By Jason Parker (Ragachak)
A Thousand Years in the Woods
Or so it felt like, as much of my time spent was wandering through forests. LaTale is a Korean Action-MMO produced by Actoz Soft and originally published in 2008. In it, you play the role of a character with a goofy anime-style (Japanese art) and fairly generic hair, eye and skin tones. It is a very simplistic character creation system. The name you choose can’t be reused if you delete the character, so it is important that you like what you pick from the outset. There are a few starting classes, and as the game goes on, you can upgrade into higher tiers of character class. The game plays very similar to MapleStory, in that it is a side-scrolling action MMO, with lots of jumping and climbing on platforms and trees to reach destinations; you use a keyboard and mouse, but if you are so inclined, you can use the clunky controller options. I was a little disappointed by how they ran. If you have a controller plugged into your PC, make sure it does not have the sticks or directional pads against a surface it might register on. Otherwise it can counteract your keyboard and mouse inputs. I learned this by having my PS4 controller sitting on top of my PC tower, and spent several moments trying to figure out just why I wasn’t moving! It was terribly embarrassing.
There is a story, but outside of the early cutscenes, it isn’t immediately noticeable. Initially it feels like you are just a random adventurer until you meet Iris, who changes your world and ultimately sets you on an epic quest. Much of the early game revolves around the Abio Rangers (a parody of the very popular Super Sentai franchise in Japan) who show you the ropes, literally, as you climb up and down ropes and jump across chasms, learning the ins and outs of being a hero. It is a very simple game to pick up and it is certainly not pay to win. The items you buy with real currency are fashion items, and can be bought and traded to other players, which is another definite plus. A lot of F2P MMOs have some kind of items that are incredibly useful to you and are used as a crutch, hindering you with a virtual broken leg if you choose not to indulge their accountants. This is not the case here, much to my delight. I do feel like the game is too cutesy and generic-anime for me, despite being an anime fan myself. I feel like it is trying hard to be super ultra-cute and that is not a good look. That said, the class system is very fun, and there is a lot of promise here. I tried a couple of the classes and found that they were all fun for one reason or another.
Classes vary a great deal in LaTale. You can pick whichever one you want from the outset, but I advise a little reading on them first to see what suits your playstyle. Upon character creation they do have some stat bars describing what the class is or is not good at, but I do not really think that is enough information to go on. While they are standard fantasy tropes (excluding Engineers and Soul Breakers), there is nothing wrong with being forewarned about what you are in for. Personally I was most interested in Engineer and Soul Breaker simply because they are classes one does not see often, and Enginstar looks like a Magi-tek Knight from Final Fantasy VI.
While I am about to go into who does what, I have read that Warriors are recommended for beginners because of their damage, having the hardest hitting attacks in the game in exchange for very low defenses. That low defense is exactly why I would disagree with the above statement. It is easy to get swarmed by enemies by accidentally hitting a large group of critters. No matter what you do, exercise caution! At level 50 you can access the first upgrade, and at 100, you can access the second. In Season 1, these restrictions were higher, but were lowered in the second Season.
Warriors: Warriors excel in up-close, high-impact combat. Wielding two-handed swords and spears, they can dole out powerful burst damage to anything before them, but are low on the defense stat. Their level 50 upgrades are Warlord and Blader, and level 100 are Dragoon and Strider.
Knight: Knights are heavy on stamina and can tank on the frontlines of combat. They also have unique, Knight-only shields. Typically they wield a one-handed weapon and shield. They can also use knuckles, but have to go without their signature shields in exchange, so I wouldn’t advise it. Their level 50 upgrades are Templar and Guardian, and level 100 are Holy Order and Saint.
Wizard: Glass cannon describes the typical wizard. Wielding a staff or dagger and clad in robes, wizards hurl arcane magic at their foes dealing massive damage. Sadly they are not very durable, but they usually can get the job done before the enemy gets to them. At level 50 they can become Sorcerer or Bard, and at 100 they become Elemental Master or Minstrel.
Explorer: Agile and lucky, Explorers rely on their speed and lightning fast attacks to see them through any adventure. With their extraordinary luck stat, I imagine they will have few problems finding fantastic gear to use or sell. At level 50 these players can become Treasure Hunters or Gunslingers, and at 100 a Ruin Walker or Duelist.
Engineer: Engineers wield a heavy toolbox and use “advanced knowledge of ancient mechanical civilizations” . . . which I think is an absurd statement. The class however is very much a blast. Wielding dark magic and their toolbox, nothing can stop them. At 50 they become Meisters, and at 100 they become Engistars.
Soul Breaker: Carrying a usually adorable Soul Stone, these entities wield powerful dark magics and use the soul stones to bring their power to bear on their enemies. They push forward and blast away with powerful spells, and while they are not very sturdy, they make up for it in raw power. At level 50 they can upgrade into Soul Reavers and then to Soul Lords.
With dedication, it is not terribly hard to level up to 50 and then to 100. It will not take you thousands upon thousands of hours to complete. Even in Season One, when the levels were set to 80 and 140, it did not take a long time. While it is not so easy that you’d complete it in a week, you also won’t feel like you’re wasting your time in a desperate struggle for experience.
The Journey of A Thousand Miles. . .
. . . begins with a single step, or so I am told. There are plenty of quests to embark on, and they are not terribly spread out thanks to the game’s 2D setup. Players can teleport to the other towns once they are strong enough to tackle the challenges that await them there. However, I will say this about the first 15 or 20 levels of questing: the questing is incredibly formulaic, and that says something from a WoW veteran. It feels much like Assassins Creed 1, in that every set of quests is almost the same. For example: kill 10 Rabbits, kill 10 Lizards, kill 10 Wolves. The next block of quests will ask you to fight the next level of those exact same enemies. After that, you will have to collect items from those enemies listed above. From there, you will move on to the next screen and do the same thing again. That bothers me a great deal. Most other MMOs will mix it up just a little bit, but as a 2D Side Scroller, perhaps there is a limit to what you can do. Through I would say level 20 this is what I put up with.
