Review: Ragnarok DS (Nintendo DS)

Ragnarok DS
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: GungHo Works
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: 02/16/2010

I’m not really an MMORPG person. This is mainly because people tend to be dicks for the sake of being dicks on them. There have only been two MMOPRG’s I can say I have enjoyed and they are Dungeons and Dragons Online for the PC and Phantasy Star Online for the Sega Dreamcast. I guess I’m still a bit anti-social with my RPG’s. Ragnarok Online is a Korean MMORPG that has been around for nearly a decade, and one I’d never actually heard of until the offline beat ’em up game, Ragnarok Battle Offline which I played in French for a short time. I enjoyed the gameplay and the visual styling of that game so I was always tempted to try the MMORPG, but I just never had a chance. Now XSEED has brought us another non-MMORPG spin-off for the series, and this one is thankfully in English.

The locations, graphic style and overall feel of the game such as classes are supposedly very similar to the MMORPG, which is great in terms of continuity and keeping the more diehard fans of the franchise happy. However the most important point is whether or not the game is any good and if the game can bring in any people outside of the current Ragnarok fanbase. So is this a worthy game for your DS regardless of your Ragnarok experience, or is it a game that fails to please anyone in its attempts to bridge the gap between PC MMORPG and portable action RPG?

Let’s Review

1. Story

There are actually two stories in the game that interlock with each other early on. The first is the story of Sierra, a young girl that is being rescued from a dungeon by a scientist and an unnamed adventurer. She manages to escape, but does so by falling off a cliff which leaves her with amnesia. Although this is RPG cliche #1, at least she is able to talk and thus avoids cliche #2. The other story is that of Ales, the character you will control and customize. Ales has both mommy AND daddy issues. An Elektra complex to put it bluntly as he hates his father for leaving his sickly mother and himself behind in his need to save good people and stop bad people and his mother has just passed away so he has severe unresolved grief issues there. Ales decides to set out as an adventurer himself, which is a bit odd considering that’s what his dad does for a living and he obviously hates his dad, but hey, what else can one have for a career in a fantasy game besides shopkeep or royalty?

Alex and Sierra find each other and team up, which is the start of their own hero’s guild. They’ll make new friends along the way and as Ales and Sierra grow as warriors, Sierra’s own past will start to catch up with her.

From both what I’ve read and been told about Ragnarok Online, there is little to no plot or characterization to that game. Well, that’s definitely not the case here. There is a great deal of characterization for all members of your party and you really get to see each individual grown and get fleshed out. Now, there ARE a lot of RPG stereotypes and cliches here, I can’t deny that, but the game balances them out nicely with character depth and some comic touches to events that unfold. The sub-quests had some fun non-sequitur story moments too.

Fans of Ragnarok Online will be pleasantly surprised by the amount of story that goes into this hack and slash title as it’s far more than you’ll find in the MMORPG (or any MMORPG really), and people who are new to Ragnarok through this game will find the characters charming and enjoyable as they romp through this hack and slash.

Story Rating: Enjoyable

2. Graphics

I really liked the visuals in this game. Character designs, background art and monsters are all very detailed and there’s a nice variety to everything you slaughter, even if there is also a good deal of monsters that are just palette swaps from each other. This is easily the best looking RPG released for the DS so far in 2010, but considering your other choices are Glory of Heracles or Sands of Destruction (both of which are turn based rather than action), it’s really not that hard of a title to claim.

Character and monsters models have a lot of texture to them. I was impressed by how much detail could be seen in each member of my party, and how different items would look when equipped. Because you can zoom in or out to three different view sizes, you can really see how detailed these characters are. I also really liked all the little emoticons. Some of them never failed to crack me up, like the smiley face giving a thumb’s up when the blacksmith finished tempering your items.

Possibly my favorite visual comes from the monster cards that sometimes drop when you slay a beast. These cards display adorable, almost chibi, versions of the monsters and it almost makes you feel bad for committing genocide against their terrible monster race.

