The MMORPG genre is steadily growing and Gravity's Ragnarok Online is aiming to take its place by establishing itself as something unique amidst the competition. The game is currently in its 3rd stage of Beta testing and unlike the first two stages, potential testers had to pay a one-time-fee for the priviledge of participating as opposed to the earlier free beta. Paying to Beta-test is somewhat a controversial thing, though arguments aside, this editor has had a good amount of playtime and henceforth are some impressions.
With a look that may endear itself to some just as fast as it may scare others off, Ragnarok Online boasts an isometric view with characters and monsters composed of 2D sprites. The style is super-deformed and remniscient of old-school RPGs from Japan during the 16-bit and early 32-bit era. The animation is really nice with frames covering the 8 directions your character can face. These sprites are rendered on top of fully polygonal, 3D environments that can be rotated 360 degrees and zoomed in and out with sprites scaled accurately to reflect distance. The 16-bit textures contain a nice amount of detail and are very vibrant, creating a living, breathing atmosphere for the game which is certainly a change from the more realistic approach most MMORPGs attempt to take. There are some minor environmental effects such as fog as well as light and shadow effects on the sprites: characters will actually become darker as they walk through the shade of a tree or building. Magical spells are attractive with a mixture of 2D and 3D effects.
Sound effects are the typical MMORPG fare: monster noises for attacking, being hit, and dying. Some creatures consistently make sounds when they are near, perhaps an incentive in itself to go bash their brains in just so they'll shut up (Tarous come to mind, with their high-pitched mouse-like squeeking). Thankfully, your characters make no form of vocalization. Swords chop, maces bash; everything you'd expect is there.
The game's music is as lively as its graphics. Most MMORPGs aim for an ambient soundtrack filled with environmental sounds and a generally more serious atmosphere. Ragnarok Online however, uses a wide variety of very upbeat songs and takes a not-so-serious approach. You won't find any orchestrated pieces here. Expect anything from techno-inspired songs to remixes of popular Christmas themes! This is hit or miss, depending on your own taste.
Regarding gameplay; the combat, navigation and menu systems are similar to Diablo, with a point-and-click type interface and similar pace. Naturally, the difference is that Diablo was handled in small parties of people and in Ragnarok Online, everyone is in the same world.
Upon creating a character, players start off as novices but have the option to choose a class. Upon reaching job level 10, each initial class can branching off into a secondary profession. First classes available to choose from include Swordsman: aiming to hit hard and take hits, Archer: master of accuracy and ranged combat, Mage: frail but can wield deadly magic, Acolyte: practitioner of the healing and supportive arts, Thief: whose agility lets them swing fast and dodge incoming attacks and last, but not least: Merchants, whom can buy and sell items from NPCs at discount prices.
Upon leveling up a job skill, each class may choose to place their points into a desired skill, with some skills having prerequisites and so forth. The system is again, similar to Diablo and gives the player characters a bit of customization. Upon reaching job level 40, players may choose to advance to the secondary class, though currently you have only one choice. The curent choices available are knight, hunter, wizard, priest, assassin, and blacksmith. Each specialty is a respective evolution of to the initial classes. In the future, Gravity aims to provide an alternate choice of secondary classes aside from the previous in the form of crusaders, bards, sages, monks, rogues, and alchemists. The skills built into the first class will have some bearing on what secondary class you should choose. For example, a swordsman concentrating on sword mastery may be a potential crusader while a swordsman concentrating on two-handed-sword mastery is a budding knight. The system may seem simple, but is a welcome change.
Currently, Ragnarok Online is celebrating Christmas in its own way with decorations throughout the towns, special Christmas-themed monsters, remixed Christmas songs and even a special town with a Toy Factory (read: dungeon). These and many other small nuances are dedicated exclusively to the holiday. There is a special quest in which you collect red socks from apparent "fake Santas" strangely named Antonio (don't ask) which can be exchanged for gift boxes which, upon opening them, contain random items. Oddly enough, this editor opened a gift box, only to get another gift box and opening that yielded yet another gift box (see: first screenshot on the right).
As it stands, Ragnarok Online's world is actually quite small compared to competing MMORPGs, though Gravity has revealed at KAMEX that they are adding much more to the game's world. Even though there's plenty of monsters to kill, in its current state, the entirety of RO's world can most likely be be experienced by most hardcore MMORPGer within a 2-3 month span. Hopefully the expanded lands will be intact and ready for the game's commercial release on this end of the planet.
Ragnarok Online still has many kinks to get out and has a little room for improvement, but is certainly a decent, playable game in its current condition. Strangely, the initial stages of this latest beta had strange lag issues much like the previous beta and alpha stages. Thankfully, with the latest Christmas patch and gameplay features introduced on the 23rd of December, the lag is no longer an issue. Gravity has kept their promise of delivering the best service they can and we look forward to seeing what else they can do. RPG fans should certainly keep an eye out for Ragnarok Online when the game eventually goes commercial.
© 2001-2002 Gravity Corp. and Lee Myoungjin. All Rights Reserved.