Before pursuing writing as a productive hobby, I spent countless hours over a span of years playing the Free-to-play MMORPG, Maplestory. I discovered the game through an advertisement in 2006 and spent a lot of time in the virtual world; eventually quitting in 2010. The game grasped me because of its unique take on the tired MMO format, it’s polished and tight design, the 2D platforming elements and the “chibi” anime aesthetics.
The game at its core was about social play, and it made you feel as if you were a part of a real community. It was designed around this idea, with level grinding being outrageous without a group, quests being party-centric, and possibly the best buddy list in a multiplayer game period. Maplestory, over a long period of time, changed for the worse. The release of new classes, redesigns and balance patches made the game feel entirely different. Classes lost their unique traits, the economy crashed as new items and pay-to-win features were implemented, and overall, the game kept digging itself a bigger hole.
When I heard that Nexon was working on Maplestory 2, I was optimistic that it would capture the feel and polish of the first, while improving upon the great ideas that were either lost, or still had much room to grow. It is extremely disappointing to see that Maplestory 2 is not only an entirely different game, but it has dropped every single thing that made Maplestory interesting to me.
The first several seconds of this trailer had me excited. You see a 3D rendered Maplestory in all of its glory, but it quickly discards that to take an isometric view-point … why? The 2D perspective offered a refreshing way to play an MMO. It had great platforming, with an entire series of quests called ‘Jump quests’ that were specifically designed around this idea. Map navigation and routing were huge parts of how you levelled up, and it made encounters feel rewarding. You see six monsters on a platform, and instead of clicking on them like a traditional MMO, you’d use a grappling attack or a luring tactic to get them to group together, swiftly finishing them off with an AOE (area-of-effect) attack. It was these kinds of things and a myriad of others that made the grind fun, especially when you had a party. It became like clockwork but it didn’t really lose its edge.
The switch to a 3D isometic view has not only destroyed all of this, but it ruins the fluidity and responsiveness of the controls. Isometric camera angles are always awkward and jarring, and they take away part of the appeal of Maple. A good example is Bastion, where all I did was struggle with navigating the field, regardless of how polished the game itself was. I don’t think I ever fell off more maps than I did in Bastion…
Beyond the switch to the isometric view, the graphical ‘upgrade’ has been surprising to say the least. While the colours are vibrant and pretty, it just looks like another Minecraft clone. It’s abundantly clear that Nexon was simply cashing in on Minecraft‘s aesthetics, and it’s a major disappointment.
Maplestory, when all else failed, had a charm to the art that made it enjoyable to look at. I had never seen anything quite like it, and it was always an utter joy to explore the new areas, or test out the newly animated skills. The game was released in Korea in 2003, and it still holds up graphically; not because of impressive tech, but because the art stood out. Everyone had their favourite locale that they’d spend downtime in, and that seems like it could be lost now. Nothing was memorable. I had to repeat the trailer several times just to remind myself of how the art looked.
It’s worth noting that they’ve kept a lot of the enemy designs and locales, such as Perion and Ellinia, but they just feel shoe-horned in for the sake of making it more like a sequel. It somehow manages to make areas that we love look like nothing but lifeless copies.
If these things didn’t throw me off enough, I also found the noticeable emphasis on mini-games and gimmicks a bit shocking. This trailer is in no way a display of everything the game offers, but most of the screen-time was around gimmicky mechanics and mini-games that were ripped out of Mario Party. It seems like they’re trying to appeal more to young children this time by having really short bursts of a multitude of small games to distract people. I’d much prefer a focus on improved combat and party-quests, but I am under the impression that they’re trying to pull in an entirely new audience, not keep the current one.
In the end, I think that is the main thing to take away from this trailer. Maplestory 2 will not be a game that sucks in the hardcore crowd of the first, but merely a new take on an established IP that seeks to suck as many people in as possible. It’s different, I do not like it, and it speaks volumes about what Nexon has been doing to all of their games lately.