The graphics of Ragnarok DS are some of the best I’ve seen in an action RPG for the Nintendo DS. In looking at screenshots of the MMORPG in action, the two games do resemble each other, meaning that fans of the MMORPG will get a little something extra out of the graphics while newcomers will just be happy that there is a degree of detail and design to the characters.

Graphics Rating: Good

3. Sound

The music of the game is surprisingly awesome. This is especially true of the battle music, as those tracks are more akin to what you would hear in a Cybergoth or Rave club. You have some techno, some trance and some just plain toe-tapping songs that I could easily see remixed and played in a club like Slimelight. Oonzt Oonzt Oonzt. The rest of the music is equally catchy. I found the main, “I’m in a town” track would get stuck in my head rather frequently, even after I had turned the game off. It’s bubbly, yet pastoral, and very easy to whistle when walking to the post office or in the shower.

There is no voice acting to speak of and there really aren’t a lot of sound effects. The noises of spells tend to blur together and all of them sound very much alike. This is also true for weapons. My bows all sounded alike (even if they looked different) and they would sound like an axe, sword, or any other weapon that the game used. Monsters really didn’t make any noises unless it was from one of their attacks and there just wasn’t much in the game. The game’s music, while excellent, does overpower any other auditory aspect of the game, such as there is.

In short: Wonderful soundtrack, but very sparse in everything else regarding audio features.

Sound Rating: Good

4. Control and Gameplay

There tends to be one common problem with any action RPG where you control a single character and the computer’s A.I. controls your partners: playing as a distance attacker tends to hurt you rather than help you. On paper, playing as a ranged attacker should be great. Your computer controlled allies take all the damage while you snipe away from a distance, reaping XP, gold, and not having to worry about damage. However that rarely happens in an actual game. Take Phantasy Star Portable for example. If you play a Ranger, you are pretty screwed until you grind your character up. Why? Because your AI partners don’t go off on their own -they constantly hover next to you. Because every AI controlled character you get in the game is a close combat fighter, it means they are useless and do nothing. Worst of all, it means the monsters head straight for you, the distance fighter who should be protected, because the developers did an awful job with AI in regards to distance attacks. Now this isn’t always true, as games like Legend of Mana have done a nice job of factoring in AI with a distance based protagonist, but they are the exception rather than the rule.

So the big question is whether or not Ragnarok DS has this problem. The answer is yes and no. Compared to most games of this nature, the AI of your opponents is wonderful and they will fight on their own accord. The AI isn’t the problem, but it’s your own character that is. To attack, you have to tap the monster with your stylus. However the pixel area for tapping is actually smaller than the monsters themselves so more than half the time instead of attack, your character will instead walk right up to it, as tapping the screen will move your character. Quite of a mistake to have the move and action commands be the same, don’t you think. When your character does register to hit, a new problem comes up. Your character will sometimes re-position itself to shoot, even if you are a decent distance away. There is no real rhyme or reason to this, and you will find your character back itself into a corner on occasion or even back up off the screen and accidentally move you to new section whilst in the middle of a battle. This is a pretty big developer screw up and AI should not take over your distance character when you tap to shoot. He should just stand his bloody ground and fire away. Alas you don’t get there. It’s also a minor pet peeve that the enemy will always make a beeline for your character and will thus walk through attacks from your partners to get to you where you are then backed into a corner as mentioned previous or where your character will keep backing up to create distance and walk off the screen. In other words, the worst aspect about playing a distance based attacker has been fixed, but you now have new, equally annoying problems to deal with. Thankfully these are issues only inherent to playing a distance based character, but it’s better you know these now than finding out after you’ve already pumped your Dex stat up high and can’t get those points or hours of your time back. I still liked my Hunter and was able to plow through the game in spite of these issues, but the issues with Ragnarok DS are simply easy to fix ones that GungHo just didn’t bother to and that’s sloppy and sad.

