So this took a little longer than originally planned. That in a way could be a good thing because it has given me a longer view of my two preferred MMOs the FtP Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine Online and Aion. Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine Online for those that do not know is based off the Shin Megami Tensei (or MegaTen) series of games which while they have the same theme most of games are not directly related to each other. The main theme tends to be that of an individual with the ability to summon "demon" companions to fight for or with them. The "demons" found in each game are another thing that tends to be a constant throughout the series. While a there are few different demons that are added or taken away for the most part they are the same ones in each game. Also while labeled demons they are actually taken from various religious and mythological source. You might have representation of anything from an Angel from Christianity or Parvati a Hindu Goddess or an Inugami a Japanese dog spirit. While the settings actually differ from Japan in the 1920s to the more common a post apocalyptic Japan.
In Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine Online (MegaTen Online, MO) you create an avatar that will travel through a post apocalyptic Japan as a "Demon Buster". And you can Insert story here. Like every good MMO there is a story there at the lower levels I've been playing it shows shadows of depth, but whether the story will ever actually reach any remains to be seen. While the quest have some interesting dialog and new takes on old quest it is still pretty much a standard fare for MMOs. I've have yet to run into the totally meaningless FedEx quests that are a huge staple of most MMOs now days. Whether that is just blind luck or they are actually not there remains to be seen.
The combat is based on a general skill system or Expertise as MO calls them. While you can use any Expertise you have access to you will select which ones will actually increase through use. As these "level up" you will gain access to thing such as new abilities, stat bonuses, etc. While you can spread out you only have a limited number of points you can gain throughout your whole career so it is suggested that you specialize to some extent. While your skills have a level your character has its own independent level and at each of those levels you gain attribute point that you can distribute between various stats that can directly effect your skills. While you will not necessarily harm your character through any type of wrong choice depending on what skills you use there may be choices that are better than others.
The additional twist to combat and the hall mark of MegaTen is demon summoning. In MO you must first get the demon with the use of one of three skills. The skill you use isn't about what your characters personal choice might be in dealing with demons, but how a demon is required to be dealt with. Your character is a no better or worse person if you choose to "Greeting", "Bribe", or "Threaten" one to work for you. Once you have one you can then summon them to fight with you. Only demons equal to or lower than your level can be gained in this way. Some demons may be acquired through quests and these maybe higher level than you. If they are you may not summon them until you reach their level. Your character can carry up to 6 demons with them and swap them at will with only a small cool down between. The demons have their own skills and generally add more as they level up. Their levels are separate from your own and they do not level up unless they are active. You can tell them which skill to use or take direct control of the demon and use them yourself. This is a nice twist to a pet system which can be quite fun and helpful. One other twist that is the ability to ride some of your demons. This requires the correct ring for the right mountable demon. I haven't really had the chance to try this out, but seems a nice touch to a mount system and allows them to double duty since when not riding these are in most instances the same demons you have been fighting with till now. Understandably not all demons are mountable by their vary nature this would have become quickly ridiculous if not kept in check.
One other staple of the MegaTen games (MO included) I failed to mention is the ability to fuse two or more demons together. This results in a new demon. Notice I don't say a better demon. While the demon does gain from such a fusion since some skills and traits may carry over there is no guarantee that the new demon will be better. However this is sometimes the only way you can get some demons. A tri-fusion can only be attempted with the help of someone else and it results may vary as well. This can be fun in its own right as you try to acquire that demon or demons that compliments your play style.
The some what down side to this game is the micro transactions. Like most Free to Play games the game subsists on micro transactions. While I've not played a lot of FtP games compared to most I've played they are quite a bite more expensive in MO. They have done well in avoiding anything being necessary some of the things you might like such as unique weapons/armor could run as high as $30 US. Luckily something more useful such as a demon bank slot which is needed to store more than 6 demons is cheaper. The flip side is that it only last 30 days while weapons/armor are permanent. Your first item bank slot is free, but any additional slots cost on a monthly basis. With up to 3 months being purchasable in advance for either bank slot. Again though none of these things are require to play the game to it's fullest (I'm looking at you DDOline).
Now you know the basics(and this really does only scratch the surface) you might be unsure as to why I like this game better than Champions Online right now. The game has been out longer (much longer if you count its release in Asia) so most of the bugs have been worked out of it and major game play changes are generally unheard of at this point. While you don't have the ability to pick and choose individual powers the skill system adds a lot of variety and it is nice to be able to increase those skills through use. For me it makes the system feel more realistic (such as you can feel in a game). The game is quite solo friendly up till this point and from what I have heard continues to be throughout the whole game. While the customization isn't as varied as CO and most of the more impressive armors are pay only, the armor values themselves vary little so you can still pick an choose to create a "look" if some what limited. It adds enough to give you a full and fun experience with the price tag of free so that is hard to beat.
Well with this running a little long it looks like next time it will be Aion.