Ragnarok DS - Staff Review  

Out With a Whimper, Not a Bang
by Mike Moehnke

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Less than 20 Hours
+ Fighting is quick and fun
+ Lots of varied classes to try
- Plot is very dull and derivative
- Lots of backtracking through the same dungeons
- Buying/selling items is inefficient
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   Whatever possessed GungHo to turn Ragnarok Online into a DS game? The idea of turning an MMORPG into a traditional JRPG that just happens to allow others to participate via wireless access must have seemed attractive to someone at some point. Done well, it could have been an illustrious example of how to spread Ragnarok's appeal to a new market. Ragnarok DS instead serves as a means of reaffirming certain truisms in the RPG realm, such as needing some semblance of an interesting story to keep players going forward.

   Ragnarok DS cobbles together a plot straight off the shelf of JRPG clichés, only exacerbated by its mandatory nature. There will be no skipping through the adventures of the earnest young man, Ales, who dreams of being a great adventurer and has daddy issues, nor of his steadfast companion, the amnesiac magical girl, Sierra. Their journey to create a grand adventurers' guild will encompass stock characters by the gross appearing with uninteresting quests aplenty to pad out the playing time, and all the while the player will be tap-tap-tapping the DS screen to advance the plot line by tedious line. XSEED's localization work is occasionally allowed to be lively in throwaway lines, but overall the effect is comparable to putting Tom Wolfe to work on translating a Japanese third-grader's creative writing -- the brief spurts of energy are submerged under an ocean of tedium.

   When not tapping through a metric ton of dull plot developments, the player will probably be out exploring the world. Ales is under direct control, and simply by tapping an enemy he will be ordered to attack repeatedly until it is dead. If simple attacks won't kill things fast enough, there are numerous techniques dependent upon the current job class that require quick stylus use on the enemy and respond with dynamic vigor. The other two characters along for the sojourn are AI controlled, but operate well in spite of that, doing well at attacking the current target instead of wandering aimlessly like chickens newly separated from heads. Combat is simple and enjoyable, with a touch screen interface that actually works well.

   The problem with engaging enemies is not directly related to the battle system, but is instead a side effect of the game's plot pacing. A lengthy stretch in the middle of the game forces the player to navigate the same dungeons with the same enemies repeatedly, yielding nothing new except an enormous case of ennui. Unless one likes to run away from every enemy, there will be minimal reward from fighting the same foes constantly, and the environments themselves become boring by the fourth trudge through.

Aggressive desert birds must be taught a sharp lesson. Aggressive desert birds must be taught a sharp lesson.

   Ragnarok is reputed to have an interesting class system, and indeed the options are plentiful for Ales. Being a thief, merchant, taekwon kid, or a swordsman is indeed easy, save for two caveats. The first is that base classes become inadequate as the game goes on, requiring the player to invest a lot of time into grinding to raise job levels so as to reach its stronger incarnation. The second problem is that jobs can only be changed in one of the five towns in the game. Nearly as annoying is the fact that, while Ales' job can be changed, the same is not true of the other characters. They are locked into their job types and require long boring missions through old dungeons to advance into the stronger versions of those classes.

   Shopping allows one to view the effects of new equipment prior to purchase and has an interesting gimmick, whereby purchasing lots of stuff from merchants makes them offer more interesting wares. One simple oversight makes shopping an enormous pain, and it is the inexplicable inability to buy or sell more than one item at a time. Consumable items are the partial exception to this rule, but only because up to twenty of them can be held while occupying a single item slot, and each consumable item must still be bought and sold by itself. This aggravating mechanic makes merchant patronizing require far more time than usual.

   Ragnarok DS's challenge is lopsided. The majority of the game is incredibly easy, because Sierra will be in the party and she possesses powerful healing magic that will soothe the wounds inflicted by nasty creatures. Counting on Sierra to be in the party for the entire game is unwise, however. Her absence requires that the player either switch Ales to a class with healing magic, or rely on items for the rest of the game. The other story characters are prohibited from becoming healers and the generic characters who can join tend to do so at a lower level that requires babysitting, making a reliance on items the quickest solution. The game is still fairly easy, with the annoying restrictions on items that can be carried the culprit for what difficulty does exist.

To what?  Your doom?  My Nightmare?  Wagon? To what? Your doom? My Nightmare? Wagon?

   Anyone able to overlook the aggravating mechanics will find that the game does have a plethora of content to stretch it out for far longer than the fifteen or so hours necessary to finish the main story. Some are of the fetch quest variety, others demand digging through the same dungeons again, but there are a few that involve optional bosses or other missions that are decidedly more interesting. The Mirage Tower, a 50 floor optional dungeon meant to be explored with others via Nintendo Wi-Fi and located a bit off the beaten path in a desert one will see very often, comes to mind as a good example of the latter category. Experimenting with the class structure could also take up a great deal of time.

   Ragnarok has a pretty good variety of visuals, none of which push the DS's capabilities very far, but do look appealing. The same sentiment can be applied to the music, which sounds reminiscent of 80's synthesizer-driven bands like Depeche Mode and New Order. The presentation does its job well without excelling in any department.

   Ragnarok DS could have been a happy marriage between the addictive combat of an MMORPG and the enjoyable stories found in the best offline games. Instead it provides reasonable grounds for forever divorcing these two concepts, at least based on the results here. The battles are fun for awhile but get repetitive too quickly, and the plot would have been clichéd in 1995, let alone now. Only the incredibly patient who do not mind insipid, boring plots should bother to investigate.

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