Tuesday 17 July 2012

The Grinn's Tale: Facebook MMORPG

  The Grinns Tale : a good reason to smile

TheGrinnsTale is a new Facebook game which feels more like a full-fledged free-to-play MMO than just a Facebook game. After all, Nexon, its publisher, also owns such MMO mainstay as MapleStory. Here too, they chose a very distinctive art style; it's like the Nightmare Before Christmas read the Grimms' Tales and then moved to a steampunk setting. The character design has this perfect balance of child-like joy and cute creepiness. The music, with its brass instruments complete this choice, without ever getting annoying, overly-repetitive or stuck in your head; it can even be epic in battles. To be honest, it's currently playing as I'm writing this review (ok, and keeping an eye on my resources) and it's a nice background music.
The controls are similar to most Facebook games, moving your characters with your mouse, clicking some more to open menus to choose your next building, and so on. What's new is the combat. You can send your heroes in dungeons for loot and experience (more on that in an instant) : you equip them with armors and assign their abilities back in town, and in a fight you click and drag from one hero to its target. The tutorial, done through quests as per Facebook games' usage, is rather well-done, the combat system is simple yet efficient, so a new player shouldn't feel lost. Initially, all attacks and enemies are « mechanical »; then are introduced three new elements, electricity, chemical, and thermal, each having a weakness against one of the other two and being strong against the last one of the trio. Again, it's rather straightforward, and anyone having tried a Pokemon game should feel right at home.

One of the reason this feels more like an MMO than most Facebook games is that it involves real choices and decisions, via resources management : in a typical Facebook farm game, you generally decide based on factors outside of the game, like, how your farm will look like, how much time you have, how much money the crop will net you; with the Grinns, I find myself planning constructions, crops and upgrades based solely on in-game parameters: what resources I have, what I will need later, and what I can realistically loot. See, you have some actions points, but they are not what really decide what you can do, as they are only how any actions you can have a villager perform (generally accelerate the production of something). You'll need, for example, wood and metal to build your town and to start the crafting process. If you run out, just go to a dungeon to loot more, while your workshops are being constructed or are creating more resources.

Speaking of loot, there is a combat system. Your heroes will feel hunger as they fight, and as they level up, they'll get hungry more quickly; if starving, they become sluggish and less powerful, so that losing a fight happens more often. Remember I mentioned resources management? Here it is : you'll often run to the dungeons to get more resources, so that you can build and upgrade your town, but also so you can produce food to keep on looting. You have to carefully decide whether to build something or get more bread for your next expedition. My advice is, keep making food as long as you feel like adventuring, and when ending the session, set to build or upgrade the logging camps and mines.

Like most free-to-play MMOs and Facebook games, this is an element of grinding meant to prolong the gaming session and entice your buying the game currency (Pramins here) to speed things up; but on one hand, at least you are not stopped by lack of energy points so that particular frustration is absent; and on the other hand, well, you are not stopped by energy points, which means it can gobble up a lot of time. The grinding is accentuated by the items, rare resources used to craft armor and weapons (you may have to do the same dungeon again and again or pay up to get that elusive, but necessary piece), as well as by the token to unlock new upgrades for your town. You'll also want to level your heroes, and in more than one job, to get additional abilities and sub-abilities. At least you can do all, the item search, the resources looting, and the leveling up in one go.

Last but not least when speaking of Facebook games, the community. The game is still in beta, which means there are not yet that many players and that loading can be slow sometimes. From what I've seen, most participants on the fanpage are not just polite, but happy to help; there are the traditional request to add as friend for the game, but they are are not overly pushy. As just the small technical issues, we'll have to see how the community evolve. In the meantime, Nexon's community management fosters a good environment and the system to visit, invite, or message friends runs smoothly

All in all, this is a very classic and robust game on many aspects; what separates it is, you don't simply alternate between fighting and managing your town, but these two things are interdependent, making the handling of resources all the more complex and interesting. It reminds me of Recettear in that regard, but free to play and on Facebook.

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