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My Favorite Online Game, Now Offline: Ragnarok DS (Game Review)

My Favorite Online Game, Now Offline: Ragnarok DS (Game Review)

March 6, 2010 | | 1 Comment Share thison Facebook My Favorite Online Game, Now Offline: Ragnarok DS (Game Review)on Twitter

I’ve endlessly gushed about Ragnarok Online. It was my first MMORPG, and probably will be my last. I loved that game, from the amazing Secret of Mana-esque graphics, to the Norse mythology-based universe, to the amazing pop and trance soundtrack provided by soundTeMP. I played the game since the alpha testing phase in the United States, so needless to say, I’m more than just a little attached to the game.

For that reason, when Ragnarok DS was announced, I was ecstatic. I don’t really have time for never-ending MMOs anymore, so the thought of having some of my favorite RO elements on the go was extremely attractive to me. We heard a taste of the music last month in the launch trailer, and even though it provided MIDI-fied versions of the original game’s music, they were great even in that form. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Is the game any good? A number of reviews that are already out there say no, so what’s the deal?

Find out in our review of Ragnarok DS!

First off, this game actually has a story. In well-composed English, even! The original Ragnarok Online provided a huge world to explore, but there really wasn’t much of a driving story behind it. Even more, the English translation and localization was terrible, so it was a surprise to see this direction for the DS iteration of the game. The writing is admittedly simple, but it has a certain charm about it that constantly reminded me of Breath of Fire III. I particularly liked the line, “Low level my ass” in reference to a tough enemy that was supposed to be easily defeated. The characters themselves each have a distinct personality that is often exaggerated, such as in the case of the selfish, bitter protagonist, Ales, and Lucifi, the knight who’s afraid of ghosts. Again, it’s all quite simple, but at least it’s simple done well.

As far as gameplay is concerned, Ragnarok DS feels like Ragnarok Online with stylus controls. The top screen displays the area map (which must first be found in a treasure chest near the entrance to the area), while the action appears on the bottom touch screen. Players tap to move around, and can simply hold the stylus in a given direction to zip along. This helps minimize clicks, which was annoying in RO. There’s even an auto-walk function if you hold in one direction long enough, which was much appreciated given the long walks that are required, which are one of the game’s weakest points. A lot of excessive walking and backtracking is required for many of the quests, and the game would have greatly benefited from a warp function. Later in the game, players can buy butterfly wings that let you warp to previously visited cities, but it’s really too little too late.

In terms of battle, players simply click on enemies, which engages a physical attack. Special moves can be triggered using a variety of touch screen motions (a slash through the enemy to use Bash, for example), which consumes magic points called SP. With up to three characters in a team (you can select how your allies behave in a easily-accessible menu), battles can get pretty hectic, making it difficult to use healing items, but at least this can be done through the game’s menu. Boss battles are usually pretty epic, with one-on-one duals making an appearance, but most can be powered through with special attacks if you have a full magic gauge. Overall, the battles felt a whole lot like RO, which I loved, and the final area of the game, including the final battle, proved to be quite a challenge

The game is meant to play a lot faster than RO, which is appropriate given that this is a handheld game. There is no “sitting” required to recover health and SP, as players instead regenerate health while standing still or even walking. Item drops are also added directly to your inventory, which speeds things up in that you don’t have to click on each individual item that’s dropped, although it takes away some of the fun of picking up a rare item off the ground. There are also no weight limits associated with items, and no required quests to change jobs, neither of which I missed.

There’s a lot of nostalgia to go around for fans of RO. Players will encounter similar enemies (including the Golden Thief Bug boss), will explore familiar areas, and will hear familiar music. Many of the same items and weapons return, and enemies often drop similar items, including cards which can be inserted into weapons to enhance their stats. There’s also RO’s wacky array of headgear that is retained in Ragnarok DS, including bunny ears, cowboy hats, and more. There are even emoticons that appear quite frequently to add another layer of expression to the characters, and are quite funny to see in an offline game.

There are some big changes, too. Town navigation is menu-based, reducing the grandeur of cities like Prontera and Geffen. Players can visit the tavern to acquire new quests, item and weapon shops to stock up on goods, and the blacksmith to enhance gear. They’ve interestingly worked in shop relations, which are displayed on the top screen, giving you access to new items as you spend more money.

