I apologize. I know I said this time around I was going to play Kitsu Saga, but let's just say there were technical difficulties and leave it at that. It's not the game's fault, I know; it's my new computer having issues. I was a bit disappointed, but I'd had my eye on Ether Saga Online since I got to mess around with it at Anime Expo two years ago. I figured now was as good a time as any to take it for a spin.
Recounting the backstories of these games is my least favorite part of the Travel Log because I can't think of any MMO where the overarching plot can be told within three paragraphs and still do its complexity justice. Heck, I read through the synopsis on the official website and after about two hours of gameplay could barely remember anything. I'll just sum things up (and I hope I can be forgiven if I sound a bit snarky. I'm just listing out the cliff notes and I'm by nature a cynic).
So the world's doing pretty well for itself in terms of prosperity and peace. Everything's happiness and fluffy kittens, but Heaven is concerned because all this tranquility is having an disagreeable effect on the people. Basically, they're becoming lazy, full-of-themselves jerks. The Queen of Heaven throws a big political shindig for all the Gods and a group of mortals to figure out how to fix things. During the event, three big "Oh crap" mistakes happen. One: the Crimson General of the Heavenly Navy gets a bit too well acquainted with the open bar and starts bugging the Moon Goddess for a dance. I'm not sure what manner of dance the guy was asking for, but the General upset the poor Goddess enough to prompt the God of Decency to banish him to the human world. Two: after getting rid of the General, the Queen of Heaven calls for a toast to try and lighten the mood. For whatever reason, maybe because it's a special occasion, she decides to use the sacred Divine Peach-Wine Chalice. Take a wild guess what happens next. Of course, the servant carrying the cup drops it, and the shattered pieces fall into the mortal realm. Three: while everyone's freaking out over the Queen's best china having been busted, a sacred ark called the Treasure of Heaven that had been on display in the banquent hall suddenly goes missing. Seriously, is no one paying attention, or are they all just drunk as all hell? Anyhow, the celestial realm is all riled up, so it's decided that an expedition will be undertaken to calm and purify the Heavens. Warriors from the mortal world are needed to come along and protect the envoy for this mission. But before that happens, the three races of earth have to prove their worthiness by cleaning up the mess from the party. And by that, I mean finding the stuff that went missing.
Players have a choice of three different races to play as, but I don't think there's really much a difference between them besides backstory and looks. You've got your human-types, the Renzu, who have to find the broken chalice pieces. Then there's the Demigod race, the Shenzu, who need to locate the reincarnated General. Finally, the beast-turned-human race of the Yaoh who need to recover the missing ark. As I said, it's really up to personal taste which race you want to be, so I played around with the avatar editor until I found a build I liked, which turned out to be a Renzu female. The character creator isn't nearly as in-depth as, say, Perfect World International, but the preset faces and hair styles are nice looking as well as varied between the three races. You can mix and match to come up with something to your liking. Also, you're asked to choose your class right at the character creation screen, so it's a good idea to know ahead of time how you want to play. There's six classes, each with their own specific weapon; Dragon (tank), Mystic (healer), Conjurer (attack magic), Rogue, Ranger (archer), and Shaman (support magic/tank). They all look to fun to play, but Shaman won me over because they have to equip hammers. I just think it's kind of funny to see a tiny female wielding a skull-crushing mallet (Persia from Tales of Symphonia in particular).
Anyhow, I've been having a great time playing. There's never a shortage of quests to do. I've got training quests, fate quests, fun quests, adventure quests, quests from NPCs, quests from the town bulletin board, and so on. I suppose most of quests have involved monster killing in some way, but so far I'm cool with that. I think it was a good idea to cap the number of quests available at any one time, lest you get overwhelmed. Leveling right now goes at a smooth clip. One quest at my starting area involved killing as many monsters I could in an hour. The more I defeated, the better my reward. Since those beginning monsters went down in about one hit, my reward ended up shooting me up 6 levels.
