While this game launched more than five years ago, I had originally ignored it for two reasons. First, Aeria has quite a nasty reputation for pay to win. Second, it harshly limits your character slots in a game with a lot of classes. Today, I gave the game a chance.
Aura Kingdom recently launched its sixteenth character class. For comparison, you get three character slots for free on an account, with the option to buy up to five more. That adds up to a lot fewer than sixteen, even if you're buying slots, and that sort of developer sloppiness is usually a sign that the game will be broken in a lot of other ways. And in the case of this particular game, the character slot restriction makes some degree of sense, as it basically doesn't matter which class you pick, for reasons that I'll come back to later.
The UI is broken in all sorts of ways that would be unacceptable for the start of an alpha test. This first reared its head in character creation. When creating a character, you pick which eidolon (basically, combat pet) your character will get at level 10, and it has a box with some text about the eidolon. The game also has a box that you can click to launch a browser and take you to the game's discord. And it put the latter box partially on top of the former and made it so that neither box can be moved. Thus, you get to choose an eidolon based on a description that you can't read very much of. Meanwhile, most of the screen is unused space at that stage. That is just the first of many places where text is cut off in the UI.
The most egregious problem with the UI is that it's too small. Now, I play games at a high resolution, so a lot of games have a UI that looks too small. Like some other games, Aura Kingdom has a UI scaling feature. Unfortunately, it's more like Guild Wars 2's UI scaling feature than the games where it actually works right, as the options basically scale from way too small to something considerably smaller than way too small. The UI seems to be designed for something around 1366x768, and at max size, would probably still feel too small even at 1920x1080.
But being too small is hardly the only problem with the UI. You know how a lot of games have a chat box, commonly in the lower left corner? One person says something, another person says something, a system message about having acquired items shows up, and so forth. Most games put all those messages on separate lines, and space them consistently so that one is above the next by some fixed margin. Aura Kingdom doesn't do that, but spaces them irregularly, and often puts multiple messages on top of each other. The tiny text is still generally readable, but the best comparison that comes to mind is a captcha.
Even the parts of the UI that aren't obviously broken still tend to be badly designed. You try to use some mechanic and it looks like nothing happens. You try several more times, and finally realize that it's making some tiny window do something off in the corner of the screen and it's barely noticeable before it vanishes. That's partly a problem of everything being too small, but even at a better scale, it would still be a mess.
So what about gameplay itself? I really didn't get very far before concluding that it was awful. But I read up on games quite a bit before playing them, and try to play for long enough to give the game a fair chance. So even after concluding that it was awful, I stayed with it for quite a bit to see if it would get better. It didn't. I did make it to level 15, and completed 51 quests before quitting.
Like a lot of other MMORPGs, Aura Kingdom is heavily quest-based leveling. Unlike a lot of other such MMORPGs, where that quest-based leveling is a whole lot of kill ten rats quests or whatever, in Aura Kingdom, it's mostly auto-pathing to go talk to NPCs. Even a prototypical kill 10 rats quest is auto-path to the area where the rats are, then kill the mobs very quickly, then auto-path back to an NPC to turn it in. Most of the time spent on the quest is either talking to the NPC or waiting for your character to run to or from the area where you fight the mobs. And a lot of quests don't involve combat at all, but just talking to NPCs.
Now, this is hardly the only game with auto-pathing, where you click a link on your quest log to run to the area for the quest. Unlike a lot of other games, you just about have to use it here. In many quests, the quest text won't tell you where to go, nor will the mini-map have a label. You could, in principle, run around the zone at random until you stumbled across the right mobs or the right NPC, but that's the alternative to using the auto-pathing mechanic. The game doesn't even have an autorun hotkey (i.e., run forward until you say to stop) because the developers assumed that you'd use auto-pathing to run to the proper area automatically. Auto-pathing isn't just for quests, but you can also use it to run to arbitrary NPCs or mob spawn areas.
The combat itself is completely stupid. Mobs die in about 2 or 3 hits. They do damage, and if you have no healing, they'll kill you in about a hundred hits or so if they're the same level as you. Oh, and you do have healing, so you could last much longer than that. When combat is that trivial, it scarcely matters if you're melee or ranged, or which type of damage you're doing, or what particular skills you have on your bar. That's why I said above that your class doesn't actually matter.
That sort of trivial combat is fine for the very first mob you fight, as you don't want someone brand new to the game to die while trying to figure out the UI. Maybe you can even justify having a few quests as part of a tutorial where it's that trivial. But if it's still that trivial several dozen quests into the game, something is seriously wrong with the game.
If this game is representative, then Aeria's reputation for pay to win is thoroughly deserved. Maybe "pay to win" isn't quite right, as you'll win without regard to whether you pay until you're far into the game. It's likely that that changes at some point, and it turns into pay to advance. But it's certainly pay for advantage.
Eidolons are perhaps the headline feature of the game. You get your choice of four at character creation, even if you don't actually get the eidolon you chose until level 10. And then there are several that you can buy in the item mall for $5 each. And if you page through it further, there are more for $20 each. And then more for $50. And it keeps going up until it tops out at $250. Oh, and that's the price per key, but if you want to max out the eidolon, you'll need four keys. Apparently eidolon keys do drop from some raids, but I'm skeptical that the drop rate is high enough to make the item mall superfluous.
On a recent news story about Astellia, someone replied asking why play that game over Aura Kingdom. Whatever your game preferences are, the two games aren't at all similar to each other. In another era, Astellia would have been called a "WoW clone", but that epithet really doesn't fit Aura Kingdom. Aura Kingdom doesn't quite play itself for you, but it comes a lot closer to it than I'd expect from an MMORPG, and not that far shy of what you'd expect from a visual novel. Ultimately, the game feels like a broken PC port of a bad mobile game. That's not a good thing.