Square-Enix hates computer users.
I get it, they are primarily a console company. Wunderbar. But every computer game they make is a nightmare to play.
See, dear readers, I often subject myself to potentially painful experiences for other’s sake. In this case, I subjected myself to Square’s free-to-play PVP MMO, Fantasy Earth Zero.
Fantasy Earth Zero boasts cool graphics, interesting gameplay, and all the accoutrements of the Asian free-to-play model: a cash shop that is 100% required to play and enjoy the game.
Fantasy Earth Zero delivers on exactly one of these promises: the cash shop.
I am by no means short of cash, but upon reading that a 15 minute wait would be imposed for using PayPal or Google Checkout instead of typing in a number from the back of a card purchased in the supermarket checkout line, I thought to myself, “Lane, Chris Hansen is going to be mad at you for playing this game.”
I understand that the F2P model is attractive to younger players because it costs less money (at least until the cash shop is involved). I understand that kids can probably beg a $10-$15 card off their parents in the checkout line, which will give them a considerable amount of in-game microtransaction points.
But I am nearing twenty seven in a month, and it is unseemly that I play a game dominated by younger people. The lack of mature play is further dampened by the PVP focus of the game. PVP attracts thirteen year old boys of all ages.
The graphics are substandard, even by my relatively low MMO standards. I do not mean that the graphics are necessarily bad, but they make me look fondly on Final Fantasy XI‘s graphics. Square is never known for producing games that are high in the eye-candy department, so I was willing to forgive this…
Until I started trying to play the game with the keyboard.
For such a badly-designed game, I actually have a fond spot for the UI. It is neat and useable, except in terms of the special attacks necessary to play the game. There is a single attack button (the left mouse button, which one will click with a Diablo-like fury) and a set of possible attacks that are bound to the mousewheel. Selecting attacks means scrolling through them, or in the alternative, pressing a number key to activate that attack.
Whereas in another MMO, like WoW or WAR, simply pressing the button is enough to trigger the attack. I found this two-step system to be unnecessarily clunky, and actually found myself hindered by my competence at playing MMOs. I would be on to my next button press by the time my mouse click went through, resulting in many missed attacks.
Combat also suffers from terrible lag, despite my relatively low latency and excellent framerate. A main feature of combat involves using strafes and jumps to dodge incoming attacks. But because of interface lag, there is no way to overwrite the current command. Therefore, if a player clicks “attack” but suddenly needs to dodge, the entire attack animation must cancel before evasive maneuvers can be taken.
Other MMOs do not suffer from this conceit; it is possible to jump around one’s opponent like a demented monkey in WAR, for example, and use all instant cast attacks while on the move. Not so in Fantasy Earth Zero, despite having a heavy PVP focus. Again, this penalizes people that have developed skills playing other PVP MMOs. Good for the kids with the 7-11 bought microtransaction cards, bad for grumpy lawyers.
So the gameplay is balls, the polygons are blocky, and the style screams early 2002 anime… what good can we say about Fantasy Earth Zero?
Not much, I am afraid. However, should you wish to have a relatively low barrier to play, the cash shop offers really cool weapons and armor available at levels players will have achieved by finishing the tutorial. Some say “naked greed,” I say, “would be cool if I did not have to wait 15 fucking minutes to get my microtransaction points!”
One of my favorite things about Dungeons and Dragons Online (and presumably, Turbine’s upcoming F2P version of Lord of the Rings Online and German wunderspiele Runes of Magic is that buying points is quick, easy and painless, even for those of us not purchasing 7-11 cards. The points arrive instantly, but their use is limited more toward buying things like potions that boost experience gained, which really aids in leveling.
All in all, Fantasy Earth Zero presents an entirely skippable experience in the MMO world… and yet again, we lack a truly excellent free-to-play PVP experience. I hope sometime in the near future to obtain a Vindictus beta key and test that game for my readers… or perhaps I will venture further into the for-pay worlds of Darkfall or Mortal Online. As it stands, a player’s best bet for excellent PVP action is in Warhammer Online and World of Warcraft. WoW presents an easier barrier to entry and is demonstrably easier to solo-play in, whereas Warhammer tends to be overcrowded for PVP at the start (where an endless free trial is possible) and at the endgame.
The saddest part about Fantasy Earth Zero, however, is how worried it makes me for Final Fantasy XIV. The Square Defense Force has mobilized to defend the game against every criticism offered of it, and so far, it looks like some of the lessons Square ought to have learned from what they did wrong with Final Fantasy XI have not been so taken to heart. Still, I will likely be trying it out, and would be glad to offer a neutral and detached evaluation if only Square would give me a goddamn beta key. Cough.