Thursday, January 21, 2010

Shin Megami Tensei IMAGINE

Name: Shin Megami Tensei IMAGINE
Publisher: Aeria Games
Genre: Fantasy SciFi RPG
Price: Free, Cash shop
Visual: 12/30
Audio: 14/30
Fun: 14/20
Community: 15/20
Final score: 55/100

Shin Megami Tensei IMAGINE is a spinoff of the popular RPG series of the same name. It’s advertised mostly as an Anime MMORPG. I wouldn’t really call it an Anime MMORPG. While it does have some of the Japanese aesthetics found in anime, but also has its own style that strays away from most anime.

The visuals in this game are decent for an MMORPG. The game is rendered in a somewhat bland 3D. The entire environment of the game is a colored in a dull shade of gray. Most of the environment is indistinguishable if you just blur it a little. Individual elements, like monsters and special search points, stand out and almost clash with the dark environment considering that a lot of the monsters are brightly colored. Your avatar on the other hand is a similar shade of gray to the environment, and most of the clothes you can buy for your avatar does not fix this.

The game does provide some cinematics at certain parts of the game, making it feel more like a console game than an MMORPG. These are not the most spectacularly animated, but they depict enough action to make the game exciting. Unfortunately, these a few and sparse in the game, but that just means the aesthetic value of them won’t wear out as fast.

The gameplay is certainly unique. Battle is not the standard “click on a monster and wait for it to die” style, rather, you have to aim at a monster and skillfully combo your attacks and defense. This makes battle pretty exciting, as you have to pay attention and apply some timing to each move. Unfortunately, this makes grinding for levels annoying. It is easy to lose against even the weakest monsters if you’re not careful, and when you die, you lose experience points. It’s possible to level down too, so you’ve got to be really careful. Similarly, with enough skill, it’s not hard to beat a monster that is stronger than you, but this does require a significant amount of patience.

Another thing that makes this game stand out is a feature that defines pretty much all of the SMT franchise: the ability to tame and fight with monsters. In their Persona spinoff, they’re called Persona, in this game, they’re called Demons. There are a huge variety of monsters to tame on the main world alone, and even more that you can create through combining monsters. This is really the main focus of the game, as raising your Demon well is the other half to succeeding, the first half being leveling and building your own character.

Character customization in terms of stats is above average compared to the average MMO. Instead of choosing classes, you choose skills. In this way, you can mix, for example, physical attack skills and magic skills to create a hybrid class. There are a lot of skills to choose from, ranging skills that help you tame monsters better to skills that help you attack better. Naturally, it’s more beneficial to choose a certain set of skills, and some skills unlock stronger versions of similar skills. Skills level up by using them rather than adding points to them. Instead, this game uses a system where you have a set amount of points to apply to skills, so you can’t just level up every skill and create the ultimate hybrid character or anything. Besides, that would take too long.

From my time on the game, I met a lot of nice people. There were plenty of people willing to go up to a newbie and help him or her if they needed help. I think I learned a lot of what I needed to learn from other people rather than tutorials. There are some people who like to hog grinding areas, and because the map is comparatively small, it isn’t uncommon. But it’s also not hard to simply ask to share an area. The developers also provided a special area that encourages team play, and the GMs often hold events in this area. This makes for great community building.

The economy in this game is decently balanced. Not much else to say about that. I didn’t see anybody exploiting the value of rare items or selling some items under misleading pretenses.

SMT IMAGINE is really a game that appeals to those who are already into the SMT franchise. It is free to play, making it accessible to everybody, and you aren’t losing much if you’re not paying for premium items. The variety of demons really makes the game, but other than that, I don’t know if many MMO fans would actually enjoy the game.