Fantasy University Preview

Fantasy University is an upcoming Facebook game from Simutronics Corp. (If you’re asking yourself why that name sounds familiar, it may be because you’re old enough to have played DragonRealms on AOL.) I’ve been playing the current alpha build —  not everything is implemented, but it’s a stable, smooth alpha, and shows how much potential this game has. Fantasy University’s closed beta is planned for June and open enrollment in July.

Players begin by choosing a character class, either Dodgebrawler, Emomancer, Slackninja, Cheermonger or Mathemagician. Player classes are based on everyone’s favorite RPG stereotypes, crossed with everyone’s favorite college stereotypes. Next, players select hair and face options from an equally-recognizable list of options, and enroll in classes at FU.I picked a Slackninja (What can I say? I shrug at the idea of combat.), prettied up my hair, and set off to explore campus.

Players stats are Beefiosity, Zip, Loathing (like Willpower, only you despise instead of overcoming), Smarts, Charms (looking adorable always helps in difficult situations) and Durability. As you run round fighting hilariously-named bad guys and carefully choosing your side in the Juice Wars, you’ll increase your stats, and earn the local currency, Fubars.

The game is geared for adults, specifically adults who grew up playing Roger Wilco and Leisure Suit Larry. Every bit of flavortext  is worth reading — the place names, NPC names, the captions, the item descriptions — for pop cultures references, riffs on the classic hack-and-slack RPG, and the kind of snark that made text-based MUDs great.

Players will be able interact with Facebook friends on FU by buffing their BFFs and forming guilds, but the constant harassment to share every event won’t be included. (There’s nothing more annoying that a game that asks me every five seconds if I want to share this with my Facebook friends, especially with a giant Spam all my friends! button in the middle, and a tiny Piss Off button over in the corner.) There’s also no need to log on at a certain time to play, and you can play for as long or as little as you’d like, which seems like the ideal browser game.

(He vants to suhk your juice.)

Fantasy University also offers an in-game crafting system. A good crafting system can be my favorite part of an MMO.  FU crafting is done by following a recipe (if you’re into rules, and following rules) or by putting things together randomly and seeing what happens. (Oh, come on, like that’s not exactly how we played Monkey Island games!) A lot of the recipes aren’t implemented yet, so randomly trying to make stuff is about as rewarding as recipe invention in Lost in Blue 2. I did discover that a string of yarn plus a bit of yarn makes one sock, and, man, was I excited about that sock! But, sadly for me, an untied lawlerskate and another untied lawlerskate didn’t make a pair. The crafting system is easy to use, just pick two or more items and see if they turn into anything new and cool. Random drops used for crafting include elements like Easytogetium, and all the item descriptions are worth reading. (Unless you’re trying to play subtly while at work).

FU quest text is always well worth reading, another hallmark of text-based MUD developers, although long stories are summed up in bold for those who want to rush out and slay villains without all that tedious storytelling and motivations. Multiple storyline options, like choose-your-own adventure book, make FU feel more open-ended and individualized  than the usual kill-ten-rats-and-bring-me-their-tails of the usual MMO. Players can pick up quests all over campus, and beyond. Although you can stumble into a tough fight as you explore random areas, truly frustrating areas are blocked to lowbies.

The finished version of FU will be free to play, and offer a cash shop for upgrades and special items… This can be a great model, but I hope they’ll be nonintrusive. I never mind buying a game or paying a monthly subscription, but I feel scammed when huge portions of a supposedly free-to-play game are available only for meteor credits, pearls, platinum points or whatever cutesy term means real cash.

Fantasy University doesn’t try to impress with flashy graphics, choosing simple black-and-white sketches filled with sarcasm and snark. The puns, bizarre storyline, wacky names for everything, crazy characters, and general FU insanity carry the game perfectly, bringing everything I liked about zany text-based adventures without that turn-key-in-lock syntax frustration.

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