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Ragnarok DS
Platform: Nintendo DS
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: GungHo Works, Inc.
Genre: Action RPG
Format: Cartridge
Released: US 02/16/10
Japan 02/18/08



Scorecard
Graphics: 86%
Sound: 65%
Gameplay: 70%
Control: 88%
Story: 69%
Overall: 70%
Reviews Grading Scale
 
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Barkeep, I'd like a White Russian please.
 
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I know I ordered you to act freely, but that doesn't mean you can walk away from this battle!
 
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We're out in the woods today. Maybe we'll get to see the teddy bears' picnic.
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Neal Chandran
Ragnarok DS
03/18/10
Neal Chandran

I'm sure plenty of the readers of this website are MMORPG fans and are familiar with Ragnarok Online. Even folks who have never played the game should at least be familiar with the game's stylized art and excellent spritework. Ragnarok is now on the DS in a form slightly different from its PC progenitor. The game features both a single player story campaign and a multiplayer mode which can be played over ad-hoc wireless or wi-fi. The single player mode is a standard fare 15-20 hour RPG with mediocre story and characters, and the multiplayer mode is a Rogue-like where you and two friends trek through a 50-floor dungeon with randomly generated floors. This makes the multiplayer experience more akin to Phantasy Star Online than a standard MMORPG. Ragnarok DS is not a bad game, but it could have been much better.

The story stars a conflicted young man named Ales. Like a typical RPG protagonist, he has daddy issues and seeks to become a great adventurer. He meets Sierra, a mysterious amnesiac mage girl right off the bat. Just about anyone who has played a fair number of Japanese RPGs can easily guess how this story turns out. Basically, Ales and Sierra as they go on quests, make friends, fight enemies, and hopefully find what they are truly looking for in the world. The story is a watered-down version of a typical RPG plot, but XSEED delivers a top-notch localization with writing that gives these cracker-thin character archetypes more personality than they really deserve.

The overall plot is a sophomoric series of standard tropes marred by a cast of thin archetypes and haphazardly placed development which, given the 16 hour playtime, wasn't that much. Like in The World Ends With You, Ragnarok DS has special "story items" hidden throughout the world that can only be found after the main scenario is completed. I had little motivation to do that and wish the story items had been there from the start because the main scenario was thin.

I wonder if a game like this would have benefited from not having a traditional story-centric single player RPG experience, but instead been streamlined as a Rogue-like with one town (preferably not menu-based) and maybe one or two randomly generated dungeons. This would create more space for a stronger multiplayer component with more dungeons and more depth. But that is a different rant for a different part of the review.

Progression in the game follows a basic town-dungeon formula, but because there is no overworld or world map, players will often need to backtrack through previous areas just to get to a town they've already visited to get to the next plot point. It also doesn't help that every event that furthers the plot entails a fetch quest. The majority of sidequests offered in towns to earn extra money are mindless fetch quests, as well. I'm generally not a fan of being told to "go here and get this" in traditional RPGs (though I'm somewhat more forgiving of them in Rogue-likes) and Ragnarok DS's entire single player mode felt like a series of fetch quests, making progressing through the game tedious.

The dungeons, though boring to look at, are relatively robust so finding the treasure chests with the maps of each floor is like striking gold. Dungeons also never have an overabundance of enemies, so exploration is not broken up by battles every two steps. Battles occur in real time and combat is like Dragon Age: Origins or Baldur's Gate, where players tap on an enemy with the stylus and Ales hacks away at it. Pointing and tapping also allows the player to use items and special techniques. Computer AI controls Ales' traveling companions and there are a few settings for each character. Thankfully, the AI in this game is actually decent so I never had to babysit the other characters and found them mostly helpful. The game is not that difficult and conveniences like retaining the stats and items you had prior to falling in battle are something I wish more RPGs had.

Enemies do not drop money, but they drop all kinds of neat stuff to sell or even equip. Many pieces of equipment come with card slots where players can attach cards dropped by enemies to improve stats. This is akin to the Materia system in Final Fantasy VII, only simplified. A big difference is that once a card has been mounted to a piece of equipment, it cannot be removed, so place your cards wisely.

