Sep 1, 2011I play a lot of MMORPGs, both subscription-based and free-to-play, yet I do not consider myself to be an MMO junkie. Despite the fact that I currently have 32 full MMORPGs installed on my system and am in the process of beta testing a handful of others, I have never proceeded further than level 10 on most of those titles. The reason is simple. While I recognize the infinite potential of MMORPGs as a genre, a majority of these games are too formulaic to try something that sets them apart from the growing crowd. Most retail MMOs are not worth their monthly cost unless you devote every minute of available play time to them, and many F2P MMOs are either geared towards casual audiences or blatantly clone the features of big-name subscription games like WoW or Aion.
For all of these reasons, I get an unparalleled level of enjoyment when I try an MMORPG that manages to elevate itself above the confines of its genre. So far, I have only found about a dozen of these, including Vindictus, Cabal Online, Atlantica, and Forsaken World. I am also a long-time player of Guild Wars, and I also recognize the merits of Aion, Final Fantasy XI (screw XIV), and Rift. And since I know some people would ask, no, I am not very fond of WoW, although it is hard to ignore the impact it has had on its genre, for better or worse.
With that said, I am quite impressed with Aika Online. On the surface, it may not seem to break many boundaries, but it is undeniably fun to play and pretty to look at. When I first started the game, I was discouraged by the gender-locked classes and limited customization, but the comprehensive classes and focus on making each type unique really makes up for the shortcomings. It also didn't take long for me to start noticing a level of care and detail that I rarely see in MMOs. Rather than being a serious grindfest like most Korean F2Ps, Aika has a wide variety of quest types, and combat is fast-paced and enjoyable. Experience rate at lower levels is also fairly high, thus allowing newcomers to fit in nicely. The design aesthetic is also impressive, as the armor and weapons straddle the line perfectly between ornate and functional (MMO players will sympathize when I say most games stray too far in one of those directions). Music, voiceovers, and above average dialogue scripting add to the immersive environment. I even listen to the Aika soundtrack on my iPod occasionally, as it is much closer to cinema quality than other MMO OSTs.
And then we come to the two major draws for Aika - the Pran system and RealmVSRealm PvP. First off, the Pran system really sets Aika apart from its competitors. Basically, after Level 7, you can raise a fairy child to become your aid, allowing her to learn various support or attack skills, affecting her personality through conversation and actions, and even dressing her up or feeding her. It's an interesting "pet" system, and in my opinion, it's far more compelling than the similar Anima dynamic from Prius Online. Next, we have RealmVSRealm 1000vs1000 PvP. Yes, you read that correctly, and yes, it is actually fun, even if you don't normally enjoy PKing or getting PKed. There are many different types of PvP in Aika, ranging from 1-on-1 player combat when crossing between nations (servers are designated as nations, with your allegiance to one of them locked in at Level 10) to full-on castle raids that can ultimately place you in control of that realm as Lord Marshal. Guilds and Alliances are well-supported, and the community of Aika genuinely seems friendly and helpful. Even newbies seem welcome in this world, and that's a nice change.
All in all, I must praise Aika for being a feature-rich free-to-play game with solid artistic design and a great balance between PvP and PvE content. Most of the marketing surrounding Aika stresses its PvP elements, and while those features are truly unique if you get into them, you shouldn't let it dissuade you from playing on a PvE server or partying with a more restricted group of friends. Whether it's solo, community, or friendly co-op play that you're interested in, Aika has plenty of great stuff to offer. With a large game world and some very attractive character designs, this could actually become a favorite above retail MMORPGs, and North American publisher gPotato does a fantastic job of supporting/updating its products. Kudos.… Expand