Well it appears the PSP is STILL not dead. It’s just mostly dead. While the number of exclusive titles has been depressingly low, there’s still room for another this holiday season. And what do you know? It’s another RPG brought over from Japan by a smaller publisher.
We all know how much I love Tactical RPGs and how much I love my PSP. So let’s find out if I’ve been gifted yet another gem for Sony’s original handheld system.
In the Grantria Peninsula, mankind has found a way to erect a magical barrier to keep out gods and demons alike. This is good, because the forces of heaven and hell waged terrible wars that cost mankind greatly. It was though that with this barrier, mankind would have an era of unprecedented peace. However, humanity is good about turning on itself when it doesn’t have a common enemy to fight. Two superpowers have emerged from centuries of conflict: the Branshaldo Empire, and the Aura Republic. At the start of the game, the two powers have reached an uneasy truce due to being unable to bear the cost of war. For the past five years, the world has been on the brink of war, but there was hope for peace.
At the heart of this game’s tale are three characters. There’s Yuri, a Republican soldier, Cynthia, a Branshaldo mage, and Toren. Toren is a former soldier who quit that way of live and instead leads a militia intent on protecting normal citizens from monster attacks. His group gladly crosses boundary lines in order to get the job done. These characters, along with one the player creates from scratch, follow different paths as the world once again becomes ravaged by war.
The interesting thing is that your character can choose which side to follow. You can fight in the trenches on either side, focus more on those stuck in the middle, help assassinate one official, or work to save another. At the end of each chapter, you’re able to select from three or four different paths. You’ll have different goals, converse with different people, and see one of five different endings depending on your actions. Most of the core decisions are made at the end, but most scenes play out differently depending on your choice. For example, there are several battles where you can participate on either side. Do you help lead the charge over a bridge, or do you join in its defense?
It’s these decisions that give the story its power. Being able to see the war from all sides creates a connection between the player and the game world. At first glance, the story isn’t all that great. The writing is often hokey, the motivations of characters aren’t always clear, and things can seem glossed over. You’ll need to play the game multiple times so that you can see each event through multiple angles. It’s one of the few games where that kind of thing is worthwhile.
Like most tactical RPGs, there’s some good and some bad when it comes to the visuals. Let’s start with the good. The backgrounds are actually quite nice. There’s a good deal of color, and the detail is right where it needs to be. Although arenas often seem to take place on floating grids in the middle of the sky, the look is forgivable because it is the genre standard. There’s an actual attempt to give each map depth. Areas of elevation don’t just include an odd hill in the middle or a group of stairs at one end.
Characters, on the other hands, are fairly lame. Each of the job classes has a set look, meaning that changing equipment doesn’t change the look. This wouldn’t be too much of an issue if that was the case for everything. However, headgear changes appearance, and the weapon you equip changes as well. It’s just the clothes that stay the same. For main characters, you can’t even change the headgear. You can’t equip them because that would mean changing the appearance of the model on the field. Apparently this is a taboo or something.
The rest of the game is really quite bland. Stills are used for cut scenes, effects are run of the mill, and there isn’t a whole lot going on outside of the pretty scenery. It definitely won’t wow you, especially this late in the system’s life.
There are voices in the game, but not during story sequences. Instead, characters have battle cries. This is cool at first, but gets annoying fast. Characters utter the same phrases over and over again. The only language option is Japanese. Some of the voices are ear splitting. The default female voice was like nails on a chalkboard. You can customize the voice for each of your generic characters, but the better solution is to simply turn them off.
Musically, the game strides a familiar path. The typical suite of RPG tunes will accompany battles and cut scenes. There are somber tunes for depressing moments, and dramatic flourishes for major battles. It all fits, and it all works great as background music. There are no standouts, though, and I can’t imagine listening to any of it out of context.
Let’s just say that you can enjoy the game perfectly fine with or without the sound. It is nonessential to the experience, even if most of it is decent enough.
