Review by CapnWellpoint

"A game that feels a lot like playing soccer in quicksand"

Introduction

Maple Story is a cute little game produced by the industriously understaffed folk of a company known as Nexon. Like most MMOs, it's a game about nothing, really. You pick a character, hash his appearance together, name him something inappropriate, and then proceed to annoy every other player within a ten mile radius for as long as Nexon's servers can keep the game online. All in all it's a lot like multi-player Pac Man, if you think about it, except rather than chasing dots and evading ghosts you are instead inexorably hunting an abstract, mathematical representation of a person's worldly experiences.

The Beginning Stages

The game kicks off with a mild tutorial explaining how to play the game. For example, press ‘A' to jump, ‘B' to attack, and that's pretty much it for this game – Maple Story has just about as much control diversity as the original Super Mario Brothers. However, what they don't tell you is that if you start the game without just the right stats you can slow-motion train wreck your character for the entire rest of the playing period.

To illustrate this, for a brief period I befriended a player named “XishoY” (Where Y = an unmemorable integer) who has since abandoned the game for – hopefully – more worthwhile endeavors. We met as beginners, and the two of us had both made some minor mistakes in allocating stats for our design. I wanted to be a warrior, which required strength, and he wanted to be a thief, which required dexterity, but in our burgeoning years we both opted to give our characters a bit of intelligence because we thought it would relate to anything.

However, when the time came and we both reached the level at which we could acquire our respective classes, or jobs as the game calls them, we were both remorselessly informed by the NPCs that we were too intelligent for stealing from folk or hitting monsters. It didn't throw me off too badly since I had expected to play the roll of a gorilla and had done little in the way of bumping up peripheral stats, but Xisho had to wait three levels more before he was allowed to actually become a thief; I only had to wait one.

For him this problem compounded when he discovered that he could not equip his job's required equipment either. Unfortunately, aside from having a level prerequisite to even try anything on, Maple Story requires that its players also have a particular stat build to carry around specific kinds of equipment. It seemed a little silly to need a certain strength to wear one of the three suits of armor that I was lifting in my knapsack despite my apparent weakness, but aside from all this, his inability to get his job on time also meant that the game was not giving him the invaluable skill points used to grant a character the abilities that must be leaned on constantly to get by.

Eventually Xisho found he was all but useless in battle. As we progressed, his lack of adequate skills, improper build of a smidge of points in the wrong place, and inability to wield the correct weapons and armor on time left him performing roughly half damage to everything compared to the rest of us. Soon he resorted to sitting on the benches in town all day where he pestered us about his favorite bands, all of which I had never heard of. Then, finally, it occurred to him one bright morning that MSN or some other instant messaging program would be just as fun, especially because he might be able to annoy people he had actually met, and he never logged on again.

The Game in Earnest

I continued on to play the game until I reached level fifty-six, and let me tell you Maple Story is nothing but that same exercise of tedium for the entire duration of that period. Despite spending some hard-earned cash on fixing my stats later in the game, by near around level thirty everything started to bog down into a quicksand festival. Like a fool I struggled to the next levels, thinking the next set of skills would bring me some relief, but struggling only makes an individual sink faster – experience requirements from level to level grow exponentially in Maple Story.

Eventually I was killing monsters twice my level that only offered one thousandth of a percent (0.001%) of the experience I needed to reach the next rank. So to alleviate some of the extravagant boredom of Endless Monster Grind '08, I undertook some requests from the local NPCs. However, it was quickly proved that every NPC in this game is the type of pedantic scum who will very snobbishly demand only a particular kind of hyper-rare golden version of common items – the type which only drops from boss monsters that spawn once every three hours on a one in three chance. If that wasn't the case, they often wanted me to collect for them countless precious gems and metals that had absolutely no rational semblance to the worth of the inferior reward they intended to offer me.

By the time my character was in his mid-forties in levels, I began to count the minutes. Some calculations and rough estimates lead me to believe that on average, if I did not just level in one overcrowded room for the entire period (I would sometimes wander out of an area so as to fight different-looking monsters for a while), one hour of playing resulted in reaching 10% of the experience I needed to level, and in kind it would take ten hours of playing to reach the next rank.

The Game's Feel

Aside from the gameplay being astoundingly like twiddling your thumbs for hours in a waiting room, the game itself actually has a very appealing setting and disposition. Maple Story is actually a very colorful game with a great deal of what seems like personality in its art and music choices. In fact, this is so much the case that exploration and a group of interesting friends are the only things that managed to keep me playing for so long. For example, a suicidal race to the bottom of a previously unexplored room full of broken time was probably the most entertaining thing I managed to do throughout my entire playing period.

In short the game accomplishes one facet of immersion, and that is the desire to see more of the world the designers have created. Environments have the tendency to change drastically, but in a sort of fluid way that lends itself to suspension of disbelief. Furthermore it's a very cute and easy to learn game, so it attracts a lot of female players, including girlfriend types. Its cuteness also resulted in my complete inability to take the game seriously, and that helped a great deal in distracting me from the hopelessness of my leveling situation.

Moderating Maple Story

However, for every free game there is a treasure trove of hackers, botters, and whatever other new fangled skateboards kids are riding on the sidewalks in video games these days, and Maple Story does not even feint at being an exception to this rule. Although the occasional update does relieve the stresses of cheaters in Maple Story, one of its central problems is that it utterly lacks a moderating community of adults affiliated with Nexon.

Although many cheaters were merely frustrating, and some were practically helpful at times by offering, for free, the countless number of idiotic quest items passing players needed, there were a number of particularly virulent cheaters who had so much power over the game that they could actually scoop up handfuls of monsters and drop them on other characters. Maple Story does have a report button for these folks, but it's flawed at best. Some hackers have been seen killing monsters from off screen where nobody can click on them to make a report.

There is also a “defame” option for these individuals, but it is not recommended to use it. Lowering a cheater's fame will often make him mad, and it's not uncommon for one of them to log on to an excess of twenty accounts in order to defame you with each one as retaliation. All things considered, defaming anyone is a ridiculous idea in the first place.

Final Recommendation

In the end I'm not really sure how I feel about Maple Story. It's boring. It's extremely boring. But it's also quite charming, and for some that may be enough to keep going. I believe it may be the reason my sister, who spent real money to make a cat sleep on her character's head for three months, continues to play the game despite being old enough to realize she's usually not having all that much fun.

At any rate it's a free game from beginning to end with no strings attached. The way they make their profit is by letting players purchase “vanity items,” such as new clothes and head-sleeping cats that confer no bonuses, and special cards that run on impractical schedules. The cards do things like double experience or money received from monsters, so naturally they're popular - if a bit expensive – but they work under a specific time table, and scheduling my work and classes around Maple Story was just too silly to put into words for me.

So give it a go. You may not be sorry, but I can't make any promises. After all, “cute” may not at all be your gig, and if it isn't you'll have no reason to waste your time with playing.

Score

Since I am compelled to wrangle my opinions into a mathematical representation, I give this game a 5/10, labeled as “Playable, but nothing special about it.” It doesn't sum up my feelings all that well, but it's the closest they give me.


Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 08/21/08

Game Release: MapleStory (US, 11/30/05)


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