Last Wednesday, the Megaten website started accepting e-mail addresses for the second phase of their closed beta MMORPG, "Megami Tensei IMAGINE". They announced the lucky candidates that got picked out of a draw on Friday and I'm happy to say I was one of them after failing to get picked the first time. So, lets see what this MMORPG based on one of Atlus' most popular series "Megami Tensei (????)" is like!
As with all MMORPGs, the first thing that happens after you've installed the game you have to download updates. Even though the site didn't offer a stand alone patch (or even an already up-to-date version of their client software!), the updates didn't take as long as FFXI to download. About an hour or so it took.
So, the next step was character creation. Things are pretty standard here and with little choice in customising your appearance but I'm sure they'll add more options in the final version. Humans are the only race you can be. For some odd reason, the game doesn't accept single byte English names. You have to type them in double bytes so I went for my old FFXI alias "Crez (???)" instead.
And once you've done that, you are greeted by Snakeman as a rookie "Devil Buster" as shown in the trailer before.
First area you enter is the "Virtual Battle" arena where you get taught the basics of the game. You're not forced through the tutorials so you can skip this part if you wanted to but, I chose to go along with it. You can either move around by left-clicking and controlling the camera by holding down the right mouse button or, you can use the WASD keys. Talking and attacking is also initiated by clicking with the left mouse button.
Newbie Area - Third Home
So welcome to the Third Home, the newbie area where everyone starts off. Every building you see are basically inaccessible apart from the shops with big glowing symbols on their doors. Pity because I would really have liked to see what a world set in Megaten would be like.
There's really not much choice in the sort of gear you can buy and there's quite a big difference in price. What's available varies from town to town, though. The shopkeepers themselves are different too.
Every MMORPG has to have one of these - a home point so that you can travel back to town quickly to update your gear once you've levelled. Or, if you happened to die in a bad spot you can resurrect yourself back here.
Suginami, the area where you can have your first battle with the Devils. Another tutor NPC stands nearby the Third Home entrance to explain about how to befriend a Devil so that they can fight alongside you.
It was night time in the game when I started out but even during the daytime the place doesn't look all that pretty. Actions 1~3 are your basic moves which are Attack, Guard and Rush. Enemies usually attack you in three hit combos so when you're without a Devil aiding you, you have to gauge how much damage they can deal with their combo. Once they start hitting you, you can't break out of their three hit attack unless someone else interrupts them.
Rush is what everyone usually starts off with because it inflicts the greatest damage and can't be blocked. Some enemies can deflect your attacks in later areas, though. So here I am, charging up ready to attack a Pixie, the early weak mobs.
Chatting up the "Devils"
This is the more interesting aspect of the game. Unlike in Pokemon where you have to first weaken your enemy before capturing them, here you have to try and befriend the Devils. Some of them are aggressive and attack you on sight while others like these Pixies here are passive.
So far the game only provides you with three actions which is the last three green actions on the action bar; Provoke, Threaten or Greet. Every action uses up MP and you won't always manage to befriend them. If they don't like you, they'll attack and tell you to "Get lost" or "Come on! Lets play" like like the Pixie in the screenshot above. If they do however, they'll say something friendly such as "Oh, I missed you so much!", "Can I join you?" or something else friendly.
If their reaction is friendly it usually takes a few more of the same action before you'll have completely befriended them. They can then either disappear leaving you with a gift or they'll offer to join as your companion.
You'll be happy to know that you're not limited to keeping one Devil as a companion. I don't think there is a limit to the number you keep but you can only summon one at any time. Once they're by your side you can command them to use their abilities which are linked to the function keys or take direct control of them yourself.
Oddly enough, you can manipulate the camera anymore once you're in control of your companion making it hard to target yourself or party members when you need to use healing spells. Targeting is a pain actually because it seems they have yet to implement keys for targeting anything.
Levelling, Partying and Dying
None of the story episodes or quests are enabled in this closed beta yet so all everyone can do for now is grind. Fortunately there's lots of different monsters to fight.
The first few levels are really easy to obtain up to about level 8 or so but after that, you'll want to team up with people. It's not easy finding people however because you can solo your way through the rest of your levels if you wanted to and most people tend to do just that. You can shout so that everyone in the same zone can hear you but you'll probably not get much response. It's usually easier just asking people individually or just grouping up with people you've played with before.
Level gaps don't affect the amount of XP you gain at the moment so you can find anyone willing to party with. Since there's really no classes defined, you basically do whatever needs to be done during fights with Devils. You do get some stat points to distribute everytime you level and most tend to go for strength and HP, a melee build. Devils you defeat have money and other loot on them that members can randomly pick up. Most of the items are useless and can't be sold for much.
Everything you do gives you XP for a certain skill category such as conversation, healing magic and attack. Once you've gained so much XP for a certain skill, you gain access to some new moves but they have yet to enable anything in this beta yet. In face, the skills section was disabled until today's update.
When you die in the game, you basically have three options to revive yourself. You can revive yourself on the spot but this will cost you the most amount of XP or, you can lose half the XP by returning to your home point. The final option is losing no XP and involves waiting for someone to come along to resurrect you with items.
"Megami Tensei IMAGINE" is very much your average level grinding MMORPG at this point in time but the real fun is seeing the great variety of "Devils" that are available for befriending. Once they add in the story and quests, it should be more fun to play.
While the graphics are far from the best I've seen it works fine for an Anime style game. The closed beta is still far from the final version because a lot of features remain disabled and there are many many bugs. There wasn't even a map until today's update! Zoning from area to area is almost instant which is great but during battles the game suffers from heavy lag. Some Devils get stuck in places and some still linger as "ghosts" after they've been defeated so, there's still plenty of tweaking to be done!