RPGs in South Korea —A brief history of package, online and mobile games

The Forgotten Land (광개토대왕, 1995), Jurassic War (쥬라기 원시전, 1996), Three Kingdoms Divine Destiny (삼국지 천명, 1998), Lord of the Sea (해상왕 장보고, 2003)

THE FIRST RPGS

As Derboo tells, early home computers begin to appear in Korea in the early 1980s. These were supported by local companies like Samsung, who also helped promote computers in the country by organizing contests between students to push them to learn this new technology.

A computer room in a Korean school and a Samsung SPC-1000 computer ad, both from 1983
A CPC-300 computer and a Zemmix console, both from Daewoo and capable of running MSX cartridges.
Valis: The Fantasm Soldier (1986) with the Japanese logo removed.
Dream Traveler Part 1 (神劍의 전설, 1987)
Zemina’s Brother Adventure (1987), Super Boy 3 (1991), and Family Cart accessory.
Romantic Paladin (風流俠客 / 풍류협객, 1989)

ENTERING THE VGA ERA

The early 90s saw an end of the dispute between multiple home computer standards, with IBM PC compatibles becoming the global standard, thanks in part to the new VGA graphics cards that allowed for much better graphics:

Hong Gildong (홍길동전, 1993)

THE FIRST CLASSICS

In 1994 Astonishia Story (어스토니시아스토리) would be released. The debut of studio Sonnori, it was a very popular title, that impressed Korean gamers and sold over 50,000 copies. As a Korean gamer describes:

Astonishia Story (어스토니시아스토리, 1994)
The 2005 release for PSP
Ys II Special (이스 II 스페셜, 1994)
The Romance of Forgotten Kingdom (망국 전기: 잊혀진 나라 의 이야기, 1995)

THE START OF A GOLDEN AGE

In 1995 Softmax released The War of Genesis (창세기전), the start of Korea’s biggest single-player RPG series. The game is a tactical RPG, telling the story of a kingdom trying to resist invasion by a powerful empire.

The War of Genesis (1995)
The War of Genesis (창세기전, 1995)
The War of Genesis II (1996)
The War of Genesis II (창세기전 II, 1996)
Forgotten Saga (포가튼사가, 1997)
  • Liar: Legend of Sword II (LIAR: 신검 의 전설 II, 1995) is the sequel to Nam Inhwan’s Dream Traveler Part 1. Once again taking A LOT of inspiration from Ultima, it’s a simplified but well-presented Ultima VII clone.
  • The Story of Atria Land (아트리아 대륙전기, 1997) is a JRPG where combat is fought as a beat-'em-up, with your party entering a small arena. The 1998 sequel added 2 player co-op but isn’t as good.
  • Cybermercs: The Soldiers of the 22nd Century (에일리언 슬레이어, 1998) is a mix of Diablo and Crusader: No Remorse, where you create a mercenary, equip yourself then venture into missions, shooting aliens in an isometric view. Was also created by Nam Inhwan, and had an English release.
  • Koko Look (코코룩, 2002) is an RPG for young girls, about a girl who wants to be a fashion designer. Combines JRPG battles with Princess Maker elements, offering multiple endings.
  • Xenoage: Knight of the Rihas (제노에이지, 2000) is a very standard tactical RPG. It’s noteworthy for being licensed to a Japanese company and then edited to become 風と大地のページェント, a +18 eroge RPG.
Red Hawk — 협객 붉은매, Sky Blade — 파천일검, Taoist Mutul — 머털도사, Cheollang Yeoljeon — 천랑열전, The Ruler of the Land — 열혈강호, Mr. Son / Flying Superboard — 미스터 손 / 날아라 슈퍼보드, Legend of the 8 Dragon Gods — 팔용신전설, Soul Frame Lazenca — 영혼기병 라젠카, Kung Fu Jungle Boy — 까꿍

THE IMF CRISIS

In most parts of the globe, the golden age of single-player PC games would collapse by the early 00s, driven by multiple factors such as the massive popularity of the Playstation 2 and online games, the rising cost of game development thanks to 3D graphics, piracy, the 2000s dot-com bubble, etc…

Default, a 2018 movie about the 1997 crisis

THE POST-CRISIS

In 1998, riding on the success of War of Genesis II, Softmax would release The War of Genesis: The Rhapsody of Zephyr (창세기전 외전: 西風の狂詩曲), a spin-off set in the same universe.

The War of Genesis: The Rhapsody of Zephyr (창세기전 외전: 西風の狂詩曲, 1998)
The original Korean portrait of the main character and the Japanese one.
The War of Genesis: Tempest (창세기외전2 템페스트, 1998)
The War of Genesis III — Part I & Part II
Corum (코룸: 저주 받은 땅, 1997)
Corum II (1998), Corum III (1999), and Corum: Another Story (1999)

THE END OF THE ‘PACKAGE’ INDUSTRY

After the IMF crisis, the surviving RPG developers faced a dire scenario. Korea was taken by piracy, game magazines with cheap ‘full game’ CDs and ‘PC bangs’; Internet cafés where millions of Koreans gathered to play StarCraft (1998) and MMOs like Lineage (리니지, 1998).

Licensed cheap by foreign publishers who didn’t care about the Korean market, magazines would include several older full games and demos for a fraction of the cost of a new Korean game.
Arcturus: The Curse and Loss of Divinity (악튜러스, 2000)
Ragnarök Online (라그나로크 온라인, 2002)
Magna Carta: The Phantom of Avalanche (마그나카르타, 2001)

Going online — The kingdom of MMORPGs

While I’m focusing on single-player games, the online scene of Korea was already rapidly expanding during the 90s. I wrote about MMORPGs in another article, but it’s important to repeat some information here so you can see the bigger picture.

A screenshot of Jurassic Park / 쥬라기 공원
  • Ultima Online peaked at 240,000 monthly subscribers.
  • EverQuest at 460,000 monthly subscribers.
  • Lineage at 3,250,000 monthly users.
Mu Online, Ragnarök Online and Maplestory
Trailer for Lineage 2M, which itself has 52 million views

Going mobile — The smartphone pioneers

Korea is the country of LG and Samsung, so they always had a strong mobile industry. In the early 2000s, service providers would offer exclusive games as an incentive for you to choose their services, leading to competition between companies to offer the best games and the rise of mobile developers like Gamevil and Com2uS.

Nom (놈, 2003)
The War of Genesis CROW (2003)
Norimax Heroes (노리맥스 영웅전, 2005)
Astonishia Story 2 (2006) and its PSP remake Crimson Gem Saga (2008)
War of Genesis III: EP 1 (2007)
Heroes Lore Zero (2007) and Zenonia (2008)
The Kakaotalk app, released in 2010
Gosu (고수, 2019)

Going consoles —A small & late arrival

Korean developers had long been unable to create games for consoles (at least official ones), but this finally changed in 2004.

Magna Carta: Tears of Blood (2004) and Magna Carta II (2009)
Kingdom Under Fire: A War of Heroes (2000)
Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders (2004), Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes (2005) and Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom (2007)

The legacy of Korean RPGs

While it’s undeniable that Korean games like Lineage defined MMORPGs and still dominate mobile games, the legacy of their “package” RPGs isn’t as clear.

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Felipe Pepe

Felipe Pepe

Brazilian living in Japan, Marketing dude and Gaming History enthusiast. Creator of The CRPG Book: https://crpgbook.wordpress.com/