I like MMOGs.
Well, all things considered, I probably should like MMOGs, what with them being my job and all. You could even narrow that down further to "I like Western MMOGs," because for all I've oohed-and-aahed over new content in Lord of the Rings Online, spent hours dissecting my friend's original Guild Wars class concepts or stayed up until the wee hours of the morning raiding with my World of Warcraft guild for fame, fortune and phat lewtz, I've largely ignored the offerings of the East where MMOGs are concerned. To be fair, with the possible exception of a handful of titles, Eastern MMOGs have a reputation for poor quality that may not be entirely undeserved.
The plan was a simple one: Take a hardcore player of Western MMOGs (myself), turn him loose in an Eastern game for a week ... and see what happens. Given my unfamiliarity with Massive games from Asia - practically a separate genre entirely - I found myself wondering what exactly I was getting myself into as I first loaded up Nexon's Mabinogi. Developed out of Seoul by devCAT (one of the Korea-based publisher's internal studios) and released in Korea in mid-2004, Mabinogi hit North America just this past March. Despite being inspired by pre-Christian Celtic mythology, one look at the colorful, manga-esque characters splashed around the official website betrays its Eastern roots. There was no mistake; Mabinogi - proudly termed "Fantasy Life" - was as Korean an MMOG as they come.
The stage was set, and for the next seven days, Mabinogi's Fantasy Life would be my own.
Like many of its East Asian cousins, Mabinogi revolves around microtransactions rather than recurring subscription fees; players have the option of purchasing official "NX Cash" from Nexon, which can then be redeemed for items and services. Otherwise, it's entirely free to play. In Mabinogi, much of what is available through Nexon's store is primarily cosmetic in nature: A "Premium Character Card" gives players more options for faces and hairstyles when creating a new character, and one can buy a number of in-game pets as well. That said, many of the options do confer in-game advantages - the pets can aid you in battle, a "Support Service" gives you increased storage space and softens the blow of being defeated in combat, and in order to play through the most prominent story lines (called "Generations"), a player must have an active Premium Service on their account, which at its cheapest is just under $10 for 30 days.
At the time, though, I didn't know any of this. I did know, however, that Nexon America had provided me with a testing account with some complimentary free NX Cash. While most of what I saw while poking around the Mabinogi store was Greek to me, I eventually picked up a few goodies that sounded helpful and finally made my way to the character select screen.