While the job system is relatively intact, allowing you to pick from a large number of job classes like swordsman, archer, to merchant that can be upgraded to knight, hunter, and blacksmith, respectively, Ragnarok DS does away with alternate high-level classes (like crusader and dancer) and the transcendent job classes that were added to RO in later years. Instead, players can perform a “limit break” when they max out their knight, hunter,  etc., starting over as a novice and allowing them to redistribute their status points and raising the level cap when they go back into the same job. There are also new classes including the dark knight and shaman, both of which appear in the story and are supposedly unlockable for the main character, although I never figured out how.

About the quests I mentioned, there are individual quests that can be done for random people scattered throughout the world of Rune Midgard, and story-driven quests that can be accessed through your guild once you progress in the game. Some of these quests are simple fetch quests that require lots of walking, and are not all that interesting, but others shed new light on old characters, locations, and the world of Rune Midgard. I got a kick out of a quest that requires you to search the city for a potential mate for a client’s dog. You come across a kid who is willing to let her dog marry your client’s dog, but you find out the two dogs are the same sex. Weird, but funny. There are a slew of quests available, and even some new ones that are only available after beating the game, which was a nice bonus. Regarding guilds, this is a single player experience for the most part, but there is still some guild rivalry presented in the story. You can also find new recruits for your guild, and quests become available to establish friendships with them, which was a nice way to flesh out their personalities. You also get to select a staff member for your guild who you get to select from a list that not only displays an image of your soon-to-be assistant, but also a brief one-liner about their personality, taking to game to the brink of a dating sim.

I have to mention the multiplayer aspect of Ragnarok DS. Up to three players can team up and take on the game’s Mirage Tower, a randomly generated dungeon that requires players to complete objectives to progress to the next floor. I played through a bit of the Mirage Tower in single-player mode, as I didn’t know anyone with Ragnarok DS, and while it was a nice gesture to include a multiplayer component, the dungeon felt rather tedious and uninteresting.

Ragnarok DS looks great. It’s on par with Ragnarok Online, which is admittedly an old game, but the highly-stylized graphics are still enjoyable to this day. Players can zoom in and out (I preferred being zoomed out as far as possible), which changes how the game looks. The world of Rune Midgard is vibrant, with lush forests, cool deserts, and dank caverns. The final area is rather spooky, and a fitting site of the final battle.

Musically, Ragnarok DS is at the top of its game, although this is mainly due to borrowed music from Ragnarok Online. Some of my favorite songs from Ragnarok Online appear, including “Theme of Prontera” and “Plateau,” but the music is admittedly reused too often. “Theme of Prontera” is used for Prontera, Geffen, and Morroc, which was disappointing and detracting from each city’s character, and almost all of the overworld areas (including the desert) used “Plateau.” Both are great tracks, but this may have been a bit too much. There does seem to be some new music, including the boss themes. The final battle theme in particular is quite epic, and I liked it a lot. The game’s ending, which is emotional and cheesy (but still good!) uses “Wanna be Free,” an incredibly upbeat and fun track from Ragnarok Online.

One more thing: if anyone out there still plays Ragnarok Online, you get an in-game item with the purchase of Ragnarok DS. There’s also a very lengthy and complete booklet that I found very useful, especially when it came to managing my guild. I can tell a lot of care went into the manual, so check it out if you buy the game.

THE VERDICT

Ragnarok DS is a fun, simple, yet charming throwback to Ragnarok Online. I suppose people who never bothered with Ragnarok Online may not get the appeal, but I think anyone who played and loved Ragnarok Online owes it to themselves to check out Ragnarok DS. The graphics, enemies, and music are all familiar, and the game has really been streamlined to ensure that it moves more quickly to fit the Nintendo DS format. As cheesy as the story and exaggerated characters are, I found myself becoming attached to them, and some (maybe half) of the quests were really well thought out and provided interesting information about the game world and its characters. There are some hiccups over the 20+ hour adventure, including the excessive amounts of walking required, redundant fetch quests, and simplified town navigation, but these detract little from my lasting impressions on the game looking back. Check it out if you’re an RO fan!

Score: 7.5 / 10

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