It’s easy to take the excesses of KRPGs for granted, but Lost Ark has a unique special chaotic energy. And we’re all about it.
Lost Ark is Ludicrous Genius
When New World was released last year, for a few brief moments we all got really excited about this new big-budget contender. It was slick, it looked polished, the graphics were fantastic. And then very soon, it became very stale.
Enter Amazon Games’ next attempt: Lost Ark. A game so different to New World that it’s hard to imagine they share a genre and a publisher. If New World is like a boring, predictable dad with a safe pair of hands, Lost Ark is the wild, spontaneous uncle drunkenly reeling off hard-to-believe stories about crocodile wrestling and Balinese prison cells.
I don’t know about you, but I know who I’d prefer to spend my time with.
These systems amalgamate for a constant sense of stimulation not dissimilar from the intensity of a Seoul amusement arcade.
First things first. Lost Ark is a brilliant game. It’s flawed in many aspects, sure. The combat gets repetitive, time-gated adventures are frustrating, and the dialog is god-awful. But it is nonetheless undeniably brilliant. In our Lost Ark review, we gave the game a rare 9/10 score, praising its slick execution, fast-pace, and stunning 2.5D isometric graphics. Other reviews went further, giving the game the full 10/10 treatment.
But two months since its western launch, you don’t need us to tell you how much fun it is or how well made it is. You might, however, want us to tell you just how insane it is. Korean games, KMMORPGs and KRPGs especially, often come across as a bit quirky and kooky to western audiences. But dismissing Lost Ark’s craziness as just cultural differences doesn’t do its wackiness justice.
Lost Ark casually mixes the genres of classic fantasy (elves and bards and wizards) with hardcore science fiction (gun lances and mech suits and robo-artillery). And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Between the kung fu focused classes and the seduction of bar-wenches with cleavage heaving enough that it knocks the industry back a couple of decades (those same love interests can then move to your private tropical island, but more on that later) Lost Ark throws together just about every genre there is: martial arts, romance, comedy, base-building, smut, you name it…
Lost Ark has players progress through different regions remarkably quickly. One minute you’re in a demonic circus blowing a horn that turns you into a prancing goblinoid jester, the next you’ve drunken a magic potion that gives you the full Honey I Shrunk the Kids treatment whereafter you’ll be riding ladybugs and slaying ant infestations while saving what is essentially Smurf Village.
These charmingly eccentric backdrops are interspersed with wild cutscenes of treacherous priests and villainous councils. Ahh the “Mayhem Legion”, a glorious name for a group that look like rejected Power Rangers archvillains.
Now no one could critique Lost Ark’s ambition. No game needs that many mechanics, dynamics, and currencies. Fact. There are so many mechanics and facets to Lost Ark that it makes due-diligence as a video-games journalist incredibly difficult. There are stats behind stats behind stats. Truly I cannot emphasise enough how many different things there are to do unlock, augment and upgrade. So let me just name you a few:
All of the currencies, collectible playing cards, the myriad token exchange systems, mokoko seeds and other region-based collectibles, the gem system, the engraving system, faceting ability stones, virtue systems (kindness, wisdom, courage, charisma), legacy system, card decks (and their various combinations), gem fusing, sailing, ship upgrades, strongholds (research, lab work, etc), world tree points…
The list truly on so far that for your first month or two of play you discover a new system every day. Each of these systems can be quite complex in and of itself. And it should go without saying that these are on top of all of your many classic MMORPG systems: crafting, trading, gathering, hunting, guilds, pets, mounts, abilities, levelling, gear, etc.
Between the notifications, messages, and many menus constantly buzzing and ticking, these systems amalgamate for a constant sense of stimulation not dissimilar from the intensity of a Seoul amusement arcade.
Though should things get too intense, then of course, play your magic flute and retreat to your aforementioned tropical island stronghold where you are first greeted by pixies that serenade you while enclosing you in a heart. Hang out in one of your many buildings, place a steam-train, plant some hedges, send out your fleet of ships to gather resources if you want…for as far as we can tell that’s essentially the only material benefit in the whole stronghold building feature.
You can’t help but get the feeling that SmileGate decided on the stronghold with a “Sure, why not!?” approach. The same approach that they’ve seemingly taken to everything. It’s hard to know how self-aware the developers were. There is plenty of intentional humour in the game. After eating an early love-interest’s terrible cooking, you pass out to crude sound effects last used on late-night radio in the 90’s. Then again, your character then breakdances back to their feet. Yet at another time, NPCs moan in agony, I believe unironically, for a full 15 seconds.
No matter how self-aware they are or aren’t, one thing about SmileGate is certain: to steal a line from one of Lost Ark’s more dramatic cutscenes, they are “Champions of Chaos”. Because whether it’s battling pumpkin headed ghouls, herding giant chickens, encountering ghost ships, or riding around on my three-headed dog between people on hoverbikes and giant turtles, when I play Lost Ark I have a pretty gosh darn excellent time.
Heck, I didn’t even mind endlessly chasing Armen around for what felt like a decade, although it is probably time that they rename the game Lost Armen. It’s addicting, I’m not sure quite why I like it so much. But I just can’t stop playing. I’m always eager to discover what the next region or bizarre enemy is. I can’t wait to explore the next Chaos Dungeon for pure ARPG mayhem.
I think most people who spend a lot of their time gaming believe, rightly or wrongly, that they have the vision for a great game inside of them. I know I do. And for me, Lost Ark’s charm is that it looks nothing at all like that game. Lost Ark is ludicrous genius.