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Returning to the World of the MMORPG

Some of you may be wondering what an MMORPG is, so I’ll start by getting that out of the way first. MMORPG stands for ‘Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game’, which is basically a game set in an online world where hundreds or thousands of people play as a character and are able communicate and play with each other. Think of it as a virtual playground but with monsters, magic, weapons and quirky costumes.  

Still here? Oh, good. For those of you who did know what it was, this post may be of interest to you. To those who didn’t know what it was but now do, I wouldn’t be surprised if I lost you after the first paragraph. If you’re still there reading this, then great! Feel free to stick around.  

It’s certainly been a long time since I touched an online game. While it might not be considered a ‘massively’ multiplayer online role-playing game, I got heavily invested into Phantasy Star Online Episodes I & II when it was released on the GameCube back in 2003. It was my (and I am sure many others’) first introduction to what online gaming could be, and it was an experience that I really enjoyed and one that I feel a little nostalgic about even to this day.  

Logging on and meeting up with my online friends was a great escape for me. Living outside of the main town in the area, it wasn’t easy for me to ever hang out with other kids and this gave me an opportunity to do so. Once the school bus dropped me off at the end of the road, I’d come home and fire up my GameCube as quickly as I could to get online and become Gibdo, a beefy robotic ranger with a big ol’ gun. Not so different to myself really. Sometimes we would just sit in the ‘lobby’ as we waited for other people to join us, chatting away about random stuff with people from all over the world. It was great fun and now that I look back at it and compare it to what is available today, it was unique for its time and revolutionary in many ways. It certainly wasn’t the first online game, but it was my first and definitely part of the early beginnings of online gaming when it was released on the Dreamcast.  

The game itself was incredibly simple and awfully repetitive; I don’t think I would be able to play a game like that nowadays, but for 12-year-old me with nothing better to do, it was great. Going around killing enemies in a team, completing quests, finding rare items, defeating bosses, taking part in themed events, racing around the lobby in our inflatable chairs that would magically materialise from our arses. The game truly had everything.  

Going around killing things is great fun.

Nowadays nearly every game has some kind of online functionality, but back then it was a rarity, especially on a gaming console. As with all things, however, Phantasy Star Online did eventually fade away and once Episode 3 was released and totally changed the format of the game, I and my online buddies would come to lose interest and the servers would also come their end a number of years later. Even though we played the game less and less, we made a point to play with each other one more time before the servers were switched off for good. It was quite a poignant moment really.  

The nostalgia hits hard with this one.

But it wasn’t the only online game on the market. Far from it. And as the new millennium gained a few years under its belt, MMORPG’s started to become more popular with the advent of broadband that allowed players much greater convenience in online gaming. It would be quite some time until my hamlet would get broadband and I was still stuck with a whopping 28.8kbps dial-up connection that would forever be plagued with interruptions from incoming and outgoing calls. Oh, how many times my game would suddenly freeze, only to be quickly followed by a loud shout from the hallway: ‘Jeremy! Get off the Internet!’ my mother would cry with the alien beeps and blips singing into her ear from the receiver.  

Remember this?!

That was a daily occurrence and not one that I miss per se, but nostalgia does seem to stick to things even as irritating as that. Hmm… I smell another blog topic there. But anyway, back to the post at hand.  

World of Warcraft, which is still going strong today, was released with instant success. With a brand new PC in hand, I had a go a little after its release, but even with what was then quite a powerful PC, I was heavily restricted by the slowest Internet connection that may have ever existed and I quickly gave up on it, despite a good friend of mine (who had a much better Internet connection and was one of the rare friends who I knew in real life from school and played Phantasy Star Online together) playing it and some of the old Phantasy Star crew hopping over to that game as well. Unfortunately, it just was not meant to be. I think he still plays it even now!  

I forget now in which order games were released or when I actually purchased them, but maybe before even giving WoW a go, Final Fantasy XI hit my radar and although I had never played a Final Fantasy game before, this piqued my interest enough to order it online from the US and have it shipped over. That in itself was something that I would have been unable to do a mere few years prior. Things were moving fast and the Internet really was changing things! I was able to make a few friends on there to play with, but of course, this was hit with just the same problems as any other game I played and although I hobbled through it for a year or so, it also fell to the wayside and I never got invested in it.  

I was one of these cool little dudes in FFXI

I suppose I tried out a few different MMORPGs in an attempt to fill the void that Phantasy Star had left and nothing ever really fit the bill, which I think can mainly put down to a poor internet connection and eventually me becoming more mobile as I grew up and gradually losing interest. Crap dial-up may have been good enough for Phantasy Star, but the heavier the games became, the less able I was to enjoy them.  