Ragnarok Tactics uses a combination job/base level system where you earn experience towards a base level and job level simultaneously but separately. Therefore, you can level up a job but not a level and vice versa. The jobs in question cover the usual stuff with a few more specialized classes thrown in. There are offensive melee units, defensive melee units, archers, white mages, black mages, etc. All but four of the classes can be chosen by either gender. Those four are split into two different categories with one class for the male and the other for the female. For example, the male bard-like class is the clown, while females get dancer. Differing genders do not affect basic abilities, which is nice. I found my female paladin to be much stronger than my male paladin.
The way jobs work is pretty straightforward. Leveling a job boosts job-specific stats, unlocks new skills, and occasionally lets you level up one of your existing skills. For example, the sniper class gains extra dexterity when leveling, may learn a new long range attack, or simply level up an existing skill so that it has better range/damage output. The downside is that the stat bonuses only count while that job is chosen. If you switch jobs, you lose all of those bonuses while you build up your new one. Your new character will be significantly weaker initially. It makes switching jobs a lot less palatable then it could have been. The upside is that some unique skills can be learned by leveling multiple jobs.
Gameplay takes place on a basic grid. Each unit on the field has a speed rating that determines initial order. When it’s a unit’s turn, that character can move, attack, use skills, use items, or simply wait it out. Enemy units get turns just as often as yours do, but they stay still until you get close enough to agro them. This means that most battles, even if it seems you’re up against over a dozen enemies, is really a series of smaller skirmishes against adjacent foes. There does appear to be an internal countdown in the game that sends the enemies after you if you don’t get near them quick enough. However, this took me over a dozen hours to notice because of how fast I was cleaving through all of their buddies.
Combat in the game is painfully slow. This is for a number of reasons. Firstly, the maps tend to be quite large and feature many twisting paths. When the goal is to clear everyone out, you may well end up backtracking for several turns before you get to an out of way enemy. Also, the enemies that stand still get turns just as you do. This means that the game must pan over to them and have them actively wait again each time their turn comes up. Since not moving and/or acting means you get a faster next turn, you’ll spend a lot of time watching enemies stand still and do nothing while you wait for your turn. When using skills and abilities, the animations tend to be slow as well. Battles that last less than twenty minutes are extremely rare. I had more than one that went over an hour.
Beyond job specific skills, each character has available use of the burst strike and overdrive meters. The burst strike meter is full at the start of the game. You can use it to perform collaborative attacks on one or more nearby enemies. You can select any ally/enemy in range to participate in the attack. The cool thing is that using specific combinations unlocks special skills that have interesting effects. For example, having a paladin and a priest team up for a burst strike causes them to use a powerful long range healing skill on all allies in range. Each character has their own overdrive meter that fills up as they deal and receive damage. When it is at least half full, they can activate an overdrive. This allows them to chain skills together without using any skill points. Once again, combining different skills can result in brand new attacks being unlocked and used. Using two shield strikes with a paladin unlocks a third string in the combo that deals heavy damage with a spear. It’s fun exploring all the different combinations these special meters offer, and using them at the right time can often tip the advantage in your favor.
Overall, the game is competent at what it does. It has some interesting mechanics, but doesn’t knock anything out of the park. The slow combat (even for the genre), strong downsides to switching jobs, and relative ease of the game keep it from standing out. It does the job, but only manages to reach satisfactory levels.
Your first run through of the game can easily take less than fifteen hours. That seems really short, but the game intends for you to play multiple times to see all of the stories. Also, you can extend that time by leveling in extra battles or by participating in the challenge tower.
Playing through the game a second time is definitely worth it. You unlock extra jobs, the enemies get tougher, you can see new sub quests, try out a different party layout, unlock new characters, etc. Best of all, a subsequent playthrough will take you through a host of new and different battles. Apart from a few introductory battles, you won’t have to repeat anything you did in the previous run.
For a dedicated player, the game offers dozens of hours of content. That’s right along genre standards, though there is less repetition here.