The abundance of available equipment is a result of the job system. Ales starts out as a Novice and is the only character who can change his job. Ales can visit various guilds and choose what kind of low level job he wants, such as swordsman, archer, or Taekwon kid (martial artist.) His job level is then reset to 1 and once his job level hits a certain number, he can upgrade to the next tier; for example be promoted from swordsman to knight. He can change jobs if he wants to, but then he'll have to start from scratch in that new character class. Players who enjoy tweaking their characters will wring many hours of fun from the malleable job system and steady players can stick one path through to the end.

The control is decent in the game, though sometimes tapping enemies to fight or tapping characters to use items on feels a little bit off. The interface is jam packed with information, but generally avoids being cluttered. The game also has three different camera zooms. One is really close up where you see the character sprites in all their glory, but not much else. The medium one is still close, and the most distant one still has characters relatively large and detailed. I generally favored the furthest one for dungeon crawling and the medium one for boss battles. Stylus response on enemies and characters is more responsive on the closer zooms.

Customization is why so many people loved Ragnarok Online, be it customizing a character's job, equipment, or personal appearance. Sure, the customization level is not as high in this game given the DS's cartridge format, but it is pretty good for a DS game. In the single player game, Ales and company maintain the same basic appearance, but changes in equipment show up on the on-screen sprites, even during cutscenes. I must admit, seeing characters wearing equipment like the bunny ear headband or the goblin mask was worth a chuckle. In the multiplayer game, the Makeup Artist in Mirage Tower, the multiplayer dungeon, can change other aspects of the online character, such as hair color, and there's a choice to play in multiplayer mode as a male or female character.

The wireless component is only accessible after finding and unlocking the Mirage Tower in the single-player portion. Therefore, players cannot go into multiplayer mode right away and have to slog through about three-quarters of the offline component before being able to play online with friends. I think having this component available sooner would have been better, as the offline component is nothing special and the wireless component is what will keep players coming back. Maybe I'm the impatient sort, but when a game based on an MMORPG is supposed to have an online component, I don't want to have to jump through hoops to get to that online component.

The online/multiplayer mode, once accessed, is fun. As a fan of the old Phantasy Star Online on Dreamcast, running through an ever changing dungeon with a couple of friends is one of my ideas of a good time. However, I think the online/multiplayer mode could have been better implemented. Again, forcing players through three-fourths of the single player campaign to access the multiplayer option is not very nice, especially since the single player campaign really isn't that great. As I said earlier, I think the game would have been better served with a simpler single-player component and a more robust multiplayer one. The 50-floor dungeon for multiplayer is fine and all, but it's just one dungeon. I would have gladly traded half to three-fourths of the single player mode for a beefier multiplayer mode with more customization options, a deeper and more expansive job system, and more dungeons. To me, Ragnarok is more about the multiplayer experience than a single player one, and in this case, both were half baked.

Graphics and Sound

It is very clear that the majority of the graphics effort went into the sprites. The spritery is not only exemplary for a DS game, but is damn good, period. When the camera is zoomed in up close, there is an amazing amount of detail in each sprite and even with the camera zoomed out the farthest, sprites are still fairly large and detailed. Unfortunately, the rest of the graphics fall flat. Environments are very bland and boring to look at. The beautiful potential in the sprites is marred by the dullness in the environments.

The music is aesthetically pleasing, but none of the pieces are memorable at all. I probably would not be able to tell the difference if I played the game with music or on mute. A rousing soundtrack could have made the adventure slightly less tedious.

Conclusion

I can sum up Ragnarok DS in one word: mediocre. This game is as mediocre as mediocre gets. Instead of offering an excellent multiplayer experience, it instead offers a underdeveloped one alongside a half-baked single player experience. I'm sorry, but having to wade through 12 hours of a tedious single-player game just to unlock the multiplayer portion just plain sucks. The game had potential and XSEED certainly did the best they could with the localization, but with DS games like the acclaimed Infinite Space out now, players are better off saving their money.



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© 2010 XSEED Games, GungHo. All rights reserved.


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