My love of video games, however waning, is still there and over the years I’ve dabbled in online gaming with Call of Duty, Battlefield, Mario Kart, Pokémon, etc. All with online modes, but just such a far cry from the experience I had on Phantasy Star. I even downloaded Phantasy Star Online 2 on my Switch, but it just felt so empty and dead. Gone were the days where I would happily be working with my team to make our way through the level and kill the various bosses at the end. Gone was any sense of exploration and adventure. It was replaced with guns, guns, and more guns. Teenagers shouting down their microphones to ‘git gud’ and the like. Games that required hours of dedication to improve, otherwise you’d be dead within the first few minutes and then just onto the next game to rinse and repeat. Not very fun for me anyway. Online gaming truly has exploded, but the focus is on fast action competitions, not the cooperative gameplay that I enjoyed personally. They certainly exist, I’ve just never bothered to go looking.  

I played League of Legends all of one time and was told I should stop playing. Lovely community.

I don’t think it’d be a surprise to hear that MMORPGs have seen a little surge in popularity this past year with the pandemic wreaking havoc and shutting everyone up indoors. As the situation here in Japan doesn’t seem to be improving at all, and with my personal situation leaving me working only two or three days a week now, I thought ‘why not?’ Now might be the time to rekindle my relationship with the MMORPG.  

There are a number of MMORPGs on the market now and World of Warcraft still seems to be the king of them all, but not the one that I chose to go with. To be honest, even with the array of games available now, it was a small difficulty in deciding which one I was going to go with, and I barely did any research before diving in. On reading up a little more for this blog, I’m genuinely surprised at the number of games out there. Even Runescape is still active! I think that may have been another game I tried back in the day, but then, as now, it doesn’t really interest me.  

The choice was obvious. For two very simple reasons, I decided to go with The Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO). It’s free and I’m a big fan of The Lord of the Rings. Bit of a no-brainer, I thought. I had had it on my PC for a couple of years and clocked about 3 hours of gameplay in the past but I never felt gripped enough to come back for another go. Recently I’ve found myself getting more and more interested in Middle Earth and fantasy in general; probably because I’ve been writing more myself and there’s more of an interest in stories whether fantasy or not. Whatever that reason may be, I went back to the virtual Middle Earth, and I’m very happy I did.  

One MMORPG to rule them all. Well, not really.

The more I read about it and the more videos on YouTube I watched, my interest grew and I was happy to see that there was still an active community out there keeping the game alive. My assumption of the game was that it was heavily linked with the movies, but it really isn’t. The feel is very similar in the most positive way possible, but it’s much, much grander in scale. All the stuff that may have been for the chopping block in the films finds itself a very comfortable home here in LOTRO. Tom Bombadil may not have graced the silver screen, but I hear he’s out there in LOTRO somewhere and the child inside of me is looking forward to discovering him.  

I have barely scratched the service of the world and upon accidentally zooming out of the local area map into the much wider world map, I could tell that this game was going to be right up my alley. Additionally, there are years of expansion packs to look into as well, so I know there’s a lot of content out there waiting for me. But it is not perfect. Far from it, in fact. Already I have seen some aspects of the game that I feel I may not take a liking to. This mainly revolves around in-game purchases, which I tend to think is a bad model for video games, but I think it’s all about perspective. There are people who pay hundreds of pounds on a game like Pokémon Go to get more coins, storage, items, etc. And LOTRO has a similar setup, but it also has a subscription-based model that unlocks a lot of features that you would otherwise only be able to obtain from grinding endlessly and obtaining coins in-game. It’s entirely possible to play the game without spending a single penny, but I’m contemplating whether that’s how I want to play the game, or whether I should cough up 10,000 or so yen for an annual subscription. I’m not in any rush to make that decision right now, so I’ll give it a little more thought.  

Me chilling with some hobbits.

The graphics aren’t exactly the best, but still offer beautiful scenery that I think I will enjoy exploring and I’ve never been a stickler for graphics anyway. I think it’ll be the story that keeps me going, as you are dropped in the world of Middle Earth and in the story of The Lord of the Rings, but from a totally different perspective. You’re not Frodo taking the ring to Mordor, but you are a character working in the background, behind the scenes, slowly chipping away at the enemy and indirectly assisting the fellowship in their quest. I thought that was a cool concept that allows you to enjoy the story in a different way and explore the world in a way that is closer to the books than the films.  

As good as the story may be or how enjoyable it is to wander around the massive world, it’s the people that will really tie me to the game. I’ve been playing it for just over a week or so now and it has very much been a solo affair. It’s fun seeing all the other players running around doing their own thing, but I’ve yet to successfully join a group or find someone who is in the same situation as me. I am again that kid in the playground looking for some new mates to play with, timidly walking up to another boy and asking ‘Do you want to play?’ I guess I will just have to fine tune my online social skills and see what I can do!  

And that’s it. As I close this one out, remember: be nice to people! You never know what they’re going through.  

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