BSPRPG (