Setting a New Bar for F2P? - The Impact of Atlus Online

Bob Salvatore doesn’t normally write for MMOGs, but gamers everywhere took notice when he got involved with 38 Studios and Copernicus because the man is a damned good writer. If the notion...

Bob Salvatore doesn’t normally write for MMOGs, but gamers everywhere took notice when he got involved with 38 Studios and Copernicus because the man is a damned good writer. If the notion of one of the greatest fantasy novelist of our time writing for a new MMOG is exciting, I think people really should rejoice at the news that Atlus, U.S.A. is getting into the MMOG arena. Just as Salvatore doesn’t normally write for MMOGs, Atlus has not published them prior to its big announcement at the beginning of February. Like Salvatore’s notoriety for crafting memorable characters, Atlus has a reputation for being an outstanding publisher not afraid to take chances on niche titles and cater to rabid but small audience instead of a large but fickle fan base. Now that Atlus Online is here, expect everything to change. I foresee nothing short of excellence from Atlus Online.

Atlus produces some quirky titles that garner a zealous following.

My first experience with Atlus came with the company’s decision to localize the Super Nintendo title Ogre Battle on the Playstation in 1997. Atlus had been around before that, garnering some fame from Crusader of Centy on the Sega Genesis, but it caught my attention when they took the risk on the niche strategy title I had enjoyed so much as a teen. I went out and purchased their other Playstation game on the market, Persona, just to show my support. Persona turned out to be a gem of an RPG, daring to be different from the normal fantasy setting and focusing on macabre subjects like demons and dating in high school. I ended up buying seven games published by Atlus between 1997 and 2000, all of them given careful attention to translation and solid presentation.

Atlus continued its presence in the console and handheld markets in the next generation with Playstation 2 titles that penetrated the install base deeper than ever. Atlus was carving out a loyal following of fans that enjoyed the quirky titles it brought over to the US. Titles like Disgaea and Stella Deus helped propel the name Atlus into any discussion involving strategic turn-based gameplay. Meanwhile, the cult following of the Persona and Shin Megami Tensei series continued to grow, and all along Atlus had been responsible for ensuring the English publication of innovative titles like Trauma Center and Touch Detective on the Nintendo DS.

For readers who only play MMOGs, you’re just going to have to take my word for it; Atlus is a renowned publisher and the titles it develops (especially the Shin Megami Tensei stuff) are very strong competitors in their genre. What should impress you more about Atlus is the company’s recognition of the power of a loyal fan base. Called the “Atlus Faithful,” Atlus devotees religiously investigate any title being published by Atlus. We Faithful (I am proud to be among their number) know we’re getting a game with a fresh perspective and solid translation when we buy from Atlus. Turn-based strategy RPGs (SRPGs) are still somewhat the preoccupation of an unusual group of gamers, but Atlus was publishing SRPGs for us when it seemed like we numbered only a hundred. We told our friends about the solid job Atlus did with localizing, and one or two tried games we recommended. The effect was very viral, and I no longer have to hide the fact that I am playing a SRPG when I take Luminous Arc 2 for DS with me on the bus.

Neo Steam will get an overhaul and another beta.

Fanboy gushing aside, we can anticipate a lot from Atlus Online in the way of MMOGs. We already know that Atlus Online has acquired the rights to Neo Steam, a game I have played and enjoyed before but found to lack in the area of localization. Without a doubt, Atlus will fix the translation problems in Neo Steam, and it looks like the company aims to go one step further and really rework the game. In recent posts in the official forums, Atlus Online’s Sporkle noted, “We are working on a full localization of the title right now from Korean, to English, to Atlus English.” Posted slightly tongue-in-cheek, Sporkle’s comment is music to the ears of the Faithful who enjoy the sense of humor and flair that Atlus brings to the script of any game. Sporkle also remarked that the team was attentive to the leveling treadmill in the original Neo Steam, adding, “Rest assured that we are aware of the grind that was in the original Neo Steam and that we are actually modifying the leveling curve to be a little more empathetic to the fans.” Rather than just recycling the product it’s been given, Atlus Online will polish it and make it shine.

If you have any doubts left that things are different with Atlus, go join the Atlus Online community.  You’ll find friendly, mature players who are able to argue without flame wars. You’ll also encounter administrators interacting with the community, soliciting feedback from the Faithful about any number of things. This level of service and interaction, a sort of folk lore among MMOG players, is something we Faithful have known for years.

