If I were truly to come to terms with my preference for playing solo in games where one of the main aspects is to interact with other players, I would have to admit that it's not because I'm anti-social. One of my big underlying reasons is a fear of ruining things for everyone else. I dislike being relied on in MMOs unless I really know what I'm doing and I'm sure I can contribute. I figure if I'm going to screw up on quests and end up dying, better to do it on my own so I'm not inconveniencing anyone. Unfortunately, I was pretty much thrown out of my comfort zone when I tried out Fantasy Earth Zero.
I had intended to play a sci-fi MMORPG for this issue, but then I got the news that publisher Gamepot was planning to shut down one of my previous Travel Log games, Bright Shadow. It's too bad; the game had only just gotten to episode 2. I will admit that despite my enjoyment, the experience had begun to stagnate for me. I still would have liked to see the game continue. Anyhow, Gamepot was offering free Potcash to players of Bright Shadow if they tried out one of their other games. It sounded like a good deal, and surprisingly, Fantasy Earth Zero is a Square Enix game.
Basically, the game takes place in the war-torn world of Melpharia. There's five kingdoms vying for control of the six continents. The northwest continent of Victorion is home to the Kingdom of Netzavare, ruled by the beast king Huenkel (imagine if Aslan had been more anthropomorphosized and wielded a battle axe). The northern Pedestal continent is the Kingdom of Yelsord, center of science and knowledge. Yelsord is led by King Nais, who may be the illegitimate brother of Dumbledore. To the northeast lies Oreole and the Kingdom of Hordaine. Hordaine is the youngest of the nations and is ruled by Queen Vadrithe, a rather stalwart warrior-looking chick. The Gevrandian Empire and its Emperor Lyle are situated on the Stricor continent. Finally, there's the continent of Akelnar and the Royal Alliance of Cesedria, ruled by the gentle elf Queen Tivarece.
After looking over my choices of nations for a while, I finally settled with the Gevrandian Empire. For one, its emperor, Lyle, is one of those pretty boy, over confident types. I guess I enjoy that character type since I liked him the most out of the other rulers. He's the son of a poor peasant, but he managed to rise to power and is attempting to bring class equality in a kingdom where the rich look down on the poor. It's a nice touch in the game that all the rulers have a fleshed out back story like this. Plus, Gevrandia struck me as something of an underdog in the nation rankings, so I thought they might need more players on that side.
For a game with the Square Enix pedigree, I was expecting a bit more in terms of presentation. The character design options are all preset and extremely limited, there are only three classes to choose from, and graphics at most have a low PS2 quality. Characters themselves come dangerously close to looking blocky. Menus and text are simplistic as well. I do appreciate the ability to make a grizzled looking character (I wasn't too interested in making a female avatar because the boob jiggle was just annoying for some reason). Music is fine, but forgettable. One cool feature is that each nation's ruler has a voice actor, and fairly competent ones at that. You can go to a battle manager in town and get a voiced status report on your kingdom from your respective king. Occasionally, your ruler speaks out during the game inself, congratulating a player for doing a good job or just saying some general chit-chat (In Lyle's case, he has one comment saying he would rather talk to turtles than deal with nobles). I actually want to make a character for each nation just to hear what all the rulers sound like. Also, I'm curious as to what each nation's kingdom looks like.
Movement is done with the WASD control scheme, with the ability to jump by hitting the spacebar. I find jumping a bit stiff and unwieldy myself, but you can also sidestep left and right. Once I mastered that, I could alternate dodging blasts, arrows, and sword swings, and then attacking. There's a odd choice of not mapping battle skills to hotkeys. Instead, your skills are set in a bar at the left top side of the screen, and you cycle through them by using your mouse wheel and then left-clicking to activate them. I think this works better for people who have an actual mouse as opposed to a laptop touch pad like I have. It feels awkward to use this method to switch between a skill that consumes power to normal attacking when a monster or player is bearing down on your butt.
To say that FEZ put things like quests, soloing, monster killing, and PvE on the back burner in favor of PvP would be something of an understatement. It's more like they were left in the back of the cabinet to gather dust. Playing on your own doesn't get you very far; monster killing hardly gives you any experience. Quests occasionally give experience (I managed to shoot up to level 16 pretty fast), but this was mostly in the beginning. Otherwise, you just get gold, and unfortunately gold is the least important of the three currencies used in the game (the other two being rings which you mostly get from PvPing, and Arbs, which you get by spending real world cash). All the fields in the game start to look the same, except maybe one has some snow or one is more sandy. Fighting monsters gets boring fast when it's not really worth it. It's practice for fighting, I suppose, but it hardly prepares you for facing off against another player. If you want to level up or earn decent money in this game, you have to PvP.
I told myself that despite my reluctance, I was going to try PvPing in a battle at least once. Each continent has several battle fields (when not under attack, they serve as places to hunt monsters). Most of the fighting takes place on the sixth continent in the middle of all the others, Ecetia. The nation rankings depend on which kingdom controls the most land. For a nation to declare war on another kingdom's territory, your kingdom has to be in control of land next to it. You also need at least five players to start a battle. You can join a battle in progress between your nation and an opposing one at any time, or you can assist in a battle not concerning your kingdom as a neutral fighter.
During a battle for land, the two nations each have a stronghold located on the field. A battle is over when a stronghold is destroyed, or when 45 minutes have passed. If neither stronghold has been destroyed before time runs out, the defending nation wins by default. Players have three jobs during battle; to deal damage to an enemy stronghold, to build Obelisks, and to defeat enemy players. Obelisks are extremely important in FEZ. By building Obelisks, the amount of territory your nation controls on the battlefield increases. As time passes, damage is dealt to the enemy base depending on how much territory is held. If you destroy an enemy Obelisk, a backlash of damage is inflicted upon the enemy's castle. You can also do small amounts of damage by killing opposing players.
Also scattered throughout the field are crystals. Crystals need to be mined during battle for shards that are used in building Obelisks. Shards can also be used for building other things like arrow towers, creature summoning structures, and scaffolds. Creatures like giants and chimeras need shards to be summoned as well. The difficulty in building the more powerful structures or summoning monsters is that more crystal shards are needed. Players can only mine a certain amount of crystals at a time, but you can trade with other players to get more.
So how did I do? Well, not great. I finally jumped into an ongoing fight, but I was such a low level that I couldn't take on most enemy players (everyone seemed to be at least level 30). I found the best thing for me to do was to mine for crystals and build Obelisks, or trade crystals with players who needed to build or summon. I got killed a few times and was transported back to my nation's stronghold, so my fear of being booted out of the battle in shame the first time I died was abated. I was grateful that PvPing really does seem to be a team effort, and even if I stood in a corner and did nothing, I couldn't really ruin things for my teammates. In the end, we lost the battle, but I got some experience and gained the title of Obelisk Builder. So it wasn't as scary as I thought. I just wish I didn't have to join battles to level up. I'd rather level up ahead of time so I can be of actual use.
In general my feelings about FEZ are mixed. The large scale battles are kind of fun, and there's definitely a kind of thrill in being part of good teamwork on the battle field. Unfortunately, PvP seems to be the only thing the game has going for it, and that could be a killing blow in the current MMO marketplace. Better graphics, character models, and environments would have really helped the game. It could be that I'd do better in a different class; I chose to be a warrior, but I'm always standing back and unleashing shockwave attacks, so I wonder if I'd do better as a mage or an archer. I'm not completely turned off by FEZ, I just think it's going to be forgotten amidst MMOs that not only have great PvP but include the game features that FEZ neglected.