Recently we had a deluge of free-to-play anime MMORPGs based on the most popular series – well, perhaps excepting Dragon Ball Z, since Bandai Namco owns the franchise. If you’re a videogames player and love your anime, then you’ve probably heard about MMO games such as Ultimate Naruto, Naruto Saga, Anime Pirates or the latest Bleach Online. Strong names, for sure, which deserve strong games, but is that what happened?
Short answer: no. While the aforementioned games still managed to charm a lot of players, due to the strength of the franchise name, the quality wasn’t exactly top notch. The games use some undeniably good artwork but the template is pretty much the same seen in countless other F2P browser-based MMORPGs: you have a side-scrolling view (Ultimate Naruto and Anime Pirates) or isometric world (Naruto Saga and Bleach Online) divided in several zones and your best friend is the auto-pathing option. The tutorial stretches for a long time and you level up almost as quickly as you blink. Customization is also very slight and you’re bound to see numerous clones onscreen at the same time.
So this means that these anime games are similar to many others, with the main difference being the artwork and the story, something that seems to be more than enough to attract thousands of players. One other parallel between said games (anime-based and others) is the focus on a very basic combat system, one where you’re pretty much a spectator, watching the battle unfold without any real influence on the outcome. Having a game based on Naruto or Bleach and not being able to actually fight is like playing FIFA without controlling the players. Usually, the only thing you’re able to do is select the formation of the characters and watch them go at it, something that is a waste of potential. It’s like there’s this browser-based MMORPG template that is used for the games and the only thing that changes is the artwork and story.
These games could have been so much better if they had a true combat system. We’re not even asking for a revolution, or a Chronoblade quality fighting engine; for a change, we would be pleased with a Blade Hunter or Crusaders of Solaria gameplay style. It shouldn’t be too hard to do – those are browser-based games too – and would make many players look at free anime games in a different light. Fans would enjoy them even more and players who love good artwork and decent combat would also want to try it. That would be the first step to change the way those games are fundamentally seen by the gaming community.
We had some high hopes for the upcoming Naruto Online, an official and so far a China-exclusive browser based MMORPG, judging by the several studios involved: Tencent, Bandai Namco, Cyberconnect2 and More Fun Studio. Quite some talent there, don’t you think? However, the footage revealed confirms that Naruto Online is going the same way as Naruto Saga, meaning that it’s going to be an isometric MMORPG with auto-combat, which is quite underwhelming. Maybe it will be better than the other Naruto games, but we were hoping for a bigger budget for this game, giving it a high quality look that could even attract players that aren’t big fans of the series.
There’s also a trend with these anime games that makes it look like most of them aren’t fully licensed or are only able to use the name for a very short time (really?). While we’re only speculating, this could be the reason why you’ll find the same game under several different names. For instance, Naruto Saga is now Ninja Scuffle, while Ultimate Naruto is now known as Unlimited Ninja and can also be found under the name I Am Ninja – why drop the strong Naruto name?
We still didn’t get a high quality Naruto, Bleach or One Piece free MMORPG, but the names themselves are enough to fans excited. Those who are more critical will judge the games based on the gameplay and not on the above average artwork and will hope for a true game, a labor of love that will go for a different template and offer an in-depth experience for everyone.
There are other anime shows that are making quite a splash, such as Attack on Titan and especially Sword Art Online (the number of players asking for an MMORPG based on this show is beyond ridiculous), so there’s plenty of room to create the ultimate anime MMORPG. For now, we’re left with some games that are, at best, capable of quenching the thirst of fans, but not much more than that.
What is your opinion on this matter? Also, what would your dream anime MMORPG play like and what franchise would it be based upon? Let us know in the comments!