Popular Korean Games: A Discussion

As a PC gamer, there’s no better feeling than walking into and using a PC Room for the first time. There are countless rooms spread across the entirety of Korea, and multiple businesses can be successful in the same block. These are practical paradises for LAN parties and just playing with friends. In that way, it’s made a huge market for PC games in Korea to the point where they mostly ignore consoles altogether. The games of Korea are made to be played with friends, and most of them are some form of an MMO. However, Koreans certainly have unique preferences when it comes to games.

About me: I’ve lived in Korea for over 3 years, I’ve frequented the PC rooms ever since someone taught me how to sign in, and I’ve been playing most every game in the full Korean language. Though I’m proficient in Korean, gaming Korean and real-world Korean are two VERY different things. Take my reports on these games with a grain of salt, as I very well may be off base about some things. For games, I appreciate all types that aren’t sports. Though I play Starcraft 2, it’s merely for the single player. These days, I’m more into action RPGs and Overwatch, though I still set aside some time to play a round of League of Legends.

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The Basics

There are some staple games in Korea that I don’t really care to discuss in too much detail. These are the ones that get the news stories and stereotypes. As of this writing, the big three are Starcraft: Brood War, League of Legends, and Overwatch. Obviously, none of these games actually come from Korea, but all of them are immensely popular. To be honest, I don’t quite understand why Overwatch got as big as it did. Yes, I think it’s an awesome game and really fun to play, but it doesn’t seem like a western game that would get so huge in Korea. I have a feeling that it will fall off as time goes on. Otherwise, these games are front-runners in the PC rooms, generally on most every monitor with a few exceptions scattered about. The big difference here is that these games are readily available to western audiences in the same form. I could talk all day about them, but that isn’t anything new. Instead, let’s move on to some more Korea-specific games.

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Sudden Attack

Let’s not pretend here: Sudden Attack borrowed its basic premise from Counter Strike Source. Each round, you get one life, and your goal is to go plant a bomb at one of two bomb sites. The difference lies in customization. Korean gamers LOVE customization. Everyone needs a personal costume, and their guns need tags with skins. You don’t actually see many soldiers running around in Sudden Attack; you’ll more likely see school girls, celebrities and your occasional mercenary wielding extraordinarily colored sniper rifles.

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In case you can’t read it, the gun says “snow” because that helps the camouflage.
In case you can’t read it, the gun says “snow” because that helps the camouflage.

What makes it weird for me, though, is that you never really own anything in this game. You generally pay a certain amount of in-game currency to basically rent each gun for a set amount of time. That’s right. It went the Free to Play route. For Koreans, they absolutely love this game. The game is built well for matching clans and teams against each other, so it goes well with the whole LAN party idea. Groups get together in a PC room and just shout at each other about what to do. You build the currency by just playing, but it put me too far off to really get much enjoyment out of this. I do enjoy watching others play, though.

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Another big factor of Sudden Attack’s success is the mod community. Just as in western games, they’ve modded the fool out of this game, creating all sorts of different game modes to mimic other successful shooters. For instance, there are a few variants on the H1Z1 formula that you could play. They also had a couple successful Left 4 Dead mods that faded away recently. I may be wrong, and these may be sanctioned add-ons, but it sure looked like mods.

Though this game has its charms, as a foreigner who has better options in CS: GO, I could never find myself playing this game very much. The graphics haven’t aged well, and Koreans are so dedicated to this game that you tend to just get stomped from beginning to end. If you’re into microtransactions and classic FPS gameplay, this may be the game for you.

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Dungeon Fighter

One word comes to mind when speaking of 던파 (pronounced Dun Pa): impenetrable. This game is a veritable fortress for the foreign gamer to get into. To be fair, there’s an international version in English that’s probably much more manageable, but it isn’t near as far along as the original Korean game. Not to mention, this game more or less failed already outside of Korea. This is a game catered to Koreans, loved by Koreans, and abandoned by everyone else.

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Originally released in 2009, Dungeon Fighter is a 2.5 D action RPG, replete with 12 basic classes and an astonoshing 45 subclasses to choose from. This sounds awesome until you understand the complexity of all the systems in place. Dun Pa encourages raising multiple characters, and you get benefits from raising each to a high level. Therefore, the most important thing you should invest into Dun Pa is a whole bunch of time. On the bright side, that means there’s plenty of levelling to be done, which always takes minimal effort. I happen to love levelling, but there are still plenty of skill trees and stats to analyze before you can get much done.

I don’t actually know what’s going on here, but this perfectly encapsulates my experience with DunPa.
I don’t actually know what’s going on here, but this perfectly encapsulates my experience with DunPa.
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For Koreans, the appeal lies in all of that customization. There are full pages of just cosmetic items that you can keep in your inventory, and PC rooms get special bonuses that can earn players more gear. The gameplay is frantic, a bit like a 2D diablo with relatively basic graphics. The aesthetic works for the game, but I personally desire a bit more from my modern games. Also, first entry into the game can be quite overwhelming, being swarmed with the various events, items and storylines of the current season. The Koreans are deeply ingrained in this game, but it is quite tough for those outside looking in.

