The first week of 2019 has closed, and as things begin to kick off in the new year, we decided to take a look back on what was a monumental year for the Korean game industry, and decide on our top 3 Korean games of 2018.
It goes without saying that Lost Ark would make this list; it’s a game that’s been highly anticipated since its first announcement back in 2014 (perhaps too early of a heads up in retrospect, Smilegate) that after years of silence, delays and even cancellation rumors, finally made its debut in November 2018.
And what a debut it made — the rush to finally play Lost Ark was so mammoth that it crashed Smilegate’s gaming platform, Stove. With concurrent first day users exceeding a quarter of a million, the developers were quickly forced to add additional servers and increase existing capacity to eliminate the queues.
So was the hype worth it? It seems so. Lost Ark’s fast-paced, action-centric gameplay brings a fresh take to the genre, while still retaining all of the staples that Korean MMOs do so well. And while it’s early days still for the game, it’s looking promising so far; domestic performance has been steadily growing, while international fans look on enviously from the sidelines, forced to navigate the Korean account black market that has sprung up should they wish to play.
But Western fans were finally given a glimmer of hope when Smilegate CEO Kwon Hyeongbin confirmed recently that due to the strict Chinese gaming quota making it harder for foreign developers to take on the Chinese market, they would be shifting their focus to bringing the game to the West next year. Thanks, Chinese gaming regulations, we owe you one.
Korea is known for its MMORPGs and plenty of the mobile games released this year fall into that very category; that’s why Netmarble’s Phantomgate (released in September) has been such a pleasant surprise.
What makes Phantomgate really stand out from the pack is its design and aesthetic. It stands somewhere between a stained-glass window and cel-shading, with a similar vibe to Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The design for its main character, Astrid, is wonderful; she has a fragility and almost story-book like quality to her that is a rare right to see in a wave of over-sexualized female protagonists from other Korean titles. For design alone, it was a must-pick for 2018.
As for gameplay, Phantomgate is a mobile RPG with enough depth and mechanics that it could very easily work on console or PC. It’s a platformer and monster-tamer in one, with classic turn-based battles.
Phantomgate is a charming game with an engaging story, immersive world and fun gameplay. While it doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the table, what it does bring it does so with a layer of polish and flair of style that truly made it stand out against some real titans this year. Phantomgate was the little game that could in 2018.
Blade and Soul
Blade and Soul is by no means a newcomer, but it was still a hallmark year for NC Soft’s flagship MMO, despite first being released in 2012.
Call us biased, but NC has done a great job keeping the game fresh in 2018, for both domestic and international servers. Blade and Soul has always been known for having a very strong, emotional main narrative for a free-to-play MMO — its initial story run is a very tough act to follow, but this year’s epic quest continuations with Act 9 expanded the universe, took us to new, beautifully-designed locations and tugged at our heartstrings once again with a new cast of characters.
As for gameplay, 2018 also saw the addition of the Warden, a new class that injected a lot of life into the game, with players returning to try a unique new gameplay style. An awakening system was also announced, ready to shake up the class system as we know it.
2018 was also a huge year for the IP, with Blade & Soul: Revolution debuting to huge numbers in December, and NC announcing three sequels and spin-offs — Blade and Soul II, Blade and Soul M and Blade and Soul S — to come in 2019.
So what do you think? The Korean industry certainly exceeded everyone’s expectations this year, but a lot of people were still looking for more by the way of global expansions and ventures. Perhaps 2019 will be the year that the Korean industry solidifies itself as a real player in the global gaming market alongside other international industries, like Japan. Only time will tell, but if Korean developers keep up the pace they set in 2018, then the sky’s the limit.