I was asked several times during my visit to Aeria Games last week what sort of MMOs I played. “Mostly Western games, not the anime-styled ones,” I responded. That didn’t faze anyone I talked to, and, after playing a few hours of Aura Kingdom, maybe it shouldn’t have.
Developed by MMO house X-Legend, with whom Aeria has worked with before on Eden Eternal and Grand Fantasia, Aura Kingdom is at times both like and unlike other MMOs of its ilk. Your typical free-to-play anime-themed MMO has several elements that drive me crazy: saccharin-sweet characters, mediocre-to-bad localization, and an oppressive, soul-crushing grind. Aura Kingdom is certainly “cute,” with whimsical fairy-type enemies and friendly eidolons that surge into battle beside you, but it didn’t quite manage to push me into a diabetic coma with its sugary sweetness.
Localization is “95% done,” as I was told; apart from a couple menu items still in Chinese, the text was well translated and, though we rushed through a few things in our limited time, the game as a whole was easy to navigate. OK, I saw one instance of “it’s” that should have been “its,” but I think I can let that slide. Still, presentation is meaningless if the game doesn’t play well, and in that vein, I think Aura Kingdom well exceeded my modest expectations.
The play’s the thing
Aura Kingdom’s main differentiating gameplay feature is eidolons, a special breed of combat pets that fight alongside your character, advancing in rank as you advance, increasing in power and learning new abilities along the way. Each eidolon has a special combo maneuver that lets you and it work in tandem to unleash the hurt on enemies. At launch there will be 16 eidolons, with more planned in the future – and yes, you’ll probably feel the urge to catch ’em all.
(By the way, if you heard our latest podcast and aren’t sure how to pronounce “eidolon,” I received confirmation that it’s “eye doe lawn.” And knowing is half the battle. Yo, Joe!)
That doesn’t sound incredibly exciting or innovative on its own; fortunately, eidolons do a lot more than just fight. Conversations with your eidolon range from idle chit-chat about your prior adventures to choices that increase your eidolon’s affinity and level to even offering quests. That happened to me during a random (i.e., not part of the guided tour) convo with one of my eidolons, and while I couldn’t yet travel to the indicated location, it opened my eyes to the depth of questing options available in Aura Kingdom.
Which brings me to my last complaint with most games of this style: the leveling grind, which Aura Kingdom does a nice job of alleviating. While I wasn’t able to get a really solid idea of endgame/gear grind, the leveling process seems refreshingly enjoyable and a clear departure from the trite and lazy pattern of “talk to quest giver, kill 10 of something, return to quest giver, and repeat.” There certainly is some of that, but you’ll find lots more to do and plenty of reasons for exploration and veering off the pre-determined path.
Even in my brief play session, I found plenty to do just by wandering out into the world. In addition to the quest bestowed upon me by my eidolon, there were plenty of other NPCs who gave me things to do. You could take out bounty targets and return them, via a cage on a cart that followed you around, to town for a reward. Another quest had me sneaking past pirates to plant bombs. And then there was the time I participated in Robot Fight Club. But I can’t talk about that, owing to the first rule of Robot Fight Club…
Solo adventuring is fun, but there’s also plenty for groups to do, too. In our session, we ran a few five-man dungeons, but they also exist in three-man and solo varieties. With five characters each toting around an eidolon, the battles were very chaotic, and it was hard to really get a sense of much in the way of strategy. Monsters occasionally offered WildStar-esque “tells” to indicate where the hammer was about to fall, but we carved through them nonetheless. To compensate for us media folks being such awful players, we were a bit overpowered, so I’d imagine the battles being a little more challenging for “regular” characters.
Aura Kingdom also boasts of a robust system for guilds, with expansive guild halls and activities, including the ability to summon an eidolon – at very specific times of the day and week – for your guild to do battle with and capture if defeated.
If I had any beef with what I saw – apart from the lack of an invert Y-axis option, an absolute necessity for me and many others – it was that the maps seemed unusually small. I cruised from the end of one to another in about two minutes, and while there were things to do, and cute monsters to kill along the way (really, you haven’t lived until you’ve incinerated a helpless group of fairies), it left me wondering how long it would take to level and how soon it would be before I felt forced into repeating the same dungeons over and over.
There wasn’t much discussion given over the cash shop, due in part to the finer details still being worked out. One bright side is that you can earn loyalty points, which can be spent for cash-shop items, in game, by listening in on conversations between NPCs, which can be entertaining in and of themselves. You can also acquire cash shop items via in-game events and from your eidolons, so there will definitely be ways to get fat loot even without spending.
Given my predisposition, I’ll admit that I wasn’t expecting much from Aura Kingdom, but I was quietly impressed by both the polish and modern gameplay elements. X-Legend and Aeria Games have been down this road before and aren’t just content to pump out the same game over and over and expect different results. That experience, and the refinement of the formula, was brought up several times during our meeting. I don’t know that Aura Kingdom will become a staple of my gaming rotation, but it offers enough for an MMO snob such as myself to at least putter around and have some fun. And if you’re really into the anime-style MMOs, but cognizant of their flaws and wish they could be better, you’ll probably find a lot to like.
Beta and launch dates are still a secret, though eager players can get into a special, Founders Only beta starting Dec. 16 by purchasing one of the Founder’s Packs on the Aura Kingdom site. You can also win a Founder’s Pack from Aeria Games and MMOBomb right here!
By Jason Winter