Now the other classes I tried out (as you can switch between jobs regularly) didn’t have this issue as they were all close combat classes. The only real problem was again that sometimes, the game would register your attack tap with the stylus as “Hey, go move right next to the monster but don’t do anything.” While I love how well Ragnarok DS uses the stylus , it really should have give you the option to used the D-pad to move your character OR to tap the touch screen, but not have both active at the same time. Instead having both active at all times can really screw up your attacks.

For the most part, Ragnarok DS plays as you would imagine. You guide your character through towns and dungeons, you buy items, you follow the main story quest or do sidequests and then you level up and get more powerful. What makes the game stand out is its use of the touch pad and the class system. In combat, you’ll gain special attacks or spells based on your character’s profession. To use these, you click on your shortcut bar in the upper right hand corner and tap on the icon for the move you want. Then you use the stylus motion assigned for that attack. Maybe it is a slash through the target, or perhaps it is touching your stylus to the pad allowing the attack to “charge.” There are quite a few different ways to use the stylus and touch pad to activate special moves and this made combat more interesting as the normal combat attacks aren’t even button mashing hack and slash. You just tap the opponent once and you keep attacking until you change the command. You can sit back and let the battle unfold on its own. This to me is pretty dull so the special attacks, along with the story and visuals, are what kept me going. The actual playing of the game itself could be quite dull for an action game.

The job system was pretty interesting. You not only get overall level experience, but you gain job level experience as well. When your base level goes up, you gain points to add to your various statistics like Strength, Dexterity, Agility, Luck and so on. When your job level goes up, you gain a skill point that can be spent on any of your character’s possible skills. Some skills are only accessible when a lower tier skill hits level three or five, and then it will open up. You can switch between low level jobs whenever you would like, but once you hit level 30 in a lower job, you can be promoted to a higher level job, with better skills, stats, and so on. After you reach level 30 in your high job, you can choose to have a limit break, which will reset your character back down to “novice,” which is the lowest tier job you can have in exchange for a bunch of bonus skill points. Only your protagonist can do a limit break however and although your job will be reset, your overall base level will not. This is a great way to earn more points when you’re really high levels and/or you realize a class was wrong for you. I ended up using a limit break to leave my Hunter class and then moved on to Tae Kwon Kid and its higher job class of Tae Kwon Master.

Overall, the game was a bit of a passive experience for an action RPG, and the controls could have used a bit of an overhaul, especially around the Archer (and to a lesser extent the Thief) class, but there were some interesting gameplay elements here and I enjoyed the game for what it was and the level of customization of your character here is pretty impressive. It was better than the usual turn based fare, but action RPG fans may find the controls a bit of a letdown. PC RPG fans will actually have the least complaints or annoyance here as it’s where similar to MMORPG’s I’ve tried before and even some rank and file PC RPG’s like Neverwinter Nights. I just feel it doesn’t translate that well into a portable game. I think the sequel, if there is one, will really live up to the potential shown here.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Decent

5. Replayability

Ragnarok DS is exceptionally linear. Side quests are plentiful but all basically boil down to, “Get me X number of object Y.” You do have the option to play sidequests multiple times, but it’s really not worth it due to how long it takes to get certain items. Most monsters drop three to five different items, but only drop one, if any, when they die, and the drop rate for most items is shockingly low. This means these subquests can take long than a main story quest simply because you’re doing the same thing over and over again just waiting for an item drop. Often you’ll end these subquests pretty overpowered and enemies will be even more of a cakewalk than they were before the subquest.

What gives Ragnarok DS its replay value are all the customization options that this game offers and the online play. You and up to two of your friends can access what is called, “The Mirage Tower,” but you have to unlock the Sograt Dessert first. There are fifty-five levels of the tower and you only get a break between every five levels. It’s pretty much the same each time you go in with the goal being to see how far you can get. I do like that in multiplayer mode, you can edit the appearance of your character so you don’t have three Ales that look exactly alike. That would get way too confusing.

Still, due to the linear nature of the game and how slow the game can drag on, I can’t really say you’ll get too much replay out of the game save for multiplayer. I liked the story and characters enough, but a few branching paths or the like would have helped this game go a lot further. As it stands, it’s a fun title, but I don’t know if many gamers will pick it up again after they’ve beaten it.

