Ether Saga is a Chinese F2P MMO based on The Journey to the West with a lot of neat little pet features: Pet taming (you can go out into the wilds and capture various monsters), Pet Fusion (where you combine with a pet to gain stat bonuses), and Pet Melding (mixing two pets to create a new pet with improved stats). Plus, there are special items you can get that can allow you to become a monster yourself for a time and benefit from special attributes. Sounds fun!
Character creation is very sparse, but the designs are pretty, so I didn't mind too much. There are three races: humans (Ren), demigods (Shenzu), and animals that were given humanity by the gods (Yaoh). The three are basically identical except for appearance options and starting pets. Based on your character's race/birthday, you get unique skills every 10 levels. I chose a Yaoh as my first character, because of their nifty fox pet.
Upon appearing in the starter zone, the first NPC I met gifted me with a large package of free potions, food, and a present that I can open at level 5. Nice! Plus, the NPCs speak Chinese when you click on them, which I love (the Russian emotes were something I really liked about Allods Online too).
I started exploring the UI, since that's what I always do first in a new game. I found that you can't reduce the UI scale (booo), or adjust/remove chat boxes, which was kind of disappointing since they take up a lot of screen space. But I also found that there's vanity gear slots (woot!) and that I already had a set of 'for show' clothes that I could toggle on and off from the paperdoll window. Also, you can apparently rate other players up and down (from a menu that appears when you click on them), which interesting way of giving public reputation to players. There's apparently PvP and the ability for guilds to control certain zones (going by the global messages I keep seeing) but I have yet to look into that aspect yet. Apparently, killing equally- or higher-leveled players has a chance of dropping loot for the winner, which is interesting. There are also timed server events of various kinds going on regularly, and the game keeps you posted about what's happening in the world at any given time.
The newbie zone quests are really friendly: I got a (pretty!) free armor set, various potions and +XP items, a second pet as a quest reward, and one timed kill quest even gave my 5 levels worth of xp in a single turn-in. One downside for some people may be that the countryside is literally swarming with mobs that repop almost instantly (an attempt to minimize the impact of farmers, perhaps?) -- I actually turned off monster nameplates just so they weren't such an eyesore because really, the game is beautiful to look at. The visuals remind me of The Secret of Mana's artstyle, which I like a lot. Quests are pretty much basic 'kill stuff' types, which I personally don't mind at all (I have a pretty high grind tolerance, especially when the mobs only take like 2 seconds to die). Translation is another thing that's a bit clunky in places, and the storyline is a bit hard to follow, but I doubt there's an epic novel going on here, even in the original language.
Once I hit level 15 (levels have come quickly in the first few hours I've played), I can begin taming wild monsters as pets, which is the main gameplay aspect I want to try out. I'll be focusing on that in part two.