposed to be a Korean game? Well, yes. Except that the English version appears to be a localization of the Japanese version of the game. Confused? I wouldn't be surprised if you were.
Cardmon Hero hasn't exactly had a smooth journey since its announcement way back in 2006. The game has already been taken offline in Korea and its initial publisher in Japan actually gave up on it before it was picked up by another Japanese publisher and re-branded as Ark Sign Online.
The oracle, who stares at you from the left of the screen, is actually an addition in the Japanese localization (illustrated by Kimura Shigetaka). Their version also included changes to some of the face textures for the characters to make them more in-line with Japanese localization's promo artwork. The English global version of the game has since inherited some of these content additions and, as a result, is a bit different from the original Korean version that was once named Orka Online.
Unfortunately, despite all this, Cardmon Hero's age really starts to show. Right from the get-go, I had a hard time even starting it up. I had to enable DEP settings and other what not (listed here) before I could even get the game to run properly in Windows 7. After that, the game's startup loading sequence took an amazingly long 30 to 40 seconds and even caused Skype to crash. The program failure is a consistently reproducible error by the way.
In the game itself, the engine has a hard time handling large crowds and would drop my framerate down to something like 15 FPS when I run past groups of 10 or so monsters (with Fraps running in the background). Whether the drop in performance is due to bad programming or issues with Windows 7, I really don't know. I found it saddening that a 5 year old game with no fancy graphical tricks, and was such a pain to even get running, could bring my Core i7 processor plus Nvidia GTX460 card to its knees. In case you're wondering, yes my PC runs Crysis.
Longevity - 3/10
Most of the zones I traveled through were devoid of players. The starting zones, which would usually be flooded by newbies or veteran players leveling their alts, were completely empty when I was playing. Even the first major town itself was near deserted except for the occasional newbie and the tiny group of player shops/bazaars set up in the middle of the town square. I can practically count the number of unique players I encountered during the course of my playtime on two hands and no, I'm not exaggerating. The number is nine, by the way.
I never thought I'd ever say something like this, but Cardmon Hero feels like a game that's about to kick the bucket. It's a very strong statement, but no matter how I look at it, this is a game that feels like its on its last legs. There's also a very noticeable lack of shouts from gil... I mean, gold sellers. This is probably the worst thing I can say, but when the RMT fellas can't even be bothered to maintain some form of presence in an online game, you can just sense that things aren't looking good.
It feels as though the publisher just threw this game out into the wilds and left it to perish. Barely any effort is being made to actively support the game, and upcoming content updates or events appear to be non-existent. As a comparison, the Japanese version is still active with regular in-game events and player activity in their forums. But since most of the content is Japan-specific stuff (e.g. tie-ups with the Queen's Blade anime, an [email protected] contest, etc), it's understandable why this some of this stuff won't make it into the English global version.
Social - 5/10
Like other MMORPGs, Cardmon Hero has all the 'standard' social features like Guild creation, different chat channels, private messaging, partying, auto-grouping, etc. The real problem right now is not the lack of social features, but whether you'd even need to use them at all. It's very possible to solo your way through most of the game with your mercenaries, so partying up with others is probably only going to happen once on a blue moon.
Also, like I mentioned earlier, there's barely anyone playing the game at all. The real question is not whether you want to party up with someone or not, but rather whether there's even anyone out there to form a party with at all. I may be wrong about the game being near-dead though. For all I know, most of the player population could be hiding in the end game zones, waiting for me to hit level 70 to join them in instance dungeon hell.
Value - 3/10
Sadly, there's not really much to do in Cardmon Hero aside from killing stuff to fulfill quests and gain exp. Players can also participate in instance dungeons but that would just be killing lots more (exotic) stuff with a countdown timer running in the background. Out of all the quests I received, only a few were anything but 'kill X monsters' or 'get X amount of drops from a certain monster'.
There's no grand story to draw people in with, the crafting (of mercenary cards) is simple enough that it's not something you can make an in-game career out of and, to top it off, PvP is completely dead due to the lack of participants. If you can ignore the fact that there's barely anyone else online most of the time, I'd say that this game makes for a decent diversion when you've got nothing better to do. That is, of course, if you can get it up and running first.
'Wasted Potential' seems to be the only phrase I can think of to describe Cardmon Hero. It'd be so much easier to just write this game off it is was ugly or filled to the brim with bugs, but what we have here is something that's playable and entertaining but is lacking in substantial game content and innovation. Plus, it's powered by an unoptimized game engine that's very outdated.
In its current form, there's not much to make Cardmon Hero to stand out from the rest of the MMORPG crowd.. The (seemingly) non-existent player population also doesn't help things either. If there were at least a few more humans in the game to interact with, things might be a bit more bearable. But seeing as the zones in two-thirds of the game are currently so devoid of any sentient life, new players will definitely need a lot of determination (or incentive) to keep on playing.