Replayability Rating: Mediocre

6. Balance

I already touched on two balance issue re: subquests and drop rates in the last section, but man, wandering around for two hours waiting for an item to drop out of this one creature is more boring than I can properly put into words. This was nowhere as bad as Adventures To Go which I loved until the very last dungeon, but it still made things drag for me. In Adventures To Go, you can’t beat the final boss until you find a very rarely occurring monster on floor above it. This monster has a 1% chance of occurring and then it MIGHT drop the item you need. EIGHT HOURS LATER, that monster had not appeared. So really, the drop rates here might seem ungodly low at times, but it’s a walk in the park compared to that game. It’s all a matter of perspective I suppose.

The game is also markedly easily. At no point in the main game did any of my characters fall below half their hit points. Healing items and spells are overpowered and extremely common with Sierra casting her healing spells without any restraint and yet never running out of SP. It almost makes things TOO easy. That coupled with any real activity needed on your part to play through most battles and you have a game that as I have said before, turns into a bit of a dull grindfest rather than hack and slash fun. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the game, but I can’t deny the difficulty was lacking and that there were some definite issues with the game that seemed to lengthen the experience as the expense of fun. It’s not a bad game and I found it strangely hard to put down because I was enjoying the customization aspects and the plot, but gameplay and balance are the two biggest low points of this title.

Balance Rating: Mediocre

7. Originality

I can’t really say that Ragnarok DS is a truly innovative game, but it does do something things outside the box. I’ve always wondered why there weren’t more PC style RPG’s on the DS. The stylus and touch pad seem like a great fit for point and click games. We’ve already seen Adventure games, long a standby of the PC, meet with success on the DS, so why not point and click RPG’s. Diablo could be done quite well on this system, as could say Baldur’s Gate and other games where the combat consists of “clicking on an enemy and letting the AI go to town.” Ragnarok DS does a fairly good job of transporting these mechanics to the DS and with a little fine tuning, it could have been something truly special instead of “merely” a fun game with a few control and balance issues. The gameplay and character customizations are the highlights here and even in the areas where the game does creep into cliches and old RPG adages and stereotypes, it still does so with both style and substance and keeps the game fun in the long run even when the occasional quest gets dull. Although Ragnarok DS does have its flaws, it does push boundaries that quite honestly, needed to be pushed five years ago when the DS was still young. At least someone is finally doing the obvious.

Originality Rating: Above Average

8. Addictiveness

I have mentioned a few times that I found the subquests a bit dull due to the sheer grind of having to kill legions of monsters with a very low spawn rate not to advance the plot, but in hopes that an item will finally drop. It’s grinding not for the sake of grinding or power gaming but because you have no choice. I’m not down with that at all.

At the same time, I had a very hard time putting the game down when I wasn’t doing the subquests. The story was fun, if not fresh, the graphics and character designs were fun, and I enjoyed the overall feel of the game. There are times where hours would pass by and I wouldn’t even know it. I was too busy advancing the plot and seeing what cards would be best with which character or trying to decide how to spend my character’s points. I felt a vested interest in the game even during the low points, and that’s how you know when a game has you. Yes, I’d take breaks after finally finishing a long subquest that involved collecting items and really had nothing to make the quest stand out save I was killing a different monster in this one in hopes of a different item than I had with the previous dozen or so quests. The subquests are definitely chores at times, but the main game isn’t and thankfully those subquests are optional so YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO THEM. Overall, I enjoyed my time with Ragnarok DS and the good outweighed the bad.

Addictiveness Rating: Good

9. Appeal Factor

Fans of Ragnarok Online will definitely enjoy this as it’s pretty similar to the MMORPG, but without the assholes and with an actual plot. Fans of PC RPGs that generally don’t like console games will enjoy seeing the controls for that style of game have made it to the DS with only a few minor flaws. People in need of a portable RPG fix will find Ragnarok DS enjoyable as long as they have the patience for grinding. It’s a lot of fun to play with friends and there are so few RPGs for the DS that let you play with friends outside of a PvP settng. Well here is one that offers an enormous amount of customization and provides owners of the game with more of a challenge than in the actual story mode.

