IGN Review of Ragnarok DS
For those of you who were somehow never handed a demo CD at a videogame import store eight years ago, Ragnarok Online might be an unfamiliar title. The best way to describe it would be a slow-paced, cutesy, 2.5D and massively multiplayer version of Diablo. Players in Ragnarok began as novices and, after a solid chunk of pure level grinding, would eventually hit level 10 and get the opportunity to choose a fun class.
Ragnarok DS is XSeed's attempt to capture the core experience of Ragnarok Online, and crush it with the mighty Hammer of Programming into something that will fit in the palm of your hands.
On paper, Ragnarok DS is a pretty good game. Instead of running around aimlessly killing slimes and slowly creeping towards the next level, as players did in Online, DS is very story driven, and leveling is a great deal quicker. Controlled almost entirely with the stylus, it is also – for the most part – very simple to play.
Players take the role of Ales, a recently orphaned teen who desires to become an adventurer to make his fortune, and soon comes across a mysterious girl named Sierra. Sierra has lost her memory after being chased down by some soldiers, and decides to aid Ales in his adventuring. They help out the local authorities in a few missions along with a character called Lucifi before Ales decides he wants to create his own guild. Through some rather strange turns of events, Sierra is kidnapped and you've got to go rescue her. It ultimately becomes the standard "save the world from the sudden apocalypse" RPG affair.
My first qualms begin here, as much of the story hinges on the main characters discovering information which is done purely through a character called Viselc who seems to know people who know everything everywhere and at all times. The first couple times he conveniently came up with an answer, I thought to myself "oh, okay, well that was lucky", but then it just kept happening. In fact, he ultimately knows who the final villain is, his entire life story, and what his motivations are mere moments after he is introduced. There are also a few translation oddities and a typo or two scattered in there, but considering just how much dialogue there is in Ragnarok, this is semi-forgivable. Only semi, though, as there are the occasionally dumb lines, but for the most part the dialogue's frequently witty and generally quite strong. Taken as a whole, the story is decent, and at times, even emotional. It's also quite long – doing only a quarter of the side missions, it took me about 22 hours to complete.
For me, the biggest issue was that there are only about a dozen areas in the game, and you revisit the same ones over and over again. Some areas, like the Mjolnir Dead Pit, you go through several times for the main quest, and around a dozen times for side quests. At no point do the enemies get tougher in there, and there are no shortcuts. It simply feels like a time-sink. I can't count the number of times I was ready to give up on this game altogether because a mission wanted me to go to that damn pit again. If you could pick up multiple missions at once and complete them all in one fell swoop then it wouldn't be an issue, but Ragnarok DS only allows players to have one active side-quest at a time.
Then there are the side-quests which require you to travel to various towns to talk to people, and reward you with a mediocre item or small amount of money. There is a means of quick-transportation between towns, but it is expensive, and you only really get it for the last quarter of the game. It also doesn't work for getting to places that aren't towns, like that awful, awful Mjolnir Dead Pit. Seriously, screw that place. Some of the areas seemed to generally be designed to take up as much time as humanly possible, without actually challenging or engaging the player. The areas leading up to (ugh) Mjolnir consisted of two spiraled mountains. You have to climb the first one to cross a bridge to the peak of the second one, which you must then descend. They are mirror images of each other. Going up one means you've already seen everything the other has to offer, yet you have to do this about half a dozen times at least.
On the topic of getting around, Ragnarok DS's areas are divided up into sections. Extremely frequently when you're walking through an area, you'll hit the edge of the loaded area. The game will fade to black and then fade into the new area. It literally happens every couple of seconds when you're walking straight through and can get very, very frustrating after a while. The DS is certainly capable of maintaining a far larger area than the programmers are using, so the only reason I can come up with for the sheer volume of loading screens is to keep enemy numbers, and the distance they can chase you, in check. If that's the case, it's a very annoying method. On top of that, there are two areas which act as mazes, where if you take the wrong path you're basically sent back to the start. The problem is, there's no indication of what the right path is – you have to figure it out purely by trial and error. This is super-tedious.
Combat works well, even if it is very simple. Players tap an enemy to auto-attack it. Killing enemies gives players experience for both their base level and their job level. When you increase your base level you get stat points to spend on your attributes. When you increase your job level you get a skill point to use. Using skill points gets you skills, which you map to a button on your screen. Skills have a certain way they are used. In my case, I chose to make my character a "Taekwon Kid" – a martial-arts type class – and spent my points on an ability called "Axe Kick", which I executed by hitting the button and then drawing a line through the targeted enemy. In practice, it's not that different than simply 'poking' the enemy you want to hit, though it does feel a little more like you're attacking. Using abilities turns off the auto-attack though, which is dumb because then you have to re-tap the enemy every time you do something. As long as you spend your stat and skill points properly, you won't have much of an issue with any of the fights in the game. Even bosses are simply a matter of using your strongest ability over and over again. It's not horrible, but it's not very engaging.
Later in the game you can upgrade your character's job and get new abilities. There are 17 jobs in total including the useless Novice starting class (which has a crummy basic attack and a self-heal), and two of those can't be accessed until you've beaten the game which makes them kind of moot.
There are loads of quests. By the time I beat the game I had completed about 25% of them. They almost all require you to run around for half an hour through old areas though, so chances are you're not really going to want to complete them. Other than combat and item collecting, Ragnarok DS doesn't seem to offer much else. There are no puzzles, the only conversational choices you get are whether you will or won't accept a quest, and you only have very rudimentary control over your allied characters.
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