I got into the closed beta for Cave Online Entertainment and Atlus' Shin Megami Tensei inspired MMORPG, Shin Megami Tensei Online: Imagine (whew). Aeria wil be the North American operator for the game, and you can visit their page here. Maybe I'll write a bigger feature for the game when I get deeper into it, but for now I thought I'd share some impressions of Imagine thus far.
First off, if you're into PvP as seen in Warhammer Online, this isn't the game for you since Imagine so far seems strictly PvE. I haven't encountered an area yet where players can duke it out online, but I've just started so I can't say for sure.
Combat: Pretty basic so far, you have the regular "Attack", as well as "Rush" for taking down opponents on the defensive and "Spin" for crowd control. You can chain Attacks together to send enemies flying, and you can also go into defensive and counterattack stances, so there's some element of strategy. It actually reminds me of some of the stuff I pulled off in the last MMO I tried, Mabinogi. Countering enemies charging at you is always good stuff.
You can also learn magic which for better or worse retain their Sanskrit names from the other MegaTen games, so if you know the difference between Agi, Bufu and Garu you should do fine. :P
Character Development: There aren't any classes in Imagine, though there are three general routes to developing your character: as a fighter with melee proficiencies, a gunner with ranged attacks, and a "mage" for attack/support/healing spells. In truth, you can specialize in any combination of these proficies, through distribution of skill points you earn when you level your character up. But in general, it's best to distribute points to your stats to suit a specific battle style; spreading points out amongst stats evenly usually isn't a good idea.
You can also rank up your skills simply by using them, and you can even choose which ones will actually get experience to level up. Again, there's only so much experience you can gain for skills, so it's best to focus on ones that suit your character build. Even conversation skills can rank up, which helps with Demon Contracts.
Demon Contracts: Every MegaTen game featured the ability to converse with Demons and coerce them to join your side. It's one of the series' most defining features, so it's good that Imagine keeps it. The basic way is to contact the Demon you wish to befriend by talking to them over and over again until they warm up to you and transform into an "egg" you can download into your handy DB computer. Then you can summon them later at the cost of "magnetite", which you earn by fighting and defeating Demons. Demons you summon can help you in battle when you access their attacks and skills through the shortcuts, and you can even switch to controlling the Demon yourself if you want.
You won't always be successful in your attempts; sometimes they'll run away, get angry and attack you, or things will just end up going nowhere. You might get an item instead, which isn't bad. It's a little confusing at first, but the game does provide guides on how to get things done, but it's mostly reading until you try it yourself.
Game Flow: You're not just wandering around aimlessly; you are given quests by NPCs, and I've run into a few optional ones as well. There's some variety to these; there's even fetch quests. After an early mission, you'll have the chance to explore dungeons. You buy items in the shelter (essentially one of the towns in the game) to create one at a specific areas, meaning dungeons are instanced by player or party. This reminds me of the system in Mabinogi, and perhaps you've played other MMOs like this too. I haven't fiddled around with this yet in Imagine, but I'll definitely give it a shot while the closed beta is still running.
So far Imagine seems alright. There aren't too many people online while I was checking things out, but it is still in closed beta. Already other guys are kitting their characters out with new gear and Demons, so I'm getting jealous at how much time they're able to put into the game even though it's closed beta. XD I'll try to post more impressions later.
No MegaTen/Persona game is complete without this fellow! ^_^
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