Ragnarok DS won’t be most gamers RPG of the year or even the DS GOTY, but it is a game most people can have fun with. The basic core of the game and the character building process is quite addictive and it’s just as fun playing it by yourself as it is when you and some friends get together to kill some creepy monsters.

Appeal Factor: Good

10. Miscellaneous

There’s no real bonus content to speak of save for the Mirage Tower for some online play, but I have to say that much like how I actually prefer Phantasy Star 0 and Phantasy Star Portable to PSO or Phantasy Star Universe, Ragnarok DS is definitely preferable to the average MMORPG. You don’t have deal with people acting like choads thanks to the safety of internet anonymity. You can play with your friends without having to join a guild and the silly video game nerd politics that come with one. It’s a nice straight forward hack and slash RPG that tries to implement PC style gameplay on the DS with a good degree of success. I’m a little put out that the MSRP is $34.99 instead of $29.99 as it really doesn’t offer anything in exchange for that extra five dollars, but if you do buy the game you’ll definitely be able to put a lot of time into it, especially if you like customizing your own character. Fans of the MMORPG will be pleased to see that several cited shortcomings of that version of Ragnarok have been taken into consideration here and you can still play it with friends. Has Ragnarok DS convinced me to play the MMORPG, even with the seven pre-order items? No. Not really. What it has convinced me of is that PC style RPG’s should be plentiful on the DS due and that it is a shame that they are not. I’d love to see a sequel to this game with distance based attacker issues cleaned up, but overall I’m happy with the overall game and can recommend it to others, albeit with some hesitation.

Miscellaneous Rating: Above Average

The Scores
Story: Enjoyable
Graphics: Good
Sound: Good
Control and Gameplay: Decent
Replayability: Mediocre
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Above Average
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Above Average

Short Attention Span Summary
Ragnarok DS turned out to be a fun little offering. It definitely takes the PC RPG “point and click” style game play and turns it into “point and tap,” which is not only refreshing but also has me wondering why this hasn’t happened very often, if at all, with other DS RPG’s. The game’s graphics and soundtrack are very nicely done and it’s nice to see an RPG push aside the typical high fantasy tracks for something like the techno, trance and rave beats one will find in this game’s dungeons. Online multiplayer works nicely and without any real lag, and it’s a great way to simulate a mini MMORPG feeling. That’s not to say Ragnarok DS doesn’t have its flaws. The game can get quite dull with the sidequests that revolve entirely on grinding until a monster finally drops an item you need to move on, and there are a few gameplay and balance issues, though several of those can be avoided if you stick to close combat instead of ranged. Overall, Ragnarok DS is worth checking out whether or not you’ve played the MMORPG. It does have its issues but the good does outweigh the bad here.



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6 responses to “Review: Ragnarok DS (Nintendo DS)”

  1. […] Full review here addthis_pub = 'cortjezter'; addthis_hide_embed = false; addthis_options = 'delicious, digg, email, facebook, google, live, myspace, slashdot, stumbleupon, twitter'; Permalink […]

  2. […] GungHo, we meet again. Earlier this year they gave us Ragnarok DS and Lunar: Silver Star Harmony, both of which received positive reviews. This time, instead of […]

  3. […] GungHo, we meet again. Earlier this year they gave us Ragnarok DS and Lunar: Silver Star Harmony, both of which received positive reviews. This time, instead of […]

  4. […] generic action RPG that is actually quite shallow. Compare it to games like say, Dark Alliance 2 or Ragnarok DS and you seen how limited the engine is and how bare bones the level up system is, if you can even […]

  5. […] I tend not to like MMORPGs, but I actually had fun with the core game. Back in 2010 I reviewed Ragnarok DS and found it to be one of the better RPGs released for the system that year. So when I heard there […]

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