All told, this is one of the easiest tactical RPGs I’ve ever played. Because of the way combat is set up, you can easily maintain an eight to three advantage or better at all times. Enemies out of range will just sit back and watch you slaughter their comrades. The enemy behavior is also extremely predictable. They’ll always go after the weakest character, meaning it’s easy to lure them into traps. Using the agro system, you can just as easily pull one enemy away from a group and beat on them before moving forward in the level. The final boss got off one attack before I buried her in a series of overdrives and burst strikes. I almost slept through that encounter.
To makes things easier, you can participate in free battles to boost your levels up. There are always several options available, and they tell you the strength of the foes you can expect to fight. Winning these battles earns that precious experience you need to advance, as well as plenty of money to buy the best equipment. The only way you’ll lose is via laziness or sheer bad play. Not keeping track of the turn counter is a boneheaded move to say the least.
To put it in perspective, there are several missions that are supposed to be overwhelmingly hard. In these missions, you’re supposed to just find a way to get one character to an exit point. However, I beat all of these levels by killing all of the enemies. I’m not some amazing strategic player either. It was just that easy.
There is not an original bone in this game’s body. Jobs are a common mechanic, especially in this type of game. Many of the more unique jobs are still carbon copies of jobs in other games. The dark knight job even has a near identical outfit as the one from Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions. The basic play mechanics should feel instantly familiar to anyone who has ever played a tactics game. It just doesn’t come off as new or interesting in any way. Even the system that allows you travel back in time to try a different route is ripped straight from Tactics Ogre.
That being said, this game does do a halfway decent job of borrowing ideas from multiple games to create an at least competent experience. It’s not as successful at the practice as something like Darksiders, but it tries.
I had no problem putting this game down really. The battles were long, slow paced, and far too easy to entertain me in any meaningful way. The story, while interesting, was not so compelling as to push me forward. I found myself playing on for the sake of this review more often than anything else.
For those that do get into it, there is plenty to keep them going, I suppose. Setting up kills for your weaker characters so they can gain more experience is an interesting trick to pull off, as is testing out different skill combinations. The first playthrough is going to be the most addicting, as the extra features unlocked upon completion are tempting, to say the least. The game doesn’t do a great job here by any means, but it’s not completely without its charms.
For PSP owners, pickings are still slim when it comes to new titles. This game sticks out for that reason alone. However, if you still haven’t picked up something like Gungnir, I’d suggest grabbing that long before you consider this. The PSP has many quality tactical RPGs out there. Play them first.
Diehard fans of the genre are going to appreciate some of the things that Ragnarok Tactics does. For example, I appreciate the replayability and multiple storylines that offer up different endings. However, the less than appealing pace and combat is going to turn off many that would otherwise be interested. The thirty dollar price tag makes things a bit more palatable, but I don’t see as many people going out to buy this as other comparable titles.
One of the nice things the game does is include an ad-hoc mode. While you can’t outright battle a friend in combat, you can trade items and even characters. You can also upload your party so they can fight an AI controlled version of them. While it is not as cool as actual competitive multiplayer, you’re still rewarded with bonus items for doing this.
While I may have had several issues with the game, I’m not going to denounce it any way. I had a decent amount of enjoyment with it. Between figuring out new combinations and finally getting my sniper to the point where he could one shot enemies from afar, the game had its moments. It’s just not something that I’ll be talking about years down the road. It’s filling, but forgettable.
Originality: Very Bad
Addictiveness: Below Average
Appeal Factor: Below Average
Final Score: Mediocre Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
Ragnarok Tactics is a very run of the mill tactics game. It features all of the basics and doesn’t do any of them any real injustices. However, it suffers from slow pacing and a lack of any unique ideas. You can still have fun with it if you’re a fan of the genre, but it isn’t going to offer the same kind of depth or intrigue as the more iconic games. If you need a fix, the game can fit the bill well enough. Just don’t expect it to wow you in any way.
What Video Game Release for January 2014 are you most excited for?
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