Ragnarok it’s Not!
Ragnarok Online is a beloved MMORPG that fans around the world have been plowing through since 2002. After years of success on PC, developer Gravity and publisher Xseed have decided to bring the experience to Nintendo’s portable. Unfortunately, Ragnarok DS is merely a shadow of its MMO ancestor. The active battle system found on the DS cart is weak, the online component is laughable, and the interminable dialogue text spins a trite, clichéd yarn that artificially pads the campaign’s length; it isn’t long before the adventure grinds you to a pulp.
Starting out as an orphaned Novice named Ales, players will soon come across an amnesiac magic-user, generically named Sierra, as well as a host of other overused character archetypes on a quest to make your name in the world as an adventurer. Of course, fame and riches are only part of the equation; eventually the party will have to take on an end-of-the-world scenario that features a scholarly cult working to resurrect a forgotten goddess. In order to pave the way for this goddess to take her new form, this secret group needs to sacrifice the entirety of humanity. While some will find the overarching plot to be intriguing, most will think it’s a tired narrative. It certainly isn’t worth slogging through the endless text blurbs that make up the dialogue.
Worse than the story is the auto-pilot battle system employed by Ragnarok DS. Similar to the MMO counterpart, players will use their stylus as if it were a mouse, touching the screen for movement and clicking on enemies to attack. Once you and your party have engaged a baddie, you can simply sit back and watch the battle unfold; you won’t have to click again till your foe is dead or if you decide you want to take on a different opponent. As you become more powerful, new skills become available and you can hot-key them to the upper-right portion of the touch screen for “quick” selection.
Implementing skills is somewhat more engaging than standard attacks, as you’ll have to pull off a simple drawing command with the stylus in order to activate it. Still, there’s essentially no strategy to fights; you’ll just click and wait, perhaps healing yourself midway through. Mixing things up just a bit further are party members, but they never need to be directly controlled, because setting job-specific AI behaviors is certainly the most efficient way to fight. The hands-off battle system may be easy to learn and user-friendly, but it fails to challenge or engage players in any meaningful way.
What you’re left with is a loot-collecting, level-clearing power-grind that fails to impress. Each area of Ragnarok is made up of generic-looking, labyrinthine environments. Players will have to trudge aimlessly through each “dungeon” until they happen upon a chest containing the level map. Flying blind for the first half of each level, without previously visited areas being auto-mapped for you (i.e. having the fog of war lifted and the layout detailed), is a miserable design choice. Its faults are only further accentuated by the fact that it never changes throughout the game, leading to a frustrating, formulaic dungeon-crawling experience.
Though the story is chestnut, the battle system yawn-inducing, and the map support wretched, the tiered job structure is fairly deep and surprisingly engaging. Rather than choosing one class and plowing through the game advancing that character type, you’ll improve both your base level as well as your job level. That means you’ll be able to retrain your class and acquire new abilities by visiting the guilds in town whenever you’d like. This allows you to take on new skills, keeping gameplay somewhat fresh despite the drag of combat.
Naturally, the job system is a product of Ragnarok Online; many of the classes are pulled straight from the MMORPG. Classes like the Archer, Swordsman, Magician, Taekwon Kid, Merchant, Acolyte, etc. can all eventually be upgraded to second-tier classes (Hunter, Knight, Wizard, Taekwon Master, Blacksmith, Priest, respectively) through acquired experience. This has the effect of making leveling a first-tier job worthwhile, though you’ll always be subject to the battle system regardless of level and skills.
Disappointingly, the online multiplayer component of Ragnarok DS is worse than the single-player experience. Not only is it a challenge to find people to play with, but you’ll be herded into a zone called the Tower of Mirages, where you’ll be tasked with grinding through 50 levels of increasingly difficult baddies. Even the possibility of finding unique loot isn’t enough to make going through this straight dungeon-crawl worth your time.
In terms of presentation, the game is also pretty mediocre. The visuals, as discussed earlier, are punctuated by bland, unvaried environments. The in-game, character and enemy pixel art can’t hold a candle to the concept/card designs; the lack of details makes everything look blurry. The music featured in Ragnarok DS is actually a highlight; the tunes are varied and fun, even though they’re marked by some seriously cheesy instrumentals.
In the end, this game is for dangerously hard-up Ragnarok fans or for very unsophisticated RPG gamers. This is a flawed, conventional dungeon-crawler that features a dull story and cast of characters, a boring battle system, and a tacked on multiplayer offering. For the real Ragnarok experience, you’re best served sticking to the MMO. There’s little worth exploring in this stripped-down, handheld version.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.9 Graphics
The game’s not ugly, but the environments and characters are largely bland and blurry. 2.5 Control
Though extremely user-friendly, everything’s so streamlined it becomes boring. 3.1 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The musical themes are clever but repetitive and often cheesy. 1.8
The single-player campaign is a long, text-filled, boring grind, and the multiplayer is even worse.
2.5 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.