A wedding’s worth 1,000 kisses.
Relationships rarely play out the way they do in video games. In real life, the fun-loving and earnest Rinoas of the world don’t spend 30 hours cracking past the withdrawn, tough-guy emotional barriers that the Squalls put up so that they can live happily ever after. No, those Rinoas are more likely to scoff, call him an asshole, turn around, and find someone else who’ll actually pay attention to them.
The sleeper hit Catherine broke the mold earlier this year, getting more into the complexities of relationships and the ugly problems that often arise within, but even that tumultuous affair could hardly be considered realistic.
The truth is, real relationships require a lot of work, and more often than not they can be rather uneventful. There are occasional romantic moments as well as drama, but there’s also a whole lot of neither in between. To put it in gamer terms, relationships require more grinding than anything else.
From that perspective, Lucent Heart may be the most accurate portrayal of relationships I’ve seen in a video game, and considering the state of the modern MMO, I’m surprised I haven’t seen it sooner. This is a game that knows its niche and doesn’t make an attempt to disguise it. MMORPGs in today’s saturated market, especially the free-to-play ones like LH, live and breathe on anything they can grasp to define their own uniqueness.
The standard MMO staples are there: levels, classes, quests, looting, dungeons, and grinding (lots of it). If those staples were all there was to Lucent Heart, then it wouldn’t be worth a look, because they’re ordinary at best and none of them are implemented in a way that makes them better than other free-to-play games. But wait (as the infomercials like to say), there’s more!
If I had to define Lucent Heart in two words, they’d be dating and dancing. Despite a smaller player base than some other MMOs, this one still feels vibrant and social. That’s due partially to the astonishing fact that I haven’t encountered a single troll or douchebag within the game’s community, but more to the design goal of fostering lasting relationships with the “soul mate” system.
In the main city of Thereall, you can find a cupid NPC that will match you up with people who meet your specified parameters, like personality type, level, and gender. Those matches become soul mates (and yes, you can have more than one). Soul mates can quest together for added perks like extra experience, and also gain access to special “lovers” emotes.
And that’s where it starts to get heavy. At the start of a relationship you only have access to a few minor emotes, like hand-holding and simple kisses. Each of those emotes you perform gives the couple 10 match points, and after you’ve earned a lot of points you eventually unlock more serious lovers emotes like, say, a French kiss.
See where the grinding comes in? The ultimate end goal of a relationship is marriage, which requires a hefty amount of gold and 10,000 match points. If you want to quantify how much affection it takes to score that guy or gal of your dreams, there you go—it takes exactly 1,000 kisses. (Note: Do not use Lucent Heart or this review as a guide for actually getting married. “We’ve kissed 1,000 times, will you marry me?” probably won’t go over so well.)
Then there’s the dancing. If you log in at any time of day and head towards the center of Thereall, you’re bound to find some people getting down. The game has a handful of built-in songs and accompanying dance routines for people to use. The “imitate” option lets you copy the dance that someone else is doing and perform it in tandem, which leads to large circles of characters dancing together at the more populated hours.
Despite how silly that sounds, it’s actually damn fun to watch and participate in. I honestly think more players spend time dancing in town than actually questing. You can also challenge other people to a dance-off with “Dance PK”, which initiates a rhythm mini-game between two-people using the arrow keys to match the steps that appear, sort of like DDR.
But the most fun thing to do by far is create your own dances. A recent patch added the ability for you to design an entire dance routine for songs that you have in mp3 format on your computer. It’s surprisingly robust, giving you over 100 dance steps to choose from. The only downside is you have to spend 2 bucks in the online store for a Dance Memory Card to save your routine, but I think that’s the best value in the store.
Check it out in action: I submit to you my very own dance routine that I made for a very special song, just for you guys. It took me about a half-hour to put the whole thing together:
And if you send the mp3 over to your friends, they can hear the same song play as they imitate your dance. This of course let me lead my own backup dancers to the Power Rangers theme. Awesome.
And that’s Lucent Heart for you. It’s an MMO that values dating and dancing over the same old MMO formula. If you’re in the target audience, which is bigger that it might seem at first glance, it’s a nice way to get your groove on for free. If you want to make your own groove, that costs extra.