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Ragnarok DS review
by Uneducated_Reviews

About fifteen years ago I had an obsession, or more accurately, an addiction to a Korean MMO game called Ragnarok Online, I didn’t have a half-decent PC so I couldn’t play World of Warcraft or Guild Wars as I was originally intended to, but I’m glad it turned out that way, as I think RO cemented my love for RPGs with more Asian sensibilities. I played RO for two years and I get to know and care a lot for some people there, I’m still in touch with a couple of them although everyone has moved on to other things, so it’s easy for me to say that RO has a special place in my heart. I happen to encounter a pretty cheap copy of Ragnarok DS, it isn’t by any means an expensive game if you’re considering acquiring one on eBay or another place, so I thought it was the right time to revive some of my old memories with my old friend Ragnarok. I wasn’t expecting anything as I know the original online game it’s far from perfect and a glance at forum comments on the game wasn’t the most positive, still, I have the itch to try it myself and the result was not a surprise but I hope that it would turn out different.


The story has a pretty basic premise, you are this newbie adventurer craving for adventure, making a guild, and take the glory, then in your journey you found this mysterious amnesiac girl which you’ll unravel her past while searching for the glory of being an adventurer, it’s mostly generic but in some places it sort of points out to something interesting but it is told in the most boring ways: through exposition dialogue and flashbacks, on key events most of the times a will appear out of nowhere to tell background from another character, this even happens before the final boss fight, the boss states that you don’t need to know their plans and suddenly another character appears to tell you nonetheless, it is pretty cheap writing. To give you another example, in one of the side quests, you find a man who has a speech curse on which he can’t say anything true, so he speaks saying only lies even when he means to say the truth, this could make an interesting side-story but besides him is a companion of his which will tell you what exactly he’s trying to say, beating the point of having that interaction. What makes these story bits more bothersome is that scenes are unskippable, normally this is a thing that I wouldn’t complain about but the problem is that if you die in a boss battle (which almost always are accompanied by a 2 minute or so cutscene) you have to watch it again, but in a masochistic turn of events you even have to get to the boss room again, these are always in the 3rd level of a dungeon, so better not dying next time or you’ll have to make a 5-8 minute trip to the boss again.

I can’t say for sure if Ragnarok Online had a great story, as I was pretty young and naive back then, and I didn’t focus much on what was going on, also in a similar fashion like Souls games the story was told by doing side quests, reading items description and so on. But one thing that RO excels on was in its storytelling with its world-building, enemy design and areas told you a lot in regards to its lore, and to the very least they evoke some kind of feeling, maybe desolation or maybe intrigue. In RDS, on the other hand, there’s not much to it, maps feel like places that have stuff, enemies are the same as their online counterparts but they are placed in areas that didn’t mean to be there, so it doesn’t evoke any feeling at all.

In your adventure you’re joined by four other characters, the main one would be Sierra, she’s the typical amnesiac girl who follows you and has mysterious powers and backstory. Sierra is a key character and for that reason, she is developed further than other companions, but the main problem is that she doesn’t have much personality and at some point, you’ll struggle to point out what her personality is, sometimes she will be this innocent naive person who doesn’t understand a lot of words and the other time around she will be this person who will give you orders and get angry if you don’t follow, she goes from Rei to Asuka and vice versa a lot of the time, and it feels inconsistent, to say the least, which is a big problem because the game needs you to relate to her for some events that transpire in the story, but it’s hard to relate to someone that isn’t well written.

The other companions are a little more interesting, you have Lucifi, a knight of one of the main cities in this world, he’s the wiser of the crew and he is also afraid of ghosts, he’s an exposition device for everything. Lisir, an energetic and happy-go-lucky magician with a tragic past, she’s basically the comic relief character and although I can’t say that I laughed with her jokes or anything, she’s easily the most fun to have around. And finally the stoic and edgy thief Viselc, there’s not much to him as the story always sends him to investigate stuff and he serves as a second exposition device, it was my least favorite for those reasons. Much of the story revolves around the main cast adventuring and interacting together, and for the most part, these interactions were OK but they also feel pretty artificial, so I can’t say that it is a great cast either.

Given that in RO you could customize your character to a certain degree (gender, hairstyle, and in most servers color clothes) it was a major letdown that in RDS you couldn’t, at least for its single-player campaign, because in the multiplayer mode of the game you can customize it more (more on that later). You’re stuck with a male redhead character named Ales, although you can change his name, you’re locked up with the default hairstyle and gender. Because the story has a lot of “boys vs girls” situations I imagine the developers didn’t want a female looking character to be treated like a boy, back in 2010 the world was very different in regards to this kind of narratives so I won’t complain that much, it is not a good reason by any means but I can understand why the 10’s developers decided to gender-lock your character, what it doesn’t make sense is that you can’t customize Ales within the range of the male gender options, in other words, changing his hairstyle, I assume that it was because of cutting corners and that would mean more time and money invested in coding, regardless of the reasoning it also doesn’t make sense.

