Alicia Online — Good Racing and Not Much Else
Alicia Online is an originally Korean MMO horse racing game. After some initial confusion as to how this game could possibly have regular players, I actually ended up finding a lot of things to like about it.
In casual games, it is said that you have about five to fifteen seconds to convince a user to keep playing. Within that time, everything needs to be as easily understandable and satisfying to play as possible. Ease of access and handholding tutorials are a staple of successful casual games on web and mobile platforms.
One might think that a similar rule of thumb would be employed for a game about anime-looking girls riding races on fantasy horses. One would be wrong.
Alicia Online requires you to download the game and a launcher separately, has an installer that shows seemingly random characters with the instructions telling you “Dont pay attention to the incorrect symbols, it's ok ” (likely an issue with translating from the original Korean), and the character creator is basically an HTML form.
Inside the actual game, the accessibility grows marginally better, but the whole game suffers from a lack of translation in some elements of UI and tutorial.
Many of these issues can probably be blamed on the game’s unusual existence as a fan remake: The original Alicia was only available in Korean and has gone offline years ago. This new version is made by a different team and is completely unmonetized, staying alive as a pure passion project. The premium currency is still part of the game’s UI and mechanics, however, and can be won through daily quests and with a bit of luck, by racing.
Once you’re past these initial hurdles of accessibility, you arrive on your ranch on horseback. You can move around the houses and field to learn the basic controls or you can talk to a small handful of NPCs whose text boxes seem to be limited to one or two lines each. Either you cannot dismount from your horse at all, or the option is so well hidden that I have not figured it out yet. Neither would particularly surprise me, because this game makes a lot of strange choices.
Instead of letting you actually go to the shop or the racetrack or your horse’s stall on the Ranch, the game offers “Horse Care”, “Racing” and “Shop” menus from a UI bar at the bottom.
In the horse care screen, the player can use consumable items like brushes, foods and toys to interact with their horse. If you want to keep caring for your horse, you also need to go participate in races so you can afford more food and care items.
The animations for feeding and playing with your horse are actually quite endearing, and none of the tasks take long enough to grow tedious – which is a problem that a lot of horse grooming mechanics in games have.
The online racing against other player is the focal point of the game, and in many ways also the aspect that works best. Unlike some stable simulation games, Alicia even doesn’t try to be realistic about how its horse racing works: your horse can double jump and glide on ghostly pegasus wings afterwards, and there’s a drifting (“sliding”) mechanic that gets you around tight curves with a dash at the end, if you time it right.
You power up your boost energy by jumping over obstacles or by collecting horseshoes and then use that boost cleverly to get ahead. A second racing mode is called “magic” and is about using and evading magical power-ups.
Like everything else in the game, the races are badly tutorialized, but once I got the hang of them, I actually started to appreciate the challenge they offer.
The maps are varied, pretty and well-made, with shortcuts and collectibles giving the player some motivation to grow familiar with the tracks in training mode before tackling PvP competitions. The control scheme is a bit unintuitive, but tight and precise once you actually read the tutorial and get how it all works. What I like most about it is how fast it feels. Many horse games I’ve tried recently have controls that feel much slower and clunkier than riding an actual horse in real life. Alicia may not be realistically accurate either, but it feels a lot better to play than many of its competitors in the genre.
Winning races gets you experience and carrots, which you can use to buy more care items, fancy saddles or even new horses. The rate at which you gain experience is slow, and the activities you can do outside of the racing itself are few, so you really have to enjoy and want to spend time with the racing for this game to be enjoyable.
Because I was curious about who even plays this game and why, I reached out to a handful of Alicia Regulars for them to tell me what it is that they enjoy about the game, and got enthusiastic replies from everyone I contacted.
Melfaron, a player who says she spends 1-3 hours with Alicia every day, tells me she likes how fast-paced the game is, and that players can develop their own racing style, going for strength or agility in the levelling of their horse. Another daily active player, french lifestyle blogger Cécile Challet, tells me she loves the beautiful horses and the competition of racing. Someone else says the main thing they’d want to be added to the game is Pegasus Armor.
Melfaron, who uploads Alicia tutorials on her YouTube channel, says that the one thing she dislikes about the game is its sometimes toxic player base. When I was playing it, I did not interact with any players directly, but I did at some point notice a discussion in the public chat window about whether or not homosexuality was wrong, so I think I have an idea where the notion is coming from.
In all of the replies I got, there was a sense of vigorous enthusiasm, as well as deep appreciation for the volunteer developers that keep the MMO alive.
I can hardly say that I’ve seen all that Alicia has to offer, but I also don’t really feel like I want to spend more time grinding to unlock the Breeding and Ranch Management features.
It’s worth mentioning that I’m a single player through and through and that I’ve never found any online game that actually held my attention for any prolonged period of time, so my lack of interest might be caused by a mismatch in genre and preference just as much as by the flaws of the game itself.
I can definitely see how the racing itself is fun enough to hold the attention of someone with more of a competitive streak than myself. If you are someone like that, I definitely recommend giving the completely free game a try.