Ragnarok was released for Nintendo DS on February 16, 2010 after being highly successful in Japan following its original release of 2008. XSeed Games worked to translate the game for US audiences. Based on the MMORPG, this game is a RPG with wireless capability for up to 3 people. The story in Ragnarok is well, I couldn’t tell you, as it really is a plodding and poorly paced tale. From what I can gather, evil forces are pursuing a girl named Sierra to sacrifice to their Goddess in exchange for ultimate power. Naturally, these evildoers have names like Mysterious Man and Black Knight. Very typical and something tells me that their actual names are just as silly as well. It is RPG villainy 101.
Anyway, soldiers are chasing this girl in the beginning when she suddenly falls down a cliff. Encountering the adventurer, Ales, she can’t remember much of anything. Though given her personality, she could be just na�ve... Either way the game handles amnesia quite incorrectly; you don’t forget what basic things like money are! Maybe the developers thought it would be a cute touch for Sierra, as clich�d as it is. Anyway, Ales is looking to form a guild to make money (it is refreshing to see a character with simple motives) so he decides the best way to help Sierra is to take her on his quest. Yes, exposing a vulnerable soul to the danger of monsters and traps is a great way to jog her memory, no?
You find yourself accepting a quest to find a special Dog Tag in order to gain membership to the Order of the Knights, which is the requisite valorous protector service of this world. They accept various missions and quests for people and Ales figures joining them is the best way to make money. Guess he sees it as a networking opportunity... Speaking of ��� there is way too much of it in Ragnarok’s conversations, like it occurs every minute. I’m not sure it is part of the vernacular in Japan, but it gets annoying real quick, because there is no way to skip it EVER. At least the surprise, anger, and sad emoticons are amusing to look at!
Graphics in this game are high-resolution 2D sprites, though the look is distorted due to the need to zoom the camera out to see much of anything. I did this mostly to get a better sense of my surroundings, but you don’t need it necessarily. Most enemies come straight to you so you don’t really need to see far. The choice is up to you, but the graphics do look quite good when zoomed in all the way. This is more so for the characters, as the monsters are designed more simply and tend to repeat themselves. They are functional, but after seeing the same one so many times even after trekking through only 2 screens, you won’t be impressed by their design.
It is nice how different equipment changes the look of your characters; equip a bandanna and Ales will be wearing one. It’s a nice visual distinction and it is too bad that this wasn’t carried over to the job system. When Ales became an archer, his clothes turned blue, but nothing else about his appearance changed. Disappointing when you consider than the 2D sprites are the best part of this game.
Environments and dungeons are bland and nondescript, with each floor looking identical and big stone columns placed haphazardly around in several areas for no particular reason. Whether it is a forest or a cave, there is disappointedly little difference in each environment.
However, the area that was most disappointing graphically is the towns. There is no overworld map, rather you select your destination from a menu hosted by the same hostess-looking girl in each town (guess she follows your party around?) and then you enter a small room representing an inn, weapon shop, whathaveyou. This is a real failure of imagination on the part of developers and a clear sign that they were looking to cut corners in areas of the game.
Music is completely generic when it is at its best, and grating to the ears at its worst. The same overworld theme is used in each area and since there are no battle cutaways, it is the same for enemy encounters as well. Even boss fights don’t fare much better. The town/shop music is probably the highlight, with a requisite soothing melody. RPG’s are usually a safe bet when it comes to at least some memorable music, this isn’t the case with Ragnarok.
Gameplay is similar to Secret of Mana, but in concept only. All battles are in real-time with players and enemies attacking simultaneously. Much like Mana, the player only controls one character at a time. Unlike that 1993 masterpiece though, you can’t switch characters or have much command over what the A.I does. There are options for the computer to use strong attacks or target the tougher foes, but given how easy this game is, you won’t see the need to mess with the settings for any reason other than boredom.
Aside from the standard RPG system of equipping items, using potions and leveling up, you can determine the stat growths of your character. Each level up, you receive a number of points to allocate to strength, dexterity and so on. I like this system as it allows you to see what improvements will happen before you invest.
Another interesting choice is the emphasis on stylus controls. Almost every action is controlled by the stylus, though the D-pad can also be used for moving around. This system works well enough, as combat is automatic once you commit your characters to an action. I find most stylus games just use the device as a substitute for regular controls as a gimmick, rather than using them in the best way possible. This game cleverly uses the stylus in as simple a way as possible, so that it doesn’t feel cumbersome at all.
Ragnarok also has a job system. You can choose between a series of jobs at special places in towns. As you level up, you also gain job levels that are used to determine when you can switch to new jobs. You must first get to level 10 on the basic job then you can change to an archer, mage and so on inside towns. After changing into your new vocation, your job level resets to 1 and you can change to a more advanced job at level 30.
Each job has different skills than you can strengthen though the use of skill points. Additional abilities are unlocked after you put a certain number of points in precursors. You can use the shortcut menu with the stylus to have quick access to skills in battle. Some skills work better than others, as the A.I often killed the enemies before my Archer had a chance to hit anyone with the difficult to use bow techniques.
Aside from this, the game also doesn’t give you money when you win battles, so grinding is more a matter of improving your stats and job levels; plus enemies tend to drop a lot of treasure to sell, so it still works. Just be aware of it when you are looking to buy better equipment.
Challenge is rather low in this game, and I found this to be the case with not much effort in setting the A.I. This is as such because Sierra has early access to cure magic and you can set it so that she casts it whenever your characters get hurt. This constant aid is compounded by the fact that SP (Magic Points in this game) regenerates, making inns a questionable use of money. It also seems that the higher the character’s stats in magic, the quicker it regenerates.
For comparison, Ales had 1 in intelligence and only gained 1-2 SP back every 5 seconds. Sierra was gaining back 9 in the same amount of time, seemingly faster at other times. This made sure that she never ran out of mana, even when constantly curing my characters of even the slightest injury and using offensive magic herself occasionally. And if you do find that happening, just take 5 for a while, and you’ll have all your SP back in no time.
I expected bosses to be a challenge, as is usually the case for RPG’s, but this broken magic system made short work of most of them. Heck, there was little to no strategy involved, as I just hacked away while Sierra kept my life full. Pathetically easy. Using different weapons and techniques don’t even enter into it, as the A.I can do all the work for you.
Now I suppose you could set Sierra to attack more often, but I doubt it would make the game any more difficult, as fighting lots of battles (i.e level grinding) is the often the only way to give the items that you need to complete quests. This is the kind of game that handicap runs are more trouble than they are worth.
Replay value is just like all other RPG’s, but the lack of multiplayer and the singular character hurt the possibilities. The job system adds replay in theory, but the omnipresent problem of the A.I stifles the creative opportunities of using different classes.
In summation, Ragnarok is an RPG with some good ideas (mostly copied from better games...) that is dragged down by unfortunate design choices. I suppose fans of the MMO it is based on will probably enjoy it the most, but other RPG fans will find nothing special here.
- Ugly Bob