I think the stat building for your character can be a bit daunting if you're new, but this was a case where I looked up information to find out what the best path would be. With each five levels gained, you get five attribute points and five affinity points to distribute to your character. This presents a number of options in how you want to power yourself up. I'm not too worried about the attribute points; I'm planning to play as a tank so I focus mostly on my attack and my defense. Affinities is where it gets complicated, as your stats will be boosted further depending where you put your points, but it all boils down to how you want to play. There's five affinities in all with each class having their own natural affinity (Shamans being Widu, for example). Your skills will generally be the same affinity as your class, so to maximize your attack damage it's better to put points into your particular affinity. But again (especially with a hybrid class like the shaman), you've got some leeway in character building, so you can usually put points into a secondary affinity if you choose. With my Shaman I can choose whether to focus purely on making a strong attacker, powering up my magic skills, maxing out my HP, or something more balanced.
I'm barely just scratching the surface with skills, but combat isn't anything you haven't seen before. You click on a monster to target it and then click again to start repeatedly attacking. You can also hit the tab button to automatically target the nearest monster, and your skills are hotkeyed. It functions just fine. Besides class specific skills and something called Ethyrs skills that I have yet to figure out, the game has a skill set called Nascent. You're asked to put in a birth date for your character (I just put in my own), and the date will affect what Nascent skills you get. You can even change your birth date later if you want to earn a particular skill.
Pets are a focal point in the game, and you even get one right off the bat. Once you hit level 15 you can buy nets and catch monsters in the wild to be tamed as new pets. Besides the normal use of having your pet fight alongside you in battle, you can also fuse with your pet. That way their stats will enhance your own and give you an extra edge. So I can have a pet out on the field with me and also be fused with a different pet at the same time. This sounds extremely useful for soloing later. You do have to watch your active pets' hunger and life bars, but they don't drain that fast so it's easy to replenish them with pet food and food that monsters drop. You can even feed your pets armor, weapons, and other items from your inventory if you don't need them.
There's an armor and weapon enhancing system that I'm still trying to figure out, but I like that it's not as incomprehensible as some MMOs. I can simply upgrade my own weapon from my status screen when I level up enough, or I can go to the blacksmith and choose to imbue or enhance my equipment even further. So you can pack a lot of improvements onto your equipment, but of course the resources you have to collect throughout the world and the cost of using the blacksmith have to be considered. What I love is that I can actually see myself being able to do it at reasonable intervals, as opposed to some MMOs where it's extremely difficult to get the materials, or the price is so high that I'm stuck grinding for money for at least 30 levels.
I think what I'm liking best about Ether Saga Online the thrill of exploration, and that learning all these game mechanics has yet to feel tedious to me. Nevermind if it's learning to use my pets properly, or crafting and mining, or equipment enhancement; I'm eager to learn and try it out for myself. There's a great deal to discover and play with. It doesn't hurt that the game scenery is beautiful and actually interesting to explore. I kept having to stop myself from wanting to run off into the horizon while I was in the middle of a quest to see some curious looking piece of landscape. Or I'd just be heading to a location and would stop to make use of my screenshot function because the area was just so darn pretty. It's not near Vindictus in terms of graphical power, but it looks lovely and is a blast to run around in.
I can only think of a few things to nit-pick about. I've noticed that if I have a quest for killing a certain number of monsters and also have a quest in which I need to collect items automatically dropped by the same monsters, the quests won't overlap. Basically, I can either have the monsters count towards my kill count quest when I defeat them, or I can have the monsters drop the items I need. So if I have to kill, say, 25 monsters for the first quest and collect 25 monster item drops for the other quest, I have to kill 50 monsters in all. I'd like a bigger inventory as well, but I know there's a quest to increase that.
There's a lot of stuff to enjoy here that I've barely even delved into, plus content I haven't even reached yet. The degree to which you can customize your character build and how you want to play is great; this is one of the few times in an MMO that I'm not worried about having to reset all my stats or create a new character because I didn't put enough points into this one attribute or another, and the result is now the tougher monsters are beating the crud out of me. Basically, this is one of the best times I've had preparing for my Travel Log. Take that as you will, but I think this game will be staying on my computer for a while.