REVIEW | Ragnarok DS [Nintendo DS]

by Tom Mars

I was skeptical when I went into this game. Being someone who never enjoyed the MMO this game is based on, Ragnarok Online, I was fully expecting it to be some cheap cash-in on the popularity of the name. I was wrong – Ragnarok DS is a fairly enjoyable RPG filled with a variety of content and a deep character customisation system.

Now, for those of you who aren’t quite as clued in when it comes to the online RPG scene, Ragnarok Online is a (only recently) free to play game which is mostly well known for its unique and expansive job system, which is all about a different ‘tree’ of character types which allows the player to make a highly personal avatar. And boy, are there a lot of branches on that tree.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Ragnarok DS is very heavily based on its massively multiplayer brother, right down to many of the items and graphics being of the exact same appearance.

However, instead of just making an offline version of the MMO, Gravity Co. has taken the basic structure of Ragnarok and the elements that make it up, and molded them into a unique single player experience. Of course, this also means that many of the flaws which marr the MMO have been carried over to Ragnarok DS.

I’m going to move forward on a somewhat bad note, depending on your view of things. The game is very light on story, so don’t play it expecting some epic tale of Tolkein proportions. The characters aren’t that well developed either, and sadly, the female lead is struck with a bad case of – you guessed it – amnesia. Everyone’s favourite RPG affliction!

The somewhat bland characters and the lack of powerful storytelling is balanced out by some of the other more technical game mechanics, though, which is obvious right from the start as you are given a screen on which you are asked to allocate a large number of stat points.

The game features a very simple real-time combat system which revolves entirely around use of the stylus. Basically, you tap an enemy and your party will focus on it, and continue to attack it automatically using whatever weapon they have equipped. Yes, auto-attack – the object of many love-hate relationships within the RPG fandom.

Depending on what class your character is, you can also use a plethora of skills in combat too, which are selected via a hotbar of sorts in the top right corner of the touch screen. These skills are then utilised in combat by using the stylus – for example, the first skill you will use, Novice Attack, is activated by quickly drawing a line over the enemy.

These skills never really require any sort of ridiculously drawn-out actions to perform, which makes the combat flow quite smoothly while feeling fast and frantic, which is a hard balance to achieve. Much to my chagrin, though, the skills were sometimes unresponsive and I would have to perform them a second time to have them activate. It was nothing I couldn’t look past, but it was a real pain in some of the harder fights where I really needed to act fast.

Another important component of the battle system is your ever present party. It being a real-time RPG, you’d think being able to control your party would be an essential feature, right? Well, unfortunately, there is no direct control over your party in Ragnarok DS. Instead, you can set their AI to utilise different ‘Tactics’, such as the Shaman in the party being able to be set to prioritise healing and buffing.

You can also order each party member to focus on a specific enemy, but this doesn’t really feel like enough control over the party in the end. It should also be noted that you can only control the main character. Which sort of makes sense, seeing as he’s meant to represent you – but hey, when did logic ever apply to these games?

While the combat is fun on the outside, these underlying flaws will undoubtedly take some of the enjoyment out of the game for those players who like to have a full grip on what’s taking place. On the other hand, it’s perfect for someone who maybe isn’t too interested in RPG’s, wants to just play the game with minimum combat stress, or just doesn’t want to fiddle around with technicalities.

An important aspect of Ragnarok has always been the job changing system. It allows the player to start as a novice, and then branch out into a multitude of different specilizations; Swordsman, Mage, Archer, the standard RPG fare. These base jobs then branch out further into more specialized territories such as a Swordsman becoming a Knight.

These paths are not permanent decisions, unlike in the online Ragnarok – you can change to the most basic jobs (Swordsman, Mage, etc.) at any time, at the cost of… wait for it… half your base level. That’s half of your level that doesn’t change no matter what your job is. That’s the number you grind to increase and gain stat points from. It’s a pretty hefty price to pay, and it’s not very newbie-friendly. It simply feels like an unecessary hinderance.

Speaking of levels and numbers, the levelling system is split into two halves. Your ‘base level’ is what gives you stat points to allocate into areas such as Strength and Agility. Your ‘job level’ is what gives you skill points to allocate into different skills that are specific to your current job. This allows for an excellent amount of personalization, and you don’t feel shoehorned into filling a specific role as a result.

I might have mentioned it a few times already, but the character customisation in this game really is great, and probably the most redeeming feature within it. Right from the get-go, the game drops all the strings and allows you to build your character however you want.

There isn’t too much to say regarding visuals, it being a handheld game. As I mentioned earlier, many of the sprites are seemingly taken directly from Ragnarok Online, and as such the appearance of the game will seem maybe a bit too familiar for fans of the series, especially if they’ve already put a lot of time into the MMO – some new, original designs would have been nice.

Although this is perhaps a matter of personal taste, I found the colour schemes used within the game to be rather drab, with a few exceptions. Even in areas that you would expect to look bright, you’ll find that Gravity Co. chose to use darker toned colours, and if you’ll recall what I said earlier about flaws being carried over from Ragnarok Online, this is one of them.

Other than those problems, the sprites and the maps themselves are still nicely drawn, as they were in Ragnarok Online. If you don’t mind a moody colour scheme, this game might well be some 2D eyecandy for you.

So, Ragnarok DS is a mixed yet enjoyable bag. If you don’t mind a game that is light on the story side of things but instead focuses on more technical elements such as character building, this game may very well be worth your time. And if you like this game, it might also be in your interests to try out the Ragnarok Online MMO, too.

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