Life Is Just A Fantasy

Let’s face it – the fantasy genre in MMO’s has been done to death. No matter how stunning the graphics or how challenging the combat, inevitably you will find yourself lobbing fireballs at some ugly, and frequently quadrupedal, monster. Sure there are anomalies like Star Trek Online or City of Heroes. But overall, the total number of non-fantasy based MMO’s is pretty small.

For this reason, when Sword of the New World first released in the US back in 2007, I happily ignored my usual rabid skepticism and installed the game.

Based on the Baroque period of Europe during the colonization of the Americas, Sword of the New World: Granado Espada (did the developers expect to make sequels, or were they trying to meet their vowel quota?) promised a new experience for players, with a unique setting and the ability to control multiple characters at one time. The game even won the 2006 Korean awards for Best Graphics and Game of the Year.

From the game’s description I envisioned characters in powdered wigs engaging in fierce sword battles. Mozart-inspired background music. And quests involving the illegal export of rum or cotton. Although I wasn’t expecting absolute historical accuracy, I was hoping that the game would maintain the overall spirit of the time period.

Of course, the game’s developers took my expectations, stomped all over them and threw them out the window with my hoop skirt.

I could forgive the bad localization; I realize that good translators can be expensive. I can also forgive the fact that the “award-winning” graphics are the usual androgynous male avatars in silk stockings and female avatars with impossibly small bodies and large breasts. But what I can’t forgive is the complete lack of imagination in the quest story lines and monster design. A scantily-clad “girl” who lost her backpack in the woods? Giant technicolor chicken things? This is supposed to be an alternative to the standard fantasy genre?

Now, before I start getting hate mail from fanboys…errr…fanpeople in Korea, let me state unequivocally that I bear no MMO prejudice. If the nice folks in Liechtenstein were cranking out sub par MMOs in the same way that Korea does, my critique would be no less harsh.

At the heart of my ire is the fact that game developers, be they Korean or otherwise, are unwilling or unable to conceive of an MMO outside of the fantasy box. Instead, they just keep cranking out the same old tired tropes, over and over again, with different window dressings. There are so many other potential settings for MMO’s: The Wild West, ancient Egypt, feudal Japan, vampire hunters, secret agent spies. The possibilities are endless. Developers need to stretch outside of the accepted paradigm, and players need to be willing to embrace true innovation.

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4 Responses to “Life Is Just A Fantasy”

  1. Anaphyis says:

    Unfortunately that isn’t a phenomenon localized to the MMO part of MMORPG. For every Mass Effect, Xenosaga, Vampire, Shin Megami Tensei et all there are a dozen games in your standard fantasy setting. And while the RPG is my favorite genre by far I’m honestly fed up with killing my bazillionth dragon and playing yet another Elf throwing magic missiles.

    It’s just a follow the leader thing and the general apathy towards innovation.

  2. Amarsir says:

    Jack Emmert (the guy behind City of Heroes and more recently Champions Online) got his degree in History with a focus on Ancient Greece. I believe he’s said that he would like to do an MMORPG with that setting. And Cryptic has demonstrated they aren’t afraid to try different genres, either. But for now I think the lure of established IP is too severe to resist for them, so perhaps it’ll have to be the next upstart MMO maker who gets there.

  3. Or even twisted fairy-tale worlds =)

    http://www.secondhandlands.com

    (dev team of 3 guys at home + some contract work at the end) I look forward to your criticism =)

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