Blade & Soul

This game has such potential. It’s an interesting take on the traditional MMO formula, mixing in combos and reactionary skills along with your regular spells and actions. For instance, an assassin has the ability to counter an attack with a replacement jutsu, which causes him to go into stealth. It’s quite fun to play for the first bit because the action is so novel and much less monotonous than games like World of Warcraft. That is, until you realize the ridiculous amount of grind they put you through.

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I played Blade & Soul on the Korean servers, as I am wont to do. Korean servers are a bit ahead of the international servers, meaning there are a few more things going on that I wasn’t necessarily prepared for. I worked diligently for a couple weeks to grind from 1 to 50, anticipating the wonderful end-game content to be within arms reach once I got there. See, Blade & Soul PvP is actually broadcast on TV in Korea, and those top-tier fights look absolutely incredible. It got my hopes up in a way that I overlooked the redundant quest lines of the story in order to finally get into the real action. I was very wrong.

Don’t lie, you know that looks like the best PvP action ever.

Once you make it to 50, you are then required to grind dailies over and over so that you can earn the resources to upgrade your gear. I’m not against grinding, mind you. I was an adamant WoW player for a long time, and I grinded multiple characters through dungeons to get them raid ready. However, there’s a major difference between grinding dungeons and grinding dailies. When you grind a bunch of dailies, there’s a clear limit for how much you can do each day. Therefore, it very much becomes work where you have to keep coming back and doing the same exact things over and over for weeks. With the WoW dungeon grind, I could just take a day or two, grab some snacks and go to work until I felt fully prepared to tackle tougher content. I honestly couldn’t imagine coming back every day to do the same content until I caught up with the rest of the server, so I quickly gave up the dream and moved past this one.

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It’s not uncommon for Korean games to be lengthy grind-fests. In fact, most any online game I played here took weeks of dedication to even get to the most basic of end-game content. It’s frustrating, to say the least. If you really want to get involved in one of the Korean game communities, you have to start playing early on, and you need to dedicate all free time to that game.

Hero Warz

HeroWarz is my favorite example of the endless Korean game cycle. I fell into this game really hard. Its F2P model is quite generous, and every character is open to you from the beginning. As an altoholic, I couldn’t help but play every character to a point, managing to get quite a few close to the level cap of 200. This game plays like a more cartoony version of Diablo. The levels are generally just one giant room, and monsters would spawn in different areas. Once you clear that set, another set would spawn in a different area. The maps can get quite detailed, but fights rarely lasted longer than 5 or 6 minutes. The hook for me was just how rapid you could level, and each character had a really unique gimmick. For example, one character was just a really good baseball pitcher who now threw the baseballs at evil monsters. Another was a girl who thoroughly enjoyed the ocean, so all of her powers involved water activities and fish.

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At release, this game grew quite sizable. PC rooms usually run ads and promotions for when a game first opens, so everyone was jumping in right away. Each mission in the game matches you with up to 3 other random players so that you never really feel alone. You compete to get the best score for each map, which allots you a slight bonus at the end. In that way, I rarely, if ever, played a mission alone. Nothing took too much coordination while levelling, so it made for a wonderful experience that kept me vying for top DPS each round. As the game kept moving, various promotions and cosmetics would get released, demonstrating once again how important customization is in any Korean game.

I made an explanation video here! My voice is god awful in this, but I work with what I got. Please do not be to far put off by my nasally sound.

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The problems arose once you hit level 180. Up until this point, you could simply follow the main story line, and that would do an excellent job levelling your characters. At 180, though, the well runs dry and you are left to continuously grind the final stages until you push up to 200. I never made that push. The amount of experience needed grew exponentially, while you no longer had quest rewards to rely on for those big boosts. Sure, plenty of Koreans made it through, but i just kept switching characters once they reached 180.

After a while, that new game luster wore off, and most people moved on to the next big thing. The biggest reason was due to the poorly planned PvP. Interesting in concept, it was just a poorly done MOBA rather than some extension of the main game. In fact, you didn’t even use your main characters, nor did that have any effect on your PvP character. It was an entirely different beast, which devalued the main game, and LoL was still in its prime at this point. They just half-assed two separate games instead of whole-assing one great game. I had mild amounts of fun with the MOBA, but only because of the dailies that gave double points.

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At the end of the day, Hero Warz rose quickly, shined pretty bright, then burned out before it really made a mark. There are plenty of examples such as this, but I don’t want this to be some anthology. I do, however, want to point out that they had Civilization Online, which amounted to an MMO based on the gameplay of a Civilization game. In this case, though, you were just a tiny person working different jobs to help your civilization grow and destroy the others. The biggest downfall was that almost everything reset on a weekly basis. Great concept, blew up at first, faded just as quickly as any other MMOs in Korea.

I’ll be back with part 2 later, where I’ll discuss a bit about Maple Story, Kartrider and Cyphers. For now, though, I hope you can find some joy in these first few games!

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