Not satisfied with his daily intake of cuteness, Chris "Pwyff" Tom decided to check out Seal Online; an MMORPG that lives up to its name in cuddly graphics. But is that all there is?
After playing a few games that have held me enamoured by their cuteness factor alone, a reader requested that I try out an MMORPG called Seal Online, a game that looks to be in the baby panda spectrum of the national cute meter. Being a bit irked by North American 'cuteness' standards in their character creation (seriously SWG, your Wookies look like tree carvings) I decided that trying out a game on the power of its cuteness couldn't possibly lead to a bad experience.
In fact, I won't really say that Seal Online was a bad gaming experience, per se, but I will note that this game is just quite... shallow. More on that later. Seal Online was developed by YNK Partners Inc and was published twice in North America, the first time by Grigon Entertainment, which made a website, announced their publishing intentions, and then disappeared. The game is now published by YNK Interactive and is actually only about a year and a half old. In this regard, Seal Online promises to be kept up fairly well in events and updates for at least the next year or two, especially considering the fact that it appears to be self-published by its developers (YNK Partners and YNK Interactive). Only veterans of the Korean MMORPG port can attest to just how annoying it is to know that the North American version of your game is ten 'content expansions' behind because the Korean developers seem to hate the North American publishers.
Unfortunately, where Seal Online does not seem to feel very 'updated' is in their game mechanics - as this thing plays a lot like Ragnarok Online turned 3D. The problem is, obviously, that Ragnarok Online is about 5 years older than Seal Online. There are a total of six classes available in Seal Online - the Knight (tank), the Warrior (dps), the Mage, the Priest, the Jester (aka Thief), and the Craftsman. Players have the option of starting out as a 'Beginner' and then changing their class at level 10. After that, the game offers players the opportunity to diversify their class with another class change at... level 150. Some observers may note that level 150 is not that high in a game like Seal Online, but I can assure you that it's a fairly long haul to hit that century and a half. In this regard, then, players will unfortunately find themselves progressing with equipment and skills, but will have to work quite hard to experience that coveted class change more than once.
Past the characters and classes, players in Seal Online will find themselves thrust into the colourful world of "Shiltz" (yes, I read that wrong in my head every time), where they will quickly discover that all movements in this game are governed by the point and click method that typifies some of our oldest MMORPGs. Personally I don't mind this style of play, but the game just seems to lend itself more to a WASD form of movement, as players are treated to the same camera angles and graphical display of games like World of Warcraft and Perfect World - both which have moved away from the classical point and click style.
Combat, on the other hand, has been slightly spruced up with the addition of the 'combo system.' The good ol' hotkey tray of 1-9 is still there for players to bind skills to, to use, but players can also press certain keys in a certain rhythm to start up 'combo' attacks. Now, combo attacks only use up some of your combo bar, which is naturally built by auto attacking, but for players who can take advantage of this combo system, classes like the Warrior can chain up to 21 (!) hit combos across multiple monsters (if the monster dies mid-combo, you can continue on the next one). This adds a little bit of much needed depth to a game that plays a lot like Diablo II, but the combos tend to be incredibly complicated with very little room for screw-ups. I can get to a three-hit combo, but that requires an intense amount of concentration, and I always panic and choke on that fourth hit (the back of my head screaming "this is it! A four hit combo!" and then cracking under the pressure). On the other hand, I would have to say that landing these combos is a very satisfying experience, and it certainly adds depth to combat that would otherwise be fairly standard. In reality, I'm very happy that we finally have an MMORPG that rewards timing and 'ability,' rather than equipment and level, but the addition of the combo system feels only half formed. Abilities cannot be chained together in a similar fashion, and players must often choose between combo-ing and spamming abilities. If the game offered a form of seamlessly mixing in combos and abilities, I would definitely support a move in this direction.
Another original feature that I found in this game is the opportunity for players to grow pets that will follow them and engage in combat with them. That's really about it, but the pets play a lot like an old school Tamagotchi, where you had a 'random' chance of evolving your pet in a certain way, but only if you were really lucky. While food can 'influence' a pets path of evolution, the developers thought that pets, like children, can grow up with 45% nurture, 45% nature, and 10% complete and utter randomness. I suppose this is to encourage players to continually raise multiple pets, but I tend to become attached to the pet that I raise from level 1 - it just feels very cold to have to ditch him if he turns into an Onion King as opposed to an awesome Phoenix.
Finally, the game does offer a one-of-a-kind... dating service. Yeah, I won't repeat that. Because I was playing a female character, I really didn't want to create any awkward role-playing situations, so I didn't really check out the entirety of this match-making system. On the other hand, it appears as though players can indicate their interests from about 20 preset icons (like "Basketball," and ... "Star) and then search for potential candidates with cuddly little messages like "If I were to couple, we will escape all of this loneliness!" or my personal favourite, "If we were to couple, you can have all my items!" Awww, true love at last.
Ultimately, however, Seals Online has demonstrated to me that the power of cute alone is not enough to overcome what is otherwise some fairly standard (if shallow) game play. It's unfortunate, really, but unless you want an old school 'grinder' with little promise outside of being cute, Seal Online may not be the kind of game for you. On the other hand, if you're looking for an MMORPG that gives you a dating service with the opportunity to indicate "Mountain" as an interest and the ability to use the line "If I were to couple, I would make you proud," and that combat and pet system really interests you, then this game may be enough to hook you into its cute cel-shaded goodness. Just be wary of that girl who's only looking for a boyfriend who will give up all of his items!
Chris "Pwyff" Tom