Mabinogi Review: A Fantasy Life Worth Living?
By Michael Sagoe (mikedot), OnRPG Journalist
Released back in 2008 for North America, a developer company named DevCat created a new kind of MMO that takes life, anime and a teeny bit of Irish mythology to create a truly original MMORPG experience called Mabinogi. This little gem is one of Nexon’s oldest titles, featuring unique combat, a freeform skill system, tons of story content and many other features to create a world with lots to see and do.
Since its release, the game has received several expansions called “Generations” that include new areas, new features and advancements to the game’s story content. I got to play this way back during the first couple of generations and have returned to see that a lot has changed… for better or for worse, that is. So is this “Fantasy Life” still worth living? Let’s take a look.
The initial character customization has very little to offer, but at the same time it features many different options. This is all due to the game’s character card system: There are two types of character cards, Basic and Premium, among three main playable races: Human, Elf and Giant. Basic only gives you access to a handful of eye, hair, mouth and color options while Premium gives you a ton. You only get one basic human card whenever you create a new account, and unless you want to play as any race with a nicer look, you’re going to have to cough up $9.50 for another card.
With initial character creation, you’ll also have to choose your character’s age; A very unique feature that must be taken into consideration since it determines your starting initial stats, how fast you can rank up your skills and how soon you can rebirth your character (more on this later.)
Customization outside of character creation is fairly deep, allowing lots of different outfits to be worn for battle and fashion. All weapons, armors and outfits can be enchanted and upgraded with special effects and stats and all that typical MMO stuff.
It took a while for this game to catch up to the modern age, but Mabinogi now uses WSAD controls (WHOA!) and it seems to work pretty well, but mouse control for movement is still recommended, since using WSAD will give you frustrating lag issues from time to time that will make your character look like it’s trying to hump a wall or something. Using the mouse to perform basic attacks is simple and intuitive, while using skills set to your hotkeys (F1-F12) has delays and queues, so you have to think carefully regarding your next move. As it is, Mabinogi remains a game for those with a bit of patience.
The world of Mabinogi is filled with choices. You can start up a homestead (which plays out like Farmville without all the evil), cook food, look for treasure, make clothing, go fishing, play music, go on many, many quests or just run around and kill stuff. The number of life skills, quests and activities you can perform here is staggering, so much that I can’t possibly cover each one in this single review, but I can say they’re all simple and done well enough to give you something new and interesting to try out every time you play.
One of my favorite aspects of Mabinogi has to be in its skill system – There are no literal character classes here, so you’re free to create your character in any way you want. Want to make your hero as a swordsman AND an archer? Go ahead. Want to create a wizard/alchemist hero that’s ALSO a spoony bard that knits clothing? Go for it, just as long as you have enough AP (Ability Points) to fit the bill.
It’s real freaking neat-o, but my favorite system is also a bit of a flawed system, because here’s the thing about earning AP: Since Mabinogi is more dependent on skill ranking instead of earning levels (Mabinogi has NO level cap, so you can level your character to 1000+ if you really have that much time on your hands.) Stats earned from leveling up are mostly insignificant, and the AP you earn from leveling up is only one point each, so ranking up your skills from leveling up alone can be a real drag, unless you decide to rebirth your character and earn AP easier from aging, but this means having to wait 3 to 10 weeks in order to rebirth for free at age 20, or buy another character card to rebirth after one week.
These options really bog down the experience if you plan to play without paying a cent, and all this just makes me wonder if they can really call it “free-to-play” when a game kind of tries to nickel-and-dime you at every turn (well I guess it’s still free-to-play in the sense that you can register, download and play it without monthly fees but… oh you know what I’m talking about, right?)
While Mabinogi’s core combat seems like a simple game of Rock Paper Scissors with some extra variables, it’s actually a lot more tactical than most MMOs. Combat is based on contextual inputs, meaning you’ll have to attack, block and counter instead of mashing hotkeys and chugging potions for five hours. Fighting like a warrior means getting up in your enemy’s face, using ranged skills means playing it safe with enemies from a distance, and rolling up wizard style means annoying the crap out of everyone with magic for stunning and one shot kills. Oh and there’s also alchemy that lets you do a little bit of everything.
Lag issues are still heavy around this game, and if you don’t have a decent net connection ranging around 40ms in ping, prepare for a few rage inducing battles. Since combat requires immediate reactions from players, any bit of lag will have your character perform actions too late, and I can’t tell you the countless amount of times I failed my RP quests because my connection started to lag at the worst possible moment (my ISP sucks, I know!)
While the core combat is nice and solid (when there’s no lag present), the pacing feels incredibly slow. Your character can only move at two speeds: Slow and turtle, which makes getting around somewhat tiring and traveling around the world on foot can be a nightmare unless you’re lucky enough to catch the next moon gate (think magic metro train) to your designated location. This also makes picking out a mountable pet from the cash shop almost mandatory ( You do get a free horse mount when your first start playing but you only get to keep it for seven days, so enjoy it while it lasts…)
Now this is mostly going to adhere to your own personal point of view on style/aesthetics, but for me, the visuals of Mabinogi still holds up. The anime style used here is nice and distinct, even though the textures look a bit old and dull. If you can force some Anti-Aliasing over this, everything will look right as rain. The clangs and clashes of combat all sound appropriate, but the music comes off as cheesy and generic. As for the voice acting with some of the Shakespeare generation scenes? Hit and miss.
The community for Mabinogi is filled with many social players. You’re never too far from finding a player that’s willing to show you around or help you out with some of your quests. Of course, you will run into a couple of sour grapes, but don’t worry about them as for the most part, Mabinogi’s playerbase is pretty decent.
As a free-to-play experience, Mabinogi is filled with flaws and contradictions, but for those that decide to partake (and perhaps spend some money on it) you will find an interesting and enjoyable MMORPG experience here, because just about no other MMO out there can give this much variety, choice and freedom.
Customization – 3
Controls – 3
Gameplay/Features – 5
Community – 3