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Spirit Tales: Too Cute to Fail

Company: KoramGame

If Spirit Tales can be summed up in one word, it's this one: cute. The free-to-play MMO from Beijing-based KoramGame Ltd. definitely doesn't take itself seriously, unlike other fantasy-based RPGs (and the people who play them). With an emphasis on ease over skill and style over substance, not to mention the huge variety of ways you can play "dress up" with your characters, there's the temptation to chalk this up as a "kiddie" game. If you did, though, you might miss out on a very fun ride.

Spirit Tales takes the chibi style of anime about as far as you can stand it, with wide-eyed and bushy-eared heroes trundling around a brightly-colored fantasy world blowing up walking flowers, ticked-off insects and various other cute foes with names like "Daisybug" and "Flowerling." Defeating enemies levels you up and gives you additional abilities, just like most traditional MMOs do. However, you have another power at your disposal: the ability to channel an ancient animal spirit through your body, temporarily becoming a combat powerhouse and changing your avatar into a souped-up spirit. Each tribe has their own patron spirit, visible during character creation, so you can customize how it looks when you flip the switch from "cute fox sorceror" to "ferocious avatar of fire and destruction."

The story of Spirit Tales focuses on a war brewing between the Northern Alliance (the bad guys) and the Southern Tribes (the good guys). Players choose which of the three main tribes they want to belong to, which determines their class and some of their customization options. The Maned Dragons are brave and boisterous, with a half-lion, half-dragon spirit form and the choice of being an Archer or a Warrior. The Gold Kirin revere a goat and sheep-like ancestor, and can be a Fighter (they use lighter weapons than the Warrior) or a Shaman. The Lunar Fox tribe, a more mystical-minded group used to being somewhat aloof from the other tribes, has access to the Sorceror and Assassin classes.

Each new character in Spirit Tales starts in the Forest Kingdom, where all the Southern Tribes have been pushed to by the invading Northern Alliance. Each of the three main tribes are fighting back to retake their lands, but first have to fight off a mysterious corruption that has overtaken the forests their army, the Glorious Shield, has to hide in. Along the way, players are introduced to the lore and systems of the game, until they reach level 10 and unlock their ability to channel one of their tribe's ancient spirit animals. After that, the war with the Northern Alliance begins in earnest.

Combat in Spirit Tales is a snap if you're familiar with other traditional MMOs, if a little watered-down. You drop abilities onto an action bar and activate them from there, and the most-recently used spell is also activated by right-clicking an enemy. As you level up, you put points into a talent tree that gives you new abilities without having to visit a trainer. In fact, most of the game's systems seem designed to make things as easy on the player as possible. Enemies die quickly and in large numbers, loot is automatically placed in your inventory when they fall, and you can even right-click on a quest objective to auto-run to the location. Instead of asking "where do I go to find such-and-such," you can literally put your character on cruise control and walk away from the keyboard.

Spirit Tales also gives players the ability to train pets to accompany them through their travels, and even fight beside them. Some animals in the wild are marked as trainable, and if captured can fight alongside the player or act in a support role during combat. Players can have many pets in their collection, and even merge them to create new and more powerful pets. This apparently includes the ability to claim bosses as pets, but my short playthrough didn't give me the chance to try that particular feature out.

While I tend to focus on the combat and story of most MMOs I play, I eventually wind up spending a lot of time trying to get my character's look just right. Spirit Tales' cash shop might end up bankrupting players with a more rabid eye for fashion, with more than "40 million unique character model combinations" available through their wide variety of costumes. Expect to see lots of bunnies, cowboys, even literal bells and whistles running around with your character or tempting you to spend a few dollars just to get that one outfit you're craving from the store...

In the end, Spirit Tales doesn't take much attention for a seasoned MMO player, but that's part of its charm. Getting in and steamrolling a group of plushy-soft monsters or wide-eyed demons can make for a relaxing break from spending week after week trying to kill the same internet dragon in a "serious" MMO. To be honest, the high-fantasy story and cutesy style also makes this the kind of MMO that's good for kids eager for something to play, but whose parents may not want them to dive into more mature games (or run into the foul-mouthed gamers that play them). Spirit Tales is a good example of the adage that sometimes it's not about what you do, but how good you look doing it.

-Dark Lantern, GameVortex Communications
AKA Russell Jones

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