Review: Ragnarok DS

RagnarokDS.jpg Ragnarok is best known in two ways: in Norse mythology as the series of events leading to the war of the gods and destruction and rebirth of the world, and in gaming as the extremely popular Korean MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing game for those unfamiliar with the acronym). Time to add a third, hopefully transient, meaning: a terrible single player game for the Nintendo DS.

OK, perhaps terrible is too strong, but whatever the correct adjective might be, it isn’t ‘good’ or anything else particularly positive.

Ragnarok DS starts you off with a generic and vague opening cutscene that serves as a little bit of background before introducing us to our main character, who is looking to expand his horizons by becoming an adventurer and opening his own guild. He comes upon the character shown in the opening, and they venture forth. It sounds simple and quick, and while it doesn’t take much time it feels excruciating. Every dialog requires you to wait and tap, then move a bit and wait and tap again, and so on. The pacing of the story elements is glacial – and that remains true throughout the game.

Technically, the game works well without excelling in any way. The visuals are distinct and colorful in an anime inspired style similar to the MMO, but nothing pushes the limits of the DS hardware. The areas are fairly small, but the loads between areas are quick. Similarly, the audio is pretty well done – sort of basic techno-pop synthesized background music that is never annoying, but also is never memorable or inspiring. The controls are very much touch-screen centric, which can be annoying if you prefer to use the D-pad to move your character around. Also, since your stylus is used both for movement and combat, stylus misinterpretation can often lead to running around the dungeon rather than doing a special combat move.

But for an MMO-inspired game, the technical details aren’t the core attraction – it is the combat and job systems. And that is where we run into issues. Ragnarok attempts to put the massive job structure from the MMO into the handheld game, and in general does a reasonable job with a few annoying restrictions. First off, it is imperative that you think through your class progression up front, as attempting to multi-class early on, or to stick to a base class without progressing to higher job types will cause you problems. Your allies cannot change jobs, and are stuck in their own progression tree, meaning it gets harder and harder to see meaningful progression for them. It also means that at a certain time when you lose a core character there is no one to replace them unless you change your job to cover the loss. There are only five base towns where you can change your job type, which is very limiting and tends to make the game feel like a grind.

Speaking of grinding, too often the game relies on sending you back through the same areas over and over. I know that happens frequently in games, but Ragnarok uses it to the point that it really stands out. In fact, one section of the game felt like I spent hours doing nothing BUT trudging back and forth through the same bland dungeon fighting the same bland enemies again and again, gaining less and less benefit each time.

The design of the dungeons and enemies in Ragnarok is bland and uninspired – and this is made worse by the sheer amount of repetition. Each dungeon looks quite like the last one you were in, with a layout that offers little context or reasoning, and with an area map hidden somewhere in a chest. This means that you will do blind exploring through same-looking areas for a while before stumbling upon the map. All the while you battle generic re-spawning enemies.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the game is that the combat system is dreadfully boring. Your core attack is to simply click on an enemy until it is dead; special attacks use the stylus along with selecting the skill. You only control the main character, and the rest of the party uses AI that you can alter to have a certain ‘attitude’.

As I said, the overall pacing of the game is abysmal. Plot elements seem to take forever, characters are generic and bland, dungeons are repeated again and again, and enemies have no tactics and simply re-spawn. Also, the game is very easy, meaning that even if you totally mess up your skill progression it won’t be very difficult.

Ragnarok has a small tacked-on multiplayer dungeon for up to three players to explore, with plenty of loot to eventually reward your efforts. Sadly, there is no sort of in-game communication system that allows you to work with your friends, and since it is identical to three people playing the solo game, every bland and boring element remains every bit as bland for multiplayer.

Ragnarok took me a couple dozen hours to complete, but unlike my normal ‘completist’ approach, I left many, many quests undone. There is a load of stuff to do, stuff to fill many more hours – and that is really in keeping with the MMO roots of the game. But sadly, everything about the game is so bland and generic that I was unable to stir up any enthusiasm and just found myself hoping for the end to arrive.

SkipIt.jpg

Pros:
+ Ties in to Ragnarok MMORPG
+ Deep class and job system

Cons:
– Boring, cliched story
– All stylus controls are clumsy
– Combat is bland
– Dungeons are generic

Game Info:
Platform: DS
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: GungHo
Release Date: 2/16/2010
Genre: RPG
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1-3
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!