Originally released in South Korea by developer Actoz Soft in early 2006, "La Tale" (also written "LaTale") is a 2D, side-scrolling MMORPG that just recently reached an English-speaking audience. This is thanks to California-based MMO publisher OGPlanet. Recently, we at RPGFan got to take a tour of the North American version of La Tale (released in September of 2008) alongside the good people at OGPlanet. Here's what we found out.
La Tale hits the MMO scene as a strong competitor against the other big 2D side-scrolling MMORPG, Maple Story. Despite its wide playerbase, Maple Story's graphics are dated, especially compared to the glossy anime style seen in La Tale. There is more animation, more variation in color, and a wider range of environmental templates in La Tale than in any other 2D, side-scrolling MMO available in North America to date. Another similarity between the two competing MMOs is the usage of micro-transactions, and the two types of in-game currency. Like Maple Story, La Tale is a free-to-play MMORPG. However, money is accrued through the popular "microtransaction" paradigm. Most items are obtained through the use of the "Ely" currency, obtained by completing quests and defeating monsters. It is an in-game-only currency, and you can use it to purchase consumable items and battle equipment. Then, there are "Astros." Similar to Maple Story's "Nexon Points," these Astros are purchased from OGPlanet's site, and are then credited to your account. With Astros, you can purchase special style/fashion items. Holiday-specific costumes, additional character customization (such as eye color), as well as books that teach you emoticon animations (such as blowing a kiss) are all available by way of purchasing Astros. All of these fashion items have no impact on the game's mechanics, so you can be a good, high-level player without having to spend any money at all. That said, La Tale's viability depends on players making these purchases, and so far the community of gamers is supporting the game's fashion items adequately. Currently, one-item purchases range anywhere from 2 USD to 10 USD depending on the item.
Whether or not La Tale will conquer Maple Story in terms of active users remains to be seen. However, OGPlanet's goal is not to eradicate the competition, but rather to carve out the niche of 2D MMOs even further with a new and refreshing approach to the genre. And this is how they're doing it...
La First Steps
La Tale presents a somewhat linear plot, following the story of a girl named Iris. This was very appealing for someone who loves traditional console RPGs. Now, when you begin the game, you create whatever character you want, in any one of four basic classes (the standard warrior/rogue/mage paradigm, with a fourth, tank-specific class added). When you start the game, however, you begin as Iris, fighting some dark, world-threatening monster. During this fight, you are taught basic battle mechanics and you are treated to some impressive visuals, including some comic-strip-style still panels for cut scenes.
After this scene, you start playing as the character you created: a lowly, level 1 character who is new to the world of La Tale. You have the option to go through a more extensive tutorial, given by a group of silly Power Ranger clones. Basic movement (walking, running, jumping, crouching, climbing) are taught during the early part of this tutorial; then you're also taught about all the menus, and the hotkeys you can use to access them if you want to avoid excessive mouse usage.
Once the tutorial is over, the real fun begins. Like most MMOs, how you improve your character is up to you. If you want, you can just run out into a field and begin the level grind. Alternatively, you can run around town and complete some basic fetch quests to earn money and experience points. The latter is the recommended path, especially because it gives you some good background information on how the opening cut scene with Iris is related to your present adventure. Basically, Iris is either dead, or has otherwise gone missing. You speak to a hologram of her at some save points, and you can meet many of her traveling companions. But as for the young lady herself, her whereabouts are unknown. As you explore the world of La Tale, you learn more and more about Iris, her friends, and her enemies.
There are few things in the virtual world that are more fun than running through a forest with a group of friends, slaughtering every hostile creature that comes your way. We had this opportunity, and our group of friends just so happened to be staff members at OGPlanet. The combat system in La Tale served our party well. A healer from OGPlanet kept our melee and ranged attackers alive as we plowed through enemy after enemy in a low-level area. Even though the OGPlanet staff was of a much higher level than us, we could still gain adequate experience as we played.
Along with standard attacks, every character can learn skills that are weapon-specific. For the "Explorer" (rogue) class, a popular weapon choice is a bow. And that's what our RPGFan-specific character used. The special skills used by even the novice archer are both beautiful and effective.
The low-level areas have enemies that, for the most part, aren't aggressive. They'll only start attacking after you attack them. The opposite is true for almost every other zone in the game. Hence, the low-level area is a great place to familiarize oneself with the battle mechanics. Since you need to rest to regain your health and mana pools, and since enemies won't attack you while resting in those first areas, you are free to fight and rest as you see fit. In other areas, it's important to know the lay of the land so that you can escape from a hostile situation in a hurry.
In the short span of 30 minutes, our level 1 character moved up to level 5, and our OGPlanet companions taught us, step by step, how character growth works. If you play RPGs regularly, you'll be familiar with the skill tree paradigm, which is (for the most part) what is used for character growth and improvement.
With character/concept art by Moon So Hyun, and the soundtrack's lead composition handled by Hyun Taek Yun, La Tale's audio and visual departments are, collectively, a power-packed punch of Korean goodness. Unless you absolutely abhor the cutesy anime style that has become so popular in Asia, you will probably fall in love with this game's visuals. For a 2D MMORPG, the style is so strong, and so refined, you cannot help but smile when looking at it. As for the music? Alongside Hyun Taek Yun (aka "DINY/iNID"), ex-SoundTeMP composer ESTi (Jinbae Park) worked on the soundtrack, which is freely available for download from latale.com. If you have ever heard the music of Ragnarok Online, and you liked it, know that you're in for a treat with La Tale.
We had a lot of fun learning about the world of La Tale. Our thanks go to the staff of OGPlanet, as well as the good folks at Michael Meyers PR, for giving us a tour of this newly-released MMORPG. Be sure to give it a try, especially if you're attracted to the idea of an MMORPG that isn't set in a big 3D medieval fantasy world.