Even though I grew up watching Speed Racer and Starblazers, I'm not much of a fan of Anime or Manga. I also never played an NES in high school, even though it came out during my sophomore year. I've never played Final Fantasy, Super Mario, Legend of Zelda, the S-NES, the Wii, or a Playstation (1, 2, or 3).
Perhaps that explains my initial reaction when --on a whim-- I downloaded Aion and began tinkering around with the game.
I'd read a few articles on Massively extolling Aion, and while I'll admit the premise sounded interesting --kind of a simplified MMO version of the In Nomine RPG and Exalted RPGs*-- the reason why I finally decided to give it a whirl were the magic words "free to play". I'd seen the game at stores, examined the reviews online, and yet I didn't have the money in the budget to spend trying yet another game out.**
Well, I could handle 'free', and I could even shoehorn the MMO into my existing disk drive without too much pain. Therefore, I set up NCSoft's launch software, clicked 'install' on Aion, and went to bed.
I'd have gotten things done without anybody noticing too, if it weren't for my youngest who wandered over when I was checking the weather forecast and asked "Aion? What's that?"
"Just some maintenance I'm doing," I replied.*** When her back was turned I muttered and waved my hand. "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain."
Sometime later that morning the game finished installing and this evening I took a quick peek --four levels worth-- at Aion.
Okay, given the graphics at the NCSoft website, I expected a certain look. No, not quite the Alexstraza bikini bottom + leggings outfit, but the "poofy upper-calf skirt that somehow manages to not actually move" clothing. But what I didn't expect during character creation was to see either the "childlike body" or the "refugees from a Super Mario game" head.
Really? I mean, really?
Who would think "You know, a game like this just needs a completely over-the-top head that looks like it came from one of those mushroom people" anyway?
Thankfully, I didn't see anybody in the starting zone who thought it was a good idea.
Another thing that bothered me quite a bit was that the character selection kind of left the concept of non-human race in complete limbo. Oh sure, you can select something that looks kind of like an Elf, but it's never identified as such. I stared at it for a bit, then saw it was "face selection number whatever", and then shook my head. Of course humans have pointy ears that stick out perpendicular to their heads! I should have figured that out!
Well, tinkering with the character creation options, I must admit that Aion got one thing absolutely totally right: female breasts. There's a slider (yeah yeah, insert joke here) to adjust the size of a female toon's breasts, much like the slider in Age of Conan. But in AoC, where the size begins in the C/D cup range and goes from there to... well... huge, the slider in Aion starts in the A/B range and goes up to D/DD. I don't know about you, but the Aion cup sizes are much more realistic than the teenage fantasy AoC version.
After I created a Scout toon, I pretty much jumped right into the game. It starts out with a very brief overview of the fighting between the two celestial factions and their common foe, then your character wakes up. Seems the toon has been napping on the job, and you'd better get going into the starting zone.
Questing is straightforward: if you've played an MMO before, you know how it works. Compared to other more recent MMOs, Aion takes a page straight out of WoW (and older console games) with the scrolling text for quest info. The quests are mainly of the kill ten rats variety, so that's very familiar ground. There's a quest log, a map that slowly gets revealed as you travel through the world, and oh yeah, there's gold farmers too.
But what's up with the mouse buttons, anyway?
Every other MMO I've played has the left button for window movement and the right button to move your toon and/or select things. In Aion, it's almost reversed except for the left mouse button being unable to move your toon at all. It's such a jarring transition that the next time I log in I'm going to see if I can keybind this sucker properly.
But my impression of the game?
It just feels so... Anime to me. Perhaps that's not exactly the right word, but I can definitely tell that it was developed in Asia as opposed to the other MMOs I've played. The feel of the quest text, the graphics, and especially the sound remind me more of a Super NES game than anything else. There's a lot more that Aion has in common with Zelda than with Mass Effect; when I read that first quest text, I blurted out "Nintendo!", even though the thrust of the story was more adult than any of the games I'd ever seen my brother play on the S-NES.****
I can see where this game would appeal to people who grew up playing those games, but for someone who cut his teeth on Ultima and Baldur's Gate, it just feels too cutesy. The toons and NPCs and quests may look adult, but everything else about the game just feels oriented toward a different demographic.
I'm still going to play it a little bit --free is free, and I might change my mind after a bit more time with the game-- but I can't help but think that Aion isn't really targeted to me.
But I'm going to tweak those key bindings, even if it kills me.
*In Nomine is a pencil and paper RPG, published in the U.S. by Steve Jackson Games, wherein players assume the roles of Angels and Demons. As you may have guessed, it relies heavily upon Christian and other Near East sources for background material. Exalted is an RPG put out by White Wolf --the Vampire: the Masquerade and World of Darkness people-- wherein the PCs are avatars of the gods. They start out being pretty much badass from the beginning, much like in Aion.
**Which is why I've never tried Guild Wars or Guild Wars 2, in spite of them being single purchase games. Okay, there's also the issue of disk space, but I digress.
***I actually was cleaning up some old programs that people hadn't touched in a few years, so it wasn't a complete fib.
****I'm kind of glad that nobody was within hearing range at the time, or I'd have had some explaining to do.