Before I resume, I’m going to explain why I am comparing Mabinogi to other MMOs despite it being hailed as a very original game in its own respect.
Almost every MMO is the same: You and your friends enter a dungeon to defeat a mighty dragon. There might be towns or kingdoms, and the dungeon might play differently, and the bad guy might not even be a dragon - but it’s still the same premise. You create a character, use skillbars or quickbars, buy potions from shops, craft equipment, get better gear or make your gear better, and level up for the sole purpose of entering a dungeon and defeating a dragon. Then, you can do other dungeons to defeat more dragons. Mabinogi is by no means different in this regard.
Does the fact that Mabinogi advertises itself as a “Fantasy Life” to make up for its slow pace and cash shop dependency make it invulnerable to being compared to other games? No, because what matters is how the premise is used. What happens between the moment when you create your character and the moment when you defeat the dragon, and what the game expects you to put up with in the mean time.
And there is a lot to put up with.
Mabinogi has one system that I wish other games would try to implement if their developers could do so correctly - the music system. You can create your own music to play ingame using various instruments. There are lutes, drums, flutes, electric guitars (which totally make sense in a medieval swords-and-magic game, right?) mandolins, lyres, and much more. Up to eight bard characters can then team up to play music together.
Sounds great, right? I can see why people would be hooked into the game because of this. Well, I have two problems.
First, there is no ingame music creator. To create a song scroll, you have to input a long series of complicated codes into the music scroll window. …Why can’t creating music simply involve creating music? I know Mabinogi’s an old game but it updates constantly. There was an on-site composer but that was taken down due to bandwidth issues. Why couldn’t they just put it into the game? An ingame composer would make creating music so much easier and much more fun - but instead you have to go through the loops.
And this might just be a matter of personal taste, but the music doesn’t sound good either. Close to no one ever groups together to play a song so instead of using a lot of instruments together to create something awesome, all that comes out is a song stupidly simple - simpler than a Mario Paint disasterpiece done by a 12-year-old. These songs make the musical repertoire of the Super Nintendo sound advanced in comparison.
And the music is just annoying - I don’t like having to stop listening to the beautiful music of Blago Prairie just to listen to some noob with a mandolin start a song with an ear-wrenching “dududadudaududuauudauduaudauduauda," two seconds of awkward pause, and follow that up with a crappy 8-bit rendition of Katy Perry’s “Fireworks."
Bards can use music to buff party members in a fight, but I hate the annoying 2-second songs that they play to do so. If I’m listening to the boss theme, it pauses constantly so I can hear the bards play lullaby for two seconds. If I’m playing an extended version of an awesome battle theme on YouTube I get to hear bard songs mixed in.
This can be easily fixed by going into the game’s options and turning off bard music, and it’s nice they’ve at least added the option for players like me. But I love the idea of player music, and I wish that DevCat could update the music system to make it sound better.
Better-sounding player music would add to the game’s aesthetic appeal (like it does in Lord of the Rings Online), but instead it just sounds like garbage.
And this game does have some awesome aesthetic appeal for those forced to take the time to see it (and you will be forced to). The graphics are simple but the world is lush and large. The shading leaves a lot to be desired during the day - especially with the crappy glow effect - but during night time, the game actually looks dark.
There are a lot of games that fail to emulate how dark night time really is. In some areas of EverQuest 2, it’s impossible to tell day from night without looking at the clock. In World of Warcraft, there isn’t much of a difference at all - at least not as much as there should be. In AION it at least makes sense - the world above (or below, depending on where you start) is so filled with neon lights that it acts like a gigantic second sun.
But there are games that do it right (LoTRO comes to mind), and Mabnogi is one of them. It feels great to start a campfire in the middle of the night and watch the adventurers pop out of the darkness and sit down, share some nachos, and fail to use grammar while they talk about their adventures. Then some guy gets his instrument out and I have to turn the game down. When morning comes and the sun makes everything way too bright from the crazy glow effect, everyone gets up, says their goodbyes, and moves on.
The music (and by that I mean the actual music, not the player-created crap) is great, and definitely adds to its aesthetic appeal. There are a lot of synthesized songs, but also some great classical tunes such as the theme of the Beauty Shop, Hamlet’s theme, the theme of Avon, Falias, Nuadha, etc. At least whenever the game has a large update, you can expect some good tunes to listen to while you rush through the new, incredibly bugged and severely lagging content.
If you have a knack for adventure, there are two Talents for you - Adventure and, not so much, Mercantile.
Adventurers level up in fire-making, fishing, resting, taming, and transformation (for some odd reason). These skills aren’t just good for everyone, but by leveling up those skills you learn can the overpowered “Doppelganger" skill.
You can use the skill after killing five enemies. In dungeons and shadow missions, five enemies are 1/3 of a room most of the time so you’ll be able to use the skill a lot. When you do, you summon clones of yourself who attack the enemy then disappear. At Rank Novice I was able to deal out 1000+ points of damage. This is a great skill to get early on and makes some hardcore boss fights easier to deal with - too bad it’s a Hidden Skill that newbies don’t learn about.
