Since it first saw release in South Korea in August of 2001, Ragnarok Online (or RO for short) has built a huge following. It has since been released all over the world – its player base growing exponentially in the process. In fact, there are over three million registered users in North America. In a post WoW world, that’s not too shabby.
While fans wait for the sequel to arrive, Ragnarok Online 2: The Gate of the World (which has been in limbo since it was announced in 2005), they must tide themselves over with Ragnarok DS, from publisher XSEED and developer GungHo Works.
Ragnarok DS represents a distinct departure from its online counterpart, in that it isn’t an MMO. Instead, Ragnarok DS follows the single player adventures of Ales, an orphan full of regret from the loss of his mother, and full of spite for his father’s abandonment. From the very onset of the game, it’s clear that Ales isn’t going to be the coolest protagonist you’ve ever seen. Overly whiny and single-minded, he’s a bit of a jerk. But hey, it worked for Cloud Strife, why not Ales?
In fact, the similarities to Final Fantasy don’t stop there. The game takes place in the world of Midgard (one letter removed from the setting of Final Fantasy VII‘s Midgar). However, there is a pretty clear cut gap between Ragnarok DS and FFVII. This is due to the simple fact that FFVII had characters you cared about. Ragnarok never really does. Instead, the cast found here is simply annoying. Thus, your favorite character in the game will likely be the one you who whines the least.
The story here centers around Ales and a mysterious girl named Sierra. In the process of escaping pursuers with an unnamed adventurer and scientist, Sierra falls off a cliff. After that, she is discovered by Ales. But hey, guess what!? She’s developed amnesia! That’s right, in an incredible burst of originality and ingenuity, instead of following RPG conventions and thrusting cliche’ numero uno onto the player’s character, the developers instead bestow it upon your primary companion. This plays out precisely as it usually does, except now your character is tasked with explaining the tutorial. Great.
For all the complaining I’ve done thus far regarding story, fans of the online game will most likely enjoy it. After all, there’s significantly more to be experienced here then there is online, so it’s certainly better than nothing. That said, there’s nothing particularly engaging or new about this tale. You pick up various companions along the way, each representing a typical mainstay of the RPG genre, and none of them shows much growth.
Naturally, the shortcomings of the storyline could easily be forgiven if the gameplay itself were any good. Saying that a game needs a great story to be fun is like saying that one needs to do a Quad to win gold in Men’s Olympic Skating (which, guess what Russia, you don’t). They needn’t go hand in hand. Sadly, what we find here isn’t anything special. Let me preface this by saying that the combat in Ragnarok DS is by no means terrible. It’s actually quite adequate. However, like so many other aspects of the game, it’s just monotonous, verging on plain boring.
Considering how much grinding the game forces you to do, in order to find a specific item or reach a minimum level to properly progress, the combat would have to be pretty excellent to hold your attention. Instead, it consists of tapping an enemy, causing your character to continuously attack the creature until it’s dead. That’s it. Occasionally, as you level up, you’ll gain new skills and abilities, which you keep track through a bar on the top right of your screen. These skills can be selected and used in combat. However, this also breaks the flow of combat, as you must then re-select your opponent to begin your assault anew.
Speaking of which, this brings up one of the few truly bright spots in this title. The screen layout is absolutely brilliant in its execution. Informational bars alerting you to your team’s status, as well as the powers and skills available to you, are all collapsible with a simple tap of the stylus. Not only that, but navigating the menus to upgrade and level up and your companions is streamlined and simple. However, that isn’t enough to save a game that falls a bit short in most other areas.
Most notable of those shortcomings is the audio. The soundtrack is overwhelmingly average. There’s little to no variation between tunes. Often times, you’ll find yourself soldiering on to get to the next area, just for the sake of hearing some new music, only to have it be just as annoying as the last. However, it can be said that the music does slightly improve as you move through the game, so if you’re in this for the long haul, things do get a little better.
Visually, the game is a bit of an oddity. This is one of the few games I’ve ever seen in my life that looks better under closer speculation. The game offers you three camera views. “Zoomed out”, “sorta zoomed out”, and “way too close to play with.” No, those aren’t the official names of the views, but they are quite fitting. When on the “way too close to play with” setting, the artistic style of the game is interesting, and will certainly please fans of the online games. However, as the name may have clued you in, the camera on that setting does not show nearly enough of the surrounding area to merit true playability. Move to one of the other two options, and the game becomes a pixelated and an uninteresting mess.
This is a shame, because for the most part, the game features some truly interesting and cool looking character designs. The same cannot be said for the environments you traverse, as those are mostly bland and uninspired. It’s a shame that the team couldn’t figure out a camera option that really suited the level of detail they’d put into their characters.
Finally, we arrive at the online portion of the game. While not retaining the MMO qualities of the online title, Ragnarok DS still allows you to take the fight online with up to two other friends. However, instead of allowing you and your pals to take on quests that relate in some way to the story, or the many guilds in the game, you are instead relegated to “The Mirage Tower”. To reach the tower, you and your pals must unlock the Sograt Dessert area first. The tower itself is simply a test of stamina, with over fifty levels to battle through and the possibility of getting rare gear. The multiplayer is actually quite cool, in that you can customize your character to offer something to differentiate between you and your friends. However, the mode itself doesn’t offer much lasting value, and you will soon lose interest.
Overall, my time with Ragnarok DS wasn’t awful. There were times when I genuinely got into the grind of leveling up and getting new equipment. However, the game can become so unnecessarily tedious and dull that you won’t really see yourself following all the way through to the end.
Certain design choices simply don’t work out, like the camera options, but others pick up the slack, like the incredibly simple-but-perfect screen and information layout. While there is a lengthy adventure to be had here, it’s not a certainty that you’ll want to get all the way through, as the story isn’t exactly inspiring. However, I would definitely recommend this for fans of the online game.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this title, the graphical style had the opportunity to really impress some players. That chance was marred by the unfortunate lack of a good camera angle.
|How does our scoring system work?|
While not bad by any means, the combat is not striking and fun enough to merit going through the absolute grind you're forced to endure to advance at times.
You'll often find yourself hurrying to advance in the story just to hear new music, but not in a good way.
There is a somewhat lengthy experience to be found here. However, the main story isn't engaging enough to inspire completion, and multiplayer grows old fast.
This game is great for fans of the online title who are looking for a more focused story adventure set in a familiar world. Everyone else can easily find a more interesting alternative.