Combat is interesting, though, which is what questing really is: it’s combat, killing defenseless enemies and stealing their items. The first few areas the mobs do not attack until you hit them, but as you progress eventually the bad guys get a little smarter. They can jump, and follow you, and attack before you are necessarily ready. So it is a good idea to proceed with a little caution and feel out just how the enemies will react to you. The default controls are in a very awkward place, with z and x being your default light and heavy attack. Then you have a s d f and 1 2 3 4 5 to place various skills that you will acquire throughout the course of a game. The attacks are sort of skill shots; when you make an attack, it goes out and anything in its range it hits. This can be a blessing and a curse: if you deal lots of damage and kill things fast, then no problem. But if you’re weaker and hit say five or six things at once, you could be overwhelmed by a mass of boars or other unfriendly creatures. You get several types of skills to boot.
Skills are a large part of how you perform in the game, and there are several types of skills, not just combat actions. The types of skills are Weapon Skills (weapon-based damage), Magic Skills (mostly exclusive to just Wizards), and Miscellaneous Skills (generally supportive). The latter are skills like Dig, Ignite, Fish, and general non-combat skills. Action Skills are commands that do not require skill points, and are already at your disposal (jump, sit, guard). Emoticon Skills are emoticons for your face. That’s it. They are facial expressions that you can acquire through skill books. I personally think these are a waste of time, but there are social players that will find these to be adorable. Craft skills speak for themselves. When Engineers came out, Ely Skills came with them: Ely is a currency in-game, and you can purchase these skills to increase your stats. You lose these upon promotion, so I do not advise spending money this way until after promotion. They are also pretty damn expensive to boot. You can perform combos with melee and skill attacks, but you can only combo skills of the same skill list (skills in the same row on the skill list).
Ultimately A Social Experience
The game is more social than a hardcore raid game. Lots of people stand around in cities, showing off their absurd fashion gear, touting their humongous, cheesy anime-font titles over their heads like a halo. There are a host of things one can do outside of merely questing and exploring. For those who enjoy PVP, the Coliseum offers you battles against a random player of similar skill and rank. Ranks in PvP also confer stat bonuses, so there is a great deal of competition in this very casual, social game. Do you play this game with your girlfriend or boyfriend? It’s possible; it’s a fun game to play and have a good time for a little bit. If you group with someone at least once a day, there is a reputation gauge that builds. When it reaches 100% you can purchase an engagement ring to give to your significant other. It’s a sweet idea, but does not confer any bonuses that I am aware of; nonetheless, it is a gesture towards someone special that I cannot say is a bad idea.
Guilds are another large aspect of this game. There are three types of guilds: Good, Chaotic, and Neutral. Guild leveling is another standard in the industry. So many games have done it, and generally the bonuses are mild or cosmetic. Here in LaTale, players gain stat bonuses depending on their guild level, so it is incredibly beneficial for one to join up or found their own. To start one, it requires 10,000 Ely, and the fashion-purchased guild crystals. Fear not, these can be bought from other players, or looted rarely. I rather like the idea of guilds offering bonuses other than an Exp Boost, or adorable pets; there are also banners and emblems you can gain as a guild which have their own potential boosts. I personally did not find a guild to join, but perhaps I will as I progress. You can acquire items and weapons as well through your guild that may not be available anywhere else.
Jump-And-Shoot Guy: 3/5 Good
As a casual, social MMO, this is a fantastic find. It’s cutesy fun, harmless, and I can see it being addictive. Personally, it doesn’t fill that purpose for me, but I can see it really fitting its demographic, which are likely otaku (anime fans), who are really into this adorable art style. It is truly in the same vein as Maple Story, but I do not know if I would go so far as to say a clone. The class system is fantastic, and I’d like to see more games with upgrades to the base classes (which reminded me of a MUD I played in my youth, and the Final Fantasy MMOs). It is very basic, the quest system can be a little tedious, and the crowding of those obnoxious banners in a 2D scape can be very hard to look at. Nonetheless, I do not think this is a bad title at all, and in fact, think it will be a lot of fun if this is your cup of tea.
The graphics are not great by any standard, but this is a free game, and it appeals well to its target audience who typically loves this art style. I mean, Soul Breaker’s first Soul Stone looks like the Luna-P Ball from Sailormoon (only a lighter color). It is a very colorful and basic game but that is by no means a detractor.
Lord above I hated the basic controls for this game. The controller and keyboard controls both felt awkward and peculiar. I do not mind moving with directional keys (I actually prefer it), but z/x and then asdf 12345 were incredibly strange to me and it just did not feel right at all. I was glad my PS4 controller worked on the game, but I did not like how it played on it at all. The controls are reactive with little delay once buttons are pressed, but maneuvering your fingers to reach them in an intense battle can be very awkward.
The gameplay feels like an action-adventure game coupled with an MMO. I can see this being a very popular game for people who don’t want the sort of game that World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy XIV are. This is more action-oriented, and while the questing feels repetitious and tedious, the gameplay is still fun regardless. There are lots of little things to see and do, and I am sure they will continue to add content to the game as it goes on through the years.
The music is pretty catchy and poppy, and not in a bad way. The sound effects are kind of annoying though, and the whiny character voices frankly set my teeth on edge. The cute little sounds can become very aggravating after a while of extended play. The music reminded me in little ways of older games, like Bubble Bobble, and had that sort of upbeat feel to it. It sets the stage for the type of game it is, most certainly.