Shiny happy people holding hands.
I’m not known to delve into the wonderful and time-consuming world of MMOs, let alone the MapleStory franchise. The first game has been around since 2005 and even until now it’s seeing some updates and buzz. Goes to show that 2D graphics and simple casual gameplay can take you very far if you play & market your cards right, eh?
So it’s only logical for the series to make the 3D leap; that’s what Nexon is doing with MapleStory 2. But does it survive the transition? Does the recent closed beta session reaffirm many suspicions that this is an ill-conceived sequel?
Hardly, but given the breadth of its source material, it’ll take a while for this sequel to match it content-wise.
Adjusting Your Viewpoint
The MapleStory games are successful due to their casual and saccharine nature. There aren’t that many 2D-styled platformer sprite-based games out there that survived since the late 2000s. “But wait, if the sequel is 3D and in an isometric view ala Diablo, won’t that graphical charm get lost in translation?” you may ask. Well, after playing oodles of hours in the recent Closed Beta 2 session, I can safely say that it’s just as charming. Probably even to the point of sugar overdose since you get to see different kinds of idle and emote animations from players and enemies alike.
Deformed dogs wag their tails as they maul you. Your heroes put on their best anime emotion face (literal Xs as eyes, sweat beads, the works) and jiggle as if their life depends on it. If anything, MapleStory 2’s aesthetics are anything but muted.
There’s a lot more to do here. Next to the usual “save the world from looming evil forces using one of the 8 classes” spiel complete with main quest killings/looting and sidequests galore, you get to furnish and build up your own house. You can decorate it with pets, furnish it with cupboards and other decorations, and even pay the maintenance fee. You can even own maids to craft special items for your abode, which sounds eerily like how one manages a Southeast Asian domicile.
You can also participate in mini-quizzes where players have to answer Yes or No questions by standing on the appropriate O and X icons. The last heroes standing will get a prize after 10 questions ranging from trivia to in-game lore.
In all honesty, this all feels like fluff added in to add busywork to your Maple existence, much like how Animal Crossing keeps you in the employment and rent-paying loop in a place full of saccharine and anthropomorphic beings. But here’s the thing: MapleStory 2 is free (with some free-to-play elements). And for a free game, the fluff doesn’t seem to be in the way since the actual busywork of killing and looting is solid on its own merit.
Controlling your Maple hero is a matter of clicking where they’re going and figuring out which attacks are effective. When I was using the Berserker, I had two go-to moves: a Dash Slash which ends with a multi-hitting swing combo, and a spinning sword attack similar to the Diablo III Barbarian’s move that breaks games. I had no issues walking around and fighting any adversary that moves. Whether you’re on a keyboard + mouse combo or on a joypad, getting into the swing of things is a breeze.
What’s also really nice is that the actual instances and dungeons are presented in short bursts. You’re given ample opportunities to pick either the brute force route or just take a scenic elevated route to avoid the bad guys.
Case in point the sewer level early on in the beta where I had to rescue a soldier; I can either waylay the area’s crooks and thieves with my giant sword, or just jump on the sewer pipes and proceed to the level’s boss. If you’re really in a hurry, most areas will teleport you straight to the end where the boss resides if you’ve completed the dungeon once.
MMOs aren’t my cup of tea, but I can see what MapleStory 2 is going for. It’s a good clean casual fantasy-laced fun synonymous with classic free-to-play MMOs like Ragnarok Online and Runescape. Don’t expect anything too deep like your Guild Wars 2 or World of Warcrafts though; this one’s purely for MMO fans who don’t need huge timesinks and commitments in their lives. At least from a closed beta perspective, MapleStory 2 is proof that there’s always room for well-made fluffy experiences.
The one big question remains: will MapleStory 2 make it to Southeast Asia? Who will be its license-holders: Asiasoft or Garena? How big will the open beta gap be between the eventual North American date and SEA date? Will it be large and long enough for users in Asia to just say “f*** it” and play it via VPN?
These questions, hopefully, will be answered later this year.