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Have you ever taken a hellhound out for a walk?

By Arclayn on July 2nd, 2009 under RPG, PC, Online,

I know of many people who are resistant to playing Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games, due mostly to monthly subscription fees. One pays 40 to 50 gil at the store for the game client, and then another 8 - 15 gil per month to be able to play. The gil can add up quick.

Unfortunately, the subscription fees are a necessary evil to support MMO games. Yes, they do make the game more profitable, but without some kind of recurring finance model, the game would go under. Guaranteed! MMO games are dynamic, and through their life they will undergo a metamorphic evolution that will keep an entire game development team busy for years after the game originally went gold. Those codemonkeys, pencil-slingers, and database overlords do want a gilcheck each week. Then there are the costs associated with running an MMO game's service, which far outweigh the costs of other types of online game services.

Taking a hellhound out for walkies
But how-about I tell you of a MMO game that is free to play? Take a look at Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine Online for the PC! < /End very bad shameless plug >

Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine Online (SMTIO from here on) is based on a long series of strategy games and RPGs made by Atlus. You may have heard of Persona or Digital Devil Saga. They are all related.

Yes, SMTIO is free... on the basic level. The game client is free to download, and there are NO subscription fees! The game is instead financed through an optional micropayment system. Basically, you spend your hard won gil to get "AP" (Aeria Points). Then you may spend your AP on additional content for the game. However, it is still optional as you are not forced into buying anything extra. I do have to say, though, that some of the extra content is pretty damn cool. Never-the-less, I haven't spent a single gil and don't intend to.

The cake is a lie
I expect that this micropayment system is less reliable to earn funds than recurring subscription fees, because the game is far from perfect. The user interface is clumsy and primitive, the camera control is aggravating, the graphics are bland (but not bad), the script is infected with a bad case of Engrish, and the service gets a bit laggy on the weekends. So, why would anyone want to play? Well, it's free, the music is good, it's free, there are some very interesting gameplay mechanics, it's free, I love my little "leader pixie" demon, it's free, I really, really want a fire-breathing tiger, and did I mention that it's free?

The game is played out through several "Acts" to tell the story about a dystopia future, taking place in Tokyo, in which supernatural demons have returned to wreak havoc. Don't read too deeply into this. The development crew is in Japan, and the word "demon" has a very different connotation in Japan than it does in America and Europe. These are not the soul sucking, flesh ripping, acid drooling demons inspired by "Hell" horror movies. Instead, these demons are inspired by myths and legends from Japan's history and also that of the celts and germanics, among others. These demons include fairies, mythic spirits, elementals, powerful beasts, etc.

Avatar Select
The player is a "Demon Buster", a specialist in negotiating with and eliminating the supernatural. The negotiating part owes to Pokemon in that the player can convince a demon to become an ally. However, unlike Pokemon, demon busters fight alongside their demons to work as a team! There are many kinds of demon busters that can be built through attributes, skills, and equipment, although there are three basic types recognized: melee combatant, gunfighter, and spellcaster. Creating hybrids is very possible, and really the only "wrong" way to build up a demon buster is to try to acquire every skill, as that is impossible.

As many ways as there are to build up a demon buster, there is an even larger variety of demons to negotiate into an ally. Some are strong, some are fast, some are magically powerful, and others are adept at multiple traits. There exist 129 in all. Demons can also be "fused" into other demon types at the "Cathedral of Shadows", so you can take two demons that have fallen behind in development or otherwise are underperforming in battle and create a whole new demon, usually of higher level. The dymanic of character building and the relationship with demon allies is what makes this game so intriguing. The world environment depicted is intriguing, as well.

Since it is free and doesn't totally suck, SMTIO is worth a look. All you have to lose is free time. Plus, if you find that you don't like the game, the publisher (Aeria Games) has several other "free" MMOs to try out. Just a word of caution: As "MMO" does stand for "Massively Multiplayer Online", you will find these kinds of games far more enjoyable if you make some friends or bring a friend or two along. Hey! It's "free" for them too!


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