Mercantile is a talent focused around Commerce. Commerce is a complex mini-game that involves buying goods from one place and selling them to another. As you commerce you gain levels in the towns and cities that you commerce with. The higher your level of trust with that town, the better stuff you can buy and sell, and the higher the profit.
There is a skill called Commerce Mastery which, while not that necessary and costs way too much AP to begin with, gives you a passive bonus to how many ducats (the currency of commerce) you gain after each successful trip.
And, as usual, you can buy commerce boosts from the cash shop in the form of Letters of Guarantee. This isn’t as pay-to-win as character cards and gachapons are however, nor are they really necessary.
Unfortunately, I cannot in good faith recommend doing it solo until you’ve played Mabinogi for a long time.
Commerce is boring. The zones in this game are way too huge and require too much running around in areas filled with nothing. You’re given a few free mounts when you start the game, but you can’t use them with commerce. Instead, you’re stuck walking around with a backpack or a handcart, walking slowly from one place to another. You can eventually upgrade from a handcart to a carriage - but even with the carriage, the areas are so huge that it still takes forever to go from one place to the next. By that point the enemies become too difficult to handle solo.
By enemies, I mean bandits, impish little fuckers who will try to - and most likely will - kick your ass and steal your shit. If a bandit is close, the music stops and you hear a heartbeat. The faster the heartbeat, the closer you are. The objective is to be careful not to get closer or else a group of bandits will attack.
The bandits go up in difficulty way too quickly. You will find yourself surrounded by high-leveled enemies who will kick your ass faster than you realize unless you’ve leveled yourself up 300 times. And from there the enemies quickly become more and more difficult to defeat.
But wait, can’t you just dodge them by listening to the heartbeats? You can’t. Because of Mabinogi’s shitty Pleione engine and horrible server management, bandits will spawn out of fucking nowhere. No heartbeat, no visible signs of them, no message from that annoying little shit at the top left of your screen. Out of nowhere, some guy with a mask and a porn star name will spawn high-leveled enemies who will then proceed to wreak uncontrollable havoc.
If it weren’t for this horrible oversight in programming, I’d be okay with losing my goods. “I just wasn’t paying enough attention," I would say, then start again.
But in most cases it’s never your fault - it’s the game’s. The problem doesn’t lie between the hand and the keyboard, it’s the servers and the programming directly contradicting what commerce is supposed to do. Bandits are supposed to spawn a little ways from where you are, but they don’t. And this happens at random so even if you pay attention to the game, this will still happen.
This is a problem with the servers so for some people this won’t happen. But it’s stupid that for some people it does. And as usual, it won’t be fixed.
But if you commerce with a party and bring lots of firewood, Commerce is at least manageable, if not a great way to meet other people. Soloing commerce is boring and frustrating, but in a group it become a completely different game. And the rewards are great, too.
Generation 2: Paladin, the second storyline in Chapter 1, is actually one of my favorite parts of the game. Maybe it’s because during the time that I did it, the game didn’t crash constantly like it usually does (believe me, I’ll get to that). It crashed a few times, but never during a big dungeon.
At the end of Advent of the Goddess, Morrighan tells you to become the “Knight of Light.” So, like Generation 1, you have to spend hours and hours trying to find out what the hell she’s talking about.
Except this time, instead of being force-fed information, you’re engaged in a moral dilemma. Everyone has differing ideas on what a paladin is and what they should do. Some believe they are meant to govern law and order, while others believe they are cowards bowing down to corrupt kings and supporting tyranny instead of peace. Some believe that they are the gifts of god while others believe they are just men who sport fancy armor and a noble cause.
After a long heroic journey involving a mermaid, a travelling merchant with a troubled past, a dark knight giving up on humanity, and a dungeon where you play as a wolf… you are guided into the ways of the paladin and venture into a challenging but fun final dungeon and fight a long, multiple-part boss fight. You prevent an evil pope queen lady from becoming an evil god of doom and save the day.
This is what Generation 1’s final dungeon should have been - a test of mettle and resolve, where preparation is key and you have no one but yourself to blame if you fail… most of the time. This is still Mabinogi and you’re likely to crash, die from a lag spike, be unable to use a certain skill at the right time even if you were supposed to be able to, and receive a message saying that the server will shut down in ten seconds for another one of Nexon’s infamous 5-hour unscheduled maintenances.
But in the end, you get an awesome new set of skills called a Transformation (not the adventurer transformation, a completely different and more awesome one). Once every ingame day you can transform into a Paladin or a Dark Knight if you’re a human; a SSJ4 Gogeta if you’re a giant; a Harvey Birdman if you’re an elf.
All joking aside, Generation 2: Paladin is my favorite part of the game. It almost makes me forget the horrible lag, constant crashing, a player-base represented by a reprehensible forum, and the fact that your fun is hindered on purpose so that Nexon can steal your money… and that if you still spend money, the game doesn’t give you your money’s worth and instead asks for more.
To be Continued in Part 3
PS: Thanks for the hate mail.