Parting Thoughts

Everything changes with Atlus Online arriving on the scene. I didn’t know this was good news coming when I wrote that 2009 is the year of the F2P game, but the formation of Atlus Online only solidifies my opinion. If you aren’t excited, it’s only because you don’t know what Atlus is all about yet. Give it time; Atlus is a publisher that could convert P2P gamers by delivering a product that is polished and engaging enough to impress anybody. And just wait until they start making their original IPs into MMOGs!

I wanted to close with a message to the folks at Atlus: Get to work on Ogre Battle Online

Are you a member of the Atlus Faithful? Do you think Atlus Online will make good games? Email your thoughts or post them in our forums!

The Top Ten

Continue to page two to see Ralsu's latest Top Ten list.

I don’t know how else I can drive home the point that the announcement of Atlus Online should get MMOG players excited, so I am moving Neo Steam back into the Top Ten as a vote of confidence. I fully believe that the loving touch from Atlus will resolve my frustrations with the translation back when I first played the title. Based on the many positives Neo Steam already had going for it (pleasant graphics, creative plot, and inventive setting), I am pushing it up to #6 on the list. With Neo Steam coming onto the list, I am dropping off Exteel, a thoroughly enjoyable game.

I continue to play the Ether Saga Online beta, but I don’t know yet if the game has what it takes to crack this Top Ten. Look for preview from our Eric “Dalmarus” Campbell here in early March. Next up on my list are a preview for Shin Megami Tensei Online: Imagine and a review for DOMO.

Top Ten Free-to-Play Games
March 2, 2009
Rank Game


Last week: 1
Atlantica Online - (

Atlantica is a squad-based fantasy strategy game that breaks the mold. Players can control up to nine characters at once in fast-paced turn-based combat. A lot of the systems in Atlantica are different from the standard fare on the market.


Last week: 2
Runes of Magic - (

Runes of Magic is a traditional fantasy game that uses a Dual Class system to inject a little strategy into character planning and a lot of flexibility into grouping. RoM has all of the features gamers want in a subscription-based game, but they’ll enjoy them for free here.


Last week: 3
Dungeon Runners - ( NCSoft

Dungeon Runners is a hack and slash fantasy game that infuses every aspect of gameplay with humor. DR makes fun of other games, the genre, and even itself. This is the perfect game for a player looking to blow off steam after a rough day at work.


Last week: 4
Mabinogi - (

Mabinogi provides so many things to do that it earns its self-appointed moniker of “A Fantasy Life.” Players can farm, play music, hunt, craft, go to school and more in this fantasy land. In Mabinogi, combat is not the only way to advance.


Last week: 5
Requiem: Bloodymare - (
Gravity Interactive

Requiem: Bloodymare is a horror-themed game that blends the traditional elements of MMOGs with the visceral feel of a gore film. Requiem is worth a look because of its fresh take on setting in MMOGs.


Last week: N/A
Neo Steam - ( Atlus Online

Neo Steam is a steampunk game set in a world where warring factions compete for a limited supply of the resource Neo Steam. It was above average in most categories during closed beta for the US, but it had multiple translation problems. Atlus Online should iron out the kinks.


Last week: 6
Warrior Epic - ( Possibility Space

Warrior Epic is ready to begin the next round of closed beta soon. It provides a fantasy hack and slash dungeon crawler experience with some very innovative features, including the ability to choose different character classes for each dungeon and a Warrior Hall that grows with the player.


Last week: 7
Dream of Mirror Online - (
Aeria Games & Entertainment

Dream of Mirror Online puts the player in the starring role of a classic Chinese myth. The eastern-based lore provides a refreshing twist on MMOGs, and the multi-class system makes character development in this fantasy game fun.


Last week: 8
Free Realms - ( Sony Online Entertainment

Free Realms is a a 3D fantasy world designed to encourage exploration and support casual play. With graphics similar to WoW and all the gameplay of a standard MMOG, Free Realms could appeal to adults. Its many minigames and events are designed to please teens.


Last week: 9
Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine - (
Aeria Games & Entertainment

Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine Online brings the popular RPG to life in the MMOG sphere. Players can use friendly persuasion or aggressive coercion to get demons to fight by their side. The dark subject matter and modern setting of the game is a welcome contrast to the enchanted glens filled with pixies we often find in MMOGs.

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