I'm not sure how I ended up in this position, hammering the D key on my computer in a desperate attempt to keep my ship's starboard cannons turned towards a giant crab attacking me from the rear. I can’t help wondering: if I had shelled out more money for a better crew, would I have even found myself in this predicament? When I started Florensia, this certainly wasn't what I was expecting.
There's hardly a shortage of anime-style RPGs out there, nor is there a shortage of anime-style free-to-play MMORPGs. So something has to be pretty special to break through the crowd.
Set in fantasy world in which magic destroyed most land masses, leaving only three islands in a vast worldwide ocean, Florensia describes itself as a "free-to-play next-gen MMO" and offers a mix both character- and ship-based questing and combat. It's currently in open beta testing.
This game has a lot to it, too: ship building, naval combat, crew hiring and training, land quests, trading, the list goes on. With these come a copious amount of tutorials that, in the initial stages, can seem very overwhelming as each action results in a number of dense text boxes popping up with instructions.
Character creation and customisation allow you to choose from a range of spiky haircuts and wide-eyed androgynous faces, as well as eye and hair colours. However, the customisation available isn't yet wide enough to fully individualise yourself and, especially in the early stages, you'll encounter dozens of identical characters out questing.
A strong determining factor in your character's appearance will be the armour and items it equips - the availability of these items, not to mention skills and quests, is greatly restricted by your choice of class. Upon starting the game, there are four different classes: Explorer, Mercenary, Noble and Saint, which expands to include eight 'second classes' once you reach level 41.
The explorer is a ranged gun user, Mercenaries are the warrior class, Nobles are the magic-using class, while Saints act as healers. Once at level 40, each class allows access to one of two 'second classes' upon completion of a quest chain. Each of these classes has its own skill tree and, somewhat irritatingly, the skills must be purchased and learned from in-game vendors before they can be levelled up.
Each class starts with a different distribution of the same basic seven stats: Strength for physical attacks, Dexterity for hit rates and dodging, Constitution for hit points, Intelligence for magic attacks, Wisdom for mana, Will for critical strikes rate, and Luck for effects damage. With each progressive level players earn three points to distribute amongst the stats.
The game also divides your character's levelling into two parts, a land level and sea level. What this means is that any quest you complete and any experience you earn on land only benefits your land level, and vice versa for your sea level.
While the land levels are fairly standard point-and-click MMO fare, the sea levels promise something a bit more. Players have to construct their own ships from a variety of parts, install cannons, load the ship with ammunition, hire a crew and learn the challenging ship controls. Florensia's ship controls consist of balancing the use of wind to accelerate and keeping it within the limits of control.
Ship-based combat is also a simple but challenging affair and, unlike the turn-based, auto-targeted battles of the land combat, it is in real time and requires constant repositioning as well as manual aiming - forcing the player to try and predict where their target will move to, and keep them within an attack radius to the front or sides of the ship. When constructing a ship, players have to make a choice between warship types, including: Armoured, Torpedo, Assault, Big Gun and Maintenance. These ships all require a varying number and quality of crew members, which cost disparate amounts of in-game money depending on their skill level.
Despite the differences between the land and sea components of this game, the quests for both parts are often very similar. Florensia seems to stray very little from the standard fetch quests, and you're often told to kill Xs and bring back five of their Ys as proof. This, coupled with the requirement to grind through certain levels, risks becoming monotonous.
Florensia appears to have taken much from World of Warcraft, and features a familiar-looking user interface - and at times even has a similar artistic style. The similarities are especially striking with the symbol for an available quest, a rolled up gold or silver scroll, strongly resembling WOW's exclamation point.
Florensia is very cartoon-like and makes use of bright primary colours, which no doubt allows the game to look good even whilst working on low-end PCs. And it does look good, with a level of polish that is usually absent in free-to-play titles. There is the occasion where you'll hit an invisible wall when you approach an area that is merely an aesthetic backdrop rather than a playable part of the level design - but this is forgiveable.
This is a free-to-play game which doesn’t, of course, mean that it's actually free - there is content that you will be charged for in the form of micro-transactions. Items are purchased with 'Action Points', for which EUR 6 will purchase 5000 AP, EUR 12 will purchase 10,000 AP, EUR 24 will buy 20,000 AP and EUR 60 will buy 50,000 AP. The items available to buy range from purely aesthetic items, like rabbit ears for your character, to skill boosts.
Florensia currently seems to straddle the thin line between offering enough items to entice people to spend real money, and holding back to avoid spoiling the game's balance. However, it remains to be seen if they can continue to straddle this line, as more and more items are added to the online store.
Florensia is a charming game, the art style is cute, and town and environment designs are suitably whimsical. The ship-based gameplay is also quite entertaining, and it's fun to be actively engaged in what feels like skill-based combat - something noticeably absent from many MMOs. But the game lets itself down with unimaginative quest designs, and the necessity to grind.
Florensia also suffers from being needlessly complicated at times, assaulting you with text walls and explanations, never drip feeding you information, but always ramming it down your throat. At its core, Florensia is an enjoyable MMO - it just needs to iron out the barriers it puts in place that stops it being instantly compelling and rewarding.