Our culture has a significant impact on our taste and preferences, evident in what kind of media we choose to consume. Hollywood, for example, has been churning out Superhero movies by the number since 2008 more than any other movie industry.
Now that’s not to say that people not from America have a tough time enjoying these blockbusters. Still, it does display how culturally America gives its pop-culture and icons certain respect and reverence.
Some of the best Korean MMORPGs aren’t popular outside of Korea, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are bad games. Culturally Korean gamers have always been super competitive and don’t shy away from the grind; their games focus more on faction and PvP mechanics.
So without further ado, let’s look at some of the best Korean MMORPGs.
1. Black Desert Online
Black Desert Online (BDO) is a popular MMORPG developed by Pearl Abyss and released in 2015. The game plays in a third-person perspective allowing players to traverse the immersive world of BDO.
The game offers many activities, including small stuff like fishing, farming, trading etc. and larger-scale events like PvP siege or castle battles.
BDO also uses a dynamic weather system that can affect the gameplay for all players by, say, introducing a storm. The game also features a night-day cycle; at night, NPCs leave their stores and offices to go homes, enemies also drop more loot at night, making it a grind friendly mechanic.
It’s very confusing to me how a game this polished has more popularity outside of Korea, but I guess that’s all about the cultural difference.
2. Lost Ark
Lost Ark is an MMORPG developed by Slimegate RPG, it’s yet to be released, but the beta is available across various regions. The game boasts ARPG-style combat with an isometric top-down view and features a vibrant and beautiful world with heavy fantasy themes.
Lost Ark has responsive action paired with allowing players to find their favorite form of combat and a unique three-part skill tree that allows players to invest points and customize their abilities freely.
It’s not all combat either, with the game featuring plenty of activities like crafting and joining guilds, among other social activities. Lost Ark is set to be the next big MMORPG to come from Korea.
MapleStory is another popular MMORPG developed by Wizet and released in 2003, with the sequel releasing in 2015 with upgraded visuals and quality of life changes.
The game is extremely popular, and the sequel improved a lot, even including a 3D world with blocky Minecraft like aesthetics.
Of course, like other Korean MMORPGs, the game has plenty of mini-games, including a battle royale mode. The game is so famous that in 2007 MapleStory’s first anime made its appearance.
4. Aion: The Tower of Eternity
Aion is another popular MMORPG developed by NCsoft and released in 2008. It plays in the third-person perspective and offers its story in episodic bits released in updates.
This game has a PvP mechanic like other Korean MMORPGs, but Aion takes it to the next level by rewarding the highest-ranked players with Abyss points, a currency used to buy the highest tier equipment in the game.
The game also emphasizes movement allowing players to fly around the world to reach certain places otherwise inaccessible.
Overall, Aion is a game that rewards exploration and combat prowess over anything else and is a symbol of the Korean gaming culture.
Lineage is an MMORPG franchise that perhaps popularized the genre in Korea, the first game released in 1998, and the sequel followed in 2003.
The first title played in an isometric perspective and seemed to be inspired by Diablo; however, the second game features a more modern 3D world.
Like other Korean MMORPGs, the game allows PvP for players to gain additional XP and level up. The game otherwise plays like a traditional MMORPG, but what can you expect from a game that’s now two decades old?
The game has a mobile spin-off as well, released in 2016.
The spiritual successor to the famous Grand Chase, Elsword, is a 2.5D MMORPG developed by KOG Studios and released in 2007. The game uses standard mouse and keyboard controls and plays like a retro beat ’em up with flashy visuals and a strong core gameplay loop.
The game is a perfect mix of side-scrolling and beat ’em ups; there’s even a massive list of upgrades to choose from and a special sparring area for PvPs that support up to 4v4 battles.
Elsword is a great game to pick up, especially if you want a more action-oriented focus and don’t mind the grind that comes with Elsword (or any Korean MMORPG, for that matter).
Mabinogi is one of those titles that refuse to play like a traditional MMORPG; instead, it encourages more free-form gameplay.
Instead of players choosing a class and specializing in specific skills, Mabinogi allows players to specialize in any skill available using stats such as the character’s age and their physical constitution, among other things.
This makes the gameplay very unique and more in line with real life. The game also explores social activities like huddling around a bonfire with other players or playing music with them etc. But if all that is a little too friendly for you, the game does feature PvP mechanics.
The game was developed by devCAT and released in 2004.
ArcheAge is a mix of sandbox gameplay with a structured format. It’s an MMORPG developed by XL Games and released in 2013.
Depending on player preference, the game plays in either first or third-person and allows players to do almost anything they wish, from naval battles to crafting and building your own home; it’s all doable in Archeage.
The crafting feature is so extensive that players can craft equipment, vehicles, and even furniture for their homes.
Of course, a game that offers so many options to the players also involves a lot of grind, but that’s to be expected from a game of this caliber.
Dekaron is another MMORPG that emphasises PvP over traditional MMORPG elements; it’s developed by Nexon and released in 2007. The game majorly plays in third-person built on a 3D engine called “Charon” and offers a realistic combat experience with physics playing a significant part.
For example, the game considers the weight of the character and the strength of the blow they were hit with to calculate the knockback effect.
It sounds cool in theory, but your mileage may vary, considering everything else is very standard for MMORPG.
Vindictus is another title developed by devCAT released in 2012; the game claims to be unlike any other MMORPG around as players take control of a mercenary and engage in Devil May Cry-esque hack and slash combat.
However, the game does look miles better than any other MMORPG when it comes to visuals and combat responsiveness.
The game offers sixteen different playable characters, each with their own set of skills and abilities, and boss fights reminiscent of soul games with bosses taller than skyscrapers. Still, as they say, the bigger they are, the harder they fall.
TalesRunner is more of a racing game that uses the MMORPG format to introduce more gameplay mechanics. I am unsure how gamers feel about racing games with farming mechanics, but it’s entirely possible if that’s your thing.
The game offers long tracks with up to 30 players competing against each other and other social activities such as farming, among various different mini-games.
It’s one of those rare examples of Korean non-competitive online games, and if you want a more relaxed environment to play in, TalesRunner is for you.
TERA is an MMORPG developed by Bluehole Inc. and released in 2017. The game features ARPG like gameplay and plays in the third perspective.
Like other MMOs, the game plays more or less grindy but features visually stunning graphics and a spectacular combat system.
The game offers newer players plenty of hand-holding, even giving them free mounts for easy traversal and XP boosts, so the grind is a little more palatable.
I can easily recommend this game to people who want a more action-focused experience without the tedious grinding aspects. (though that still exist, they are made easier by the constant gifts of XP boosters).
Koreans love their MMORPG, so much so that I’ve only heard of Korean developers working on MMORPGs. Although, like I said culturally, perhaps they gravitate more towards challenging games that allow them to face off against real players in a competitive setting.
In any case, I, for one, am glad for the Korean MMORPG scenes. They are responsible for some of the best MMORPG experiences and developing even more exciting ideas like Lost Ark. Can’t wait for that one’s full release.