Mabinogi - Official Review

by Cody “Micajah” Bye, Managing Editor

Throughout the past several years, the Internet and the MMO gaming space has begun to really fill up with games that are on the “cute” side of the spectrum. These sort of games run the gamut, ranging from the super kid friendly to the potentially risqué, but all of them keep the bright color palette and happy atmosphere associated with a “cute” world.

One of the biggest names in the entire cute market is Nexon’s MapleStory, a free to play game created specifically to allow gamers to do whatever they feel like doing. It’s an open ended world, where hunting monsters is just as important as hanging out with your friends. 

Not wanting to step away from a good thing, Nexon’s most recent venture into the MMOG market is a similar sort of product, which has been named Mabinogi. The Ten Ton Hammer crew first saw Mabinogi at GDC 2008, and we've been fascinated with the ideas expressed in the game ever since. After a few weeks of careful study, I feel that I can now officially weigh in on Nexon’s latest release, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the full review!

General Gameplay

A shot of a town square in Mabinogi.

For the most part, Mabinogi falls into the phrase “easy to learn, yet hard to master.” Rather than focus on one particular aspect of gameplay, the developers at Nexon opted to create a game that was incredibly broad and covered a wide variety of play styles within its cute confines. Everything that a player could want – trading, crafting, combat, collecting, and user generated content – is possible in Mabinogi. There’s so much to find in the game that if a person doesn’t care to try out a portion of their character, they simply don’t have to do it.

Even after my first 10 hours of gameplay experience, I still was learning new ways to play the game – whether that’s through finally taking the time to learn a few magic skills or jumping into the trade skills with both feet. Thanks to a very addictive key word system (which I used on every single NPC I could find), players can uncover all sorts of interesting abilities and in-game storyline by simply chatting with those NPCs that want to talk.  

Thus far in my Mabinogi experience I’ve focused my attentions on melee combat and wood harvesting. Since many skills advance attributes as you use them, I found that these two skill complimented each other very well and really drove my character to be as strong and hearty as possible.

Unlike most MMORPGs with a level based system, Mabinogi doesn’t really focus its attention upon the gaining of levels. Instead, Mabinogi uses a combination of skills and levels to advance characters through the game. Players have skills associated with every part of the game, from specialized melee and magic attacks to the creation of campfires or the playing of music. To advance and learn new skills, players need to level up, but leveling up doesn’t automatically allow for the advancement of skills. In fact, gaining levels isn’t always the best tactic in Mabinogi at all. As I reached level 10, I actually found myself to be slightly underpowered for my level.

How could that be? With skills in Mabinogi being upgraded through their use, I actually had underpowered skills to go along with my fairly strong statistics. I had powered through the quest content in the game so quickly that my skills had been put to very little use in comparison.

Thankfully, it was fairly easy to find monsters to kill. In fact, it was as easy as placing an item on the Altar of the Goddess, which creates a unique dungeon based upon what item was placed on the altar. Although I thoroughly describe this system in my Mabinogi first impressions review, I found it to be so thoroughly entertaining that it would have been ridiculous to leave it off in my full review of the game. By emptying my inventory of useless merchandise, I quickly advanced all of my skills (and leveled a few times on top of that) so I was a fairly proficient fighter. 

Micajah may be a friend of Trefor, but he's also dead.

On top of the skill advancement dilemma, storyline and experience generating quests often don’t reward players with ample amounts of money, and most of the equipment in Mabinogi is extremely expensive. Players that are looking for money generating quests have to go to NPCs that sell quest scrolls. These “purchasable” quests don’t generate any experience, but they do offer players a good sum of money to complete them.

Another form of money-making in Mabinogi is through “part-time jobs.” After you’ve spent some time in your starting city, players will usually find themselves with a bit of down time in between their quests or faced with a long walk ahead of them to make it to the next area. To alleviate that obnoxious element of waiting around an area without anything to do, the developers instituted “part time jobs” that players can receive from the NPCs in their town.

By arriving at a particular in-game time (usually around 7:00 a.m.), players can pick up a part time job from one of the NPCs in the area and complete the task appointed to them. Most NPCs have a general duty – “Find me 5 pieces of firewood” – that a player will need to accomplish to receive their reward. After playing through a few of these part time jobs, the rewards for completing them will continue to become better and better.

If the player completes enough quests, part-time jobs, or simply follows a similar path as an NPC, they can earn a title designating them as a “friend of NPC.” Similar to what you can find in Lord of the Rings Online, Mabinogi players are challenged with a whole list of titles they can earn, each of which granting its own set of bonus statistics on the character. My current title “Micajah is a friend of Teflor” gives a boost to my strength and stamina, making me a much better fighter.

NPCs and Storyline

One of the many NPCs in Mabinogi.

Speaking of NPCs, Nexon has done a fairly remarkable job of creating a game world that is cheerful and bright while still making the NPCs intriguing to the reader. Beginning players will spend a long time in the starter town, and by the time you leave the area you’ll be incredibly familiar with each of them – from the Chief of the town to the crazy girl that works at the bank.

Not only does each character have their own little piece of dialogue, they also have their own particular descriptions, relationships with other NPCs, and they can be influenced in their thoughts of the player character through particular choices of dialogue. If you lose the respect of a particular NPC, it may be very difficult to win it back again.

Along with the NPCs, the storyline in Mabinogi is quite well done for an imported MMORPG. It’s obvious that the North American localization team spent a very long time creating a game that didn’t jar with our North American sensibilities. Characters often have very spirited dialogue, but even then it’s still incredibly easy to read and absorb everything that an NPC is trying to tell you. Quests are relatively easy to find, but if you want to dig deeper into the NPCs with the dialogue options, you can often uncover other quests that you can do as well, which often send you off into the wilds in search of particularly angry animals.

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