In 2006, Korean developer/publisher ntreev Soft created a new branch to expand on their MMORPG market. Named "ntreev USA," this new branch started by bringing ntreev's flagship title, Trickster Online to an English-speaking, North American market. Over time, ntreev USA published another MMORPG, Grand Chase, developed by another Korean studio, "KoG." That said, we present to you what we learned in a Media Tour with ntreev USA about both of these games.
With a worldwide population of nearly 10 million registered accounts (mostly in Asia), Trickster Online is an MMORPG with a strong anime influence and many "casual" elements, but with a complex and multifaceted environment that allows for multiple levels of play.
Here's the concept of the game. An extremely powerful and wealthy man named Giovanni created a world within Cabala Island. The world was a supernatural mix of fantasy and reality; where one ends and the other begins, who can say? But when you get there, you have to come representing one of a variety of animals. These animals are associated with the "trickster" deities of many cultures. Those mystical entities known for being clever, deceptive, and "tricky," are an important part of the mythos of Trickster Online. Anubis of Egypt, the Kitsune of Japan, and many others are used to shape your character as you enter Cabala Island. Immerse yourself in this world to become the richest of all, and ultimately to be rewarded by the world's creator, Giovanni!
The pacing in Trickster Online is not slow, but certainly not fast either. One can gain experience by grinding (killing monsters for experience points) or by "drilling." A completely passive approach, which is essentially a harvesting system built into the game, allows you to level up. Drilling is a time-based mini-game that allows you to dig deep into the earth for treasure. Not only does this allow you to earn experience points, you can also find rare items below the earth's surface!
After getting a feel for the basics, we were taken on a tour of the different "zones" within Trickster Online. Each zone has a major character (NPC) to move the plot forward. There are some "whodunnits?," some romance, and the question: "who is the heir to the Giovanni throne?" To reach this endgame content, free-to-play players will need to be around level 300, but cash players can probably complete the main plot arc around level 250.
Trickster also contains plenty of fun mini-games, such as Card Battles and direct PvP, special timed events, an item fusion system, and more.
Like so many MMORPGs from Korea, Trickster Online operates on a "free-to-play" basis, with primary funding coming from micro-transactions. But unlike some MMORPGs, where the purchased items exist for the sake of "style" or "fashion" only, the purchases you can make in Trickster Online will help your character become stronger and reach the level cap (currently 400) faster than a free-to-play gamer.
As soon as we booted up this game, it dawned upon us at RPGFan that we'd seen this game before. Specifically, at E3 (either '05 or '06, we cannot remember the year) at the Korean section of the show floor, this game was being shown. And now it's here.
The game functions as a 2D, side-scrolling action RPG that is fast-paced enough to feel more like a 2D fighter than anything else. Imagine playing a Tales game, but instead of enemy encounters, you were always fighting on a multi-platform stage, moving from one zone to the next. In this way, it feels like an actual beat-em-up platformer. But, strangely enough, this game is also an MMORPG.
When developer KoG (Kingdom of God–yes, they are a Christian development studio in South Korea) started developing this game, it was originally meant to be strictly PvP. The exploration, missions, dungeon-crawling, and plot arc were almost an afterthought. But it was a great afterthought they stumbled upon, because it now makes up the majority of the game's content, and helps to create an immersive online RPG for single- or multi-player experiences.
The RPG elements of the game include leveling (done primarily in the exploration portion), inventory and equipment (primarily purchased using either in-game currency or through real-currency micro-transactions), skills and abilities, and a linear plot with cut scenes spread throughout the game. In this media tour, ntreev gave us a play-by-play, start to finish, of the game's plot arc. The end battle, and its subsequent dialogue sequence, is surprisingly smart and mature for a game that would seem to appeal to Shounen JUMP! readers more than anyone else.
For such a fast-paced game, control is an important element, and it certainly takes awhile to master keyboard input for an action-based RPG of this sort. We eventually got used to it, but it seems plausible that the game would do better on the console market. Playing offline, a la "Phantasy Star Online/Universe," for the level-grinding and story-based portions may be a good idea as well.
When you create your account, you initially have access to three characters. Each of the game's characters (there are well over a dozen) represent a particular class. So, of course, your first three characters don't stray from the standard fighter/rogue/mage paradigm. The rogue is, specifically, an archer. And the fighter, while still having the best defense of the three groups, is no "tank" compared to some of the unlockable characters/classes earned by getting further in the game (or by purchasing them outright with micro-transactions).
The aesthetics of Grand Chase really come through. With concept art (led by Jang Won Soo) and music (led by Kim Woo Jik) rivaling not just Korean, but even Japanese 2D RPGs, the game is worthy of attention on aesthetic value alone. Korean pop vocalists recorded songs exclusively for Grand Chase, many of which play during menu screens in the game. It's a great experience, just getting started. Fortunately, it looks like Grand Chase has enough depth to hold one's attention for more than a couple casual gaming sessions, whether playing alone or with a friend.
The Future of ntreev
Presently, ntreev USA is only hosting these two MMORPGs for the American market. However, over time and with enough support, they may yet launch more MMORPGs from ntreev Soft in Korea, and other Korean developers, should they see fit. The quality of the localizations, compared to many MMORPGs out there, shows that they have what it takes to present a quality product.
We'd like to thank the staff at ntreev USA and Triplepoint PR for showing us not one, but two free-to-play MMORPGs. With the variety of content provided, there is something here for many types of gamers between the two titles.