Enemy Territory

In terms of playability, Ragnarok DS plays in part like a point-and-click adventure, quite literally in fact. To move your character you click on any place and he will move accordingly, click an enemy and he will attack automatically, the same goes for the use of items, simply equip one of them on the shortcuts bar and when you need a potion you just need to click the item and then your character, it’s pretty straight forward and it has some of RO DNA on it. As someone who avoids touch controls and touching games (is this a correct way to refer to them?) playing this way in Ragnarok DS was more enjoyable than I would like to admit. Skills on the other hand were more a mixed bag, it has some interesting things like drawing a circle around the enemy or drawing a diagonal slash to activate a skill, on paper it sounds like a fun mechanic similar to Okami’s brush mechanic but better applied with the DS touching capabilities, however, more often than not my actions didn’t register and trying to do this skills consecutively it’s quite the hassle, as you need to click the skill icon then do the action and if you fail you’ll likely moving your character all over the place and then repeat, it sounds like a minor issue but it was one that keeps me from doing certain skills, and that is definitely a red flag.

Bad registered skills and enemies won’t be the only thing you’ll be fighting in this game, as the AI has some major issues especially in the later parts of the story. It’s possible to control other members of your party via clicking them and a shortcut bar, you can select between actions like, flee (not attacking), free (which supposedly behaves as the character will do in combat), attack, save SP, and recovery. More often than not and I presume it depends a lot on the positioning of the character and even the dungeon, your companions won’t do anything at all, they won’t heal you or themselves even if they’re on the verge of dying, they will do melee attacks even if they’re a magic class with full SP or my favorite one, being the healer and waste all their SP doing unnecessary SP consuming skills. Again, this was more of an issue in the later parts of the game but having to manually control them and having random results was far from fun.

Ragnarok DS offers you, seven basic classes that can transform into an advanced class, in RO you could choose between two advanced classes but here you’re stuck only with the originals, it might seem that is because of hardware limitations but being a pretty humble looking game I don’t think that it’s the case, that being said, the class selection its OK, ranging from melee to ranged classes and one that specializes in healing. When you finish the game you gain access to two unique classes to this game: Dark Knight and Shaman, one specializes in DPS and the other is a support class. The game also features a reborn system similar to RO, on which after you hit a certain level you can reborn from the start but with better stats, I was heavily considering to reborn but because of the heavy grinding in the end I choose not to, so I can’t say how this process is for sure.

Speaking of stats, true to its roots the game does a terrible job explaining how stats work and it even lets you choose how to distribute a good amount of points at the beginning of your adventure. Because of my previous experience playing RO, I know what I was doing but for a newcomer who is picking this game for the first time it will be very confusing, and the game has the nerve of warning you that stat distribution is irreversible, so if possible consult a guide on which class you’re aiming to play beforehand, it’s hardly an optimal way but it will save you lots of grinding hours, which this game has its fair share of. On that note, although the game says it’s not possible to redistribute your stats, you can do it when changing classes in their respective guilds, it is hardly a good choice since you’ll be losing half of your levels in doing so but I guess it’s better than nothing.

Alert Zone

One of my favorite mechanics of RO was their card system, although it was flawed it simply put a lot of depth into your build customization. Here in RDS, this card system works more or less the same, every enemy has a card that can be dropped with a low percent and each card grants you different abilities like more critical rate or extra HP, that sort of thing, these cards can be mounted in specific pieces of equipment and because weapons can have up to four open cards slots, it is possible to stack their attributes. The only drawback for this system is that once you mount a card into a piece of equipment you can’t remove it, which only removes the fun of the system as you’ll likely save your cards to put them in better equipment but how can you tell the new one is better? To be fair, drop rates aren’t that bad but if you have bad RNG you could easily lose an hour trying to get a card, it would be far more intuitive to lower rates a little but having the possibility of unmounting them whenever you want.

The game has some pretty interesting navigation, to say the least, for example, towns aren’t navigable, they’re just reduced to a selection menu with the places you can visit like inns, blacksmiths, shops, etc. For a fantasy RPG game the number of towns it’s quite low, and the same could be said for overworld maps, they have annoying labyrinthic navigation and back-tracking, there are not nearly enough areas to be and it feels too repetitive. It doesn’t have a fast travel system in any sort of way, late in the game fast travel it’s possible but only between two cities. You have access to teleporting items that make you return to a visited town in one of the two continents you can go in this game, however, they’re way too expensive for the majority of the game and probably wouldn’t use them because of that reason, so in the long run, you’ll be going to the same places over and over, making the same trails over and over.

Side-questing has its fair share of problems, you can do side-quests in two ways, one: is to encounter an NPC in a shop and activate their quest, or two: go to a tavern and select a repeatable quest. These quests normally aren’t interesting in regards to their story and you can only do one at a time, if you want to cancel the tavern quests (I couldn’t find if you could cancel NPC quests) you have to go to the specific tavern you got it and cancel it, if by any chance you want to try to do it again you have to watch its cutscene once again, even if you have completed it before, you can’t skip it. I’m making a lot of emphasis on this unskippable problem, but it certainly takes you off to making quests, so when a game doesn’t let you enjoy one of the most basic joys in this media I think it is a great problem.

The difficulty it’s hard to measure in this game, at first it doesn’t feel as hard, and for the most part, it isn’t’ but once you hit a certain mark in the story, you need to make some heavy grinding to advance, although I decided of making a Crit Assassin so I had a hard time making real damage through most of the game and that probably makes things more difficult than it should, so maybe I’m biased.

A Moment of Calm

If you’re familiar with the Online game, you’ll feel at home with the art direction and music of this game, as they’re mostly reused assets in terms of sprites and music. I have a personal love for its art direction but it is not the most polished you’ll find in the genre, this is more true for the maps, as they aren’t that pretty and the 3D to 2D stylization won’t be as pleasant for everyone, the one thing that I still find beautiful is its character and monster design, for what I could recall, they’re mostly reused sprites from the RO but they still look good, on the other hand, I would prefer to see new characters and assets than only having old sprites that will appeal to my nostalgia, it make look this game more interested in getting easy money than doing something new.

The original soundtrack was composed by soundTEMP, a Korean team of composers that seemingly had composed music for a lot of Korean MMOs. The thing with that soundtrack is that at first might feel like generic RPG game music, but once you put more effort into hearing their tracks you find their genius, they could make songs that make you feel good, feel sad, or pump-up, not only that, most of their tunes are really catchy and I’m not alone with this kind of sentiments if you go to YT and go to the comment section of one of their songs you’ll see a lot of people that are very passionate about every song, many of will be or feel a little blinded by nostalgia but I’m sure that also speaks a lot of their quality and endurance through time. So how does music fare in RDS? Well, most of the songs are smaller versions of tracks of the original and some of them feel like they were mutilated in a way that they don’t sound bad (and probably somebody that didn’t know them before wouldn’t notice at all), but because of that, probably any song will be staying with you after some time when you finish this game.

I Miss You

Ragnarok DS has a multiplayer mode called the Mirage Tower, this tower consists of sets of five randomly generated floors that end with a boss battle, these floors have randomly generated rules like, kill X number or X monster, press the switches in order, press the switches, find a warp point, you can’t use skills, etc. but since the servers are shut down playing multiplayer was simply out of the question. Thankfully, it’s possible to play this Mirage Tower in single player, and for the most part, it’s kind of doable if you have enough money to buy healing items that is, the main problem that I found is when you are tasked to kill enemies, sometimes it will require you to kill 3 to 7 of them but more often than not you’ll need to kill the staggering number of 21, this may seem trivial on first hand but monsters in this tower are hardened versions with gigantic HP pools and more hit and evasion, so at least in my case, when reaching a floor with this condition it mean certain death or losing most of my potions and die in the next floor or the boss battle. So most of my time there I was luck dependant until I had enough money to fill me with healing items, my initial plan was to do this tower over and over to farm the best gear in the game and maybe reborn one time to try the Dark Knight, however when I reached the final boss floor I was struck with disappointment because it was only a harder version of a boss in the main campaign, not even have an alternative color and given my critical build it was fairly easy, so what would be the point of restarting all over again if this was the peak of the game has to offer? I saved my game and finally put the cartridge on the shelf.

Playing through Ragnarok DS wasn’t that hard for me as the content of this review may imply, my playtime was hugely lifted by the love if have for the original game, but getting my sentiments aside, this is a mostly mediocre game which is impossible to recommend to anyone that hasn’t played its online counterpart. It sure has some fun elements and maybe you can play it to kill time but you’re probably better by ignoring it, fan or not. Maybe when it first launched, its multiplayer aspect gave it more life and probably offered a better end-game experience, but since it’s impossible to measure in the present day, we only have this low-effort game that was made to take off the money of RO players hands. If you’re itching to play it still, I think it’s mostly playable and you won’t be having a bad time either, but it definitely will be a meaningless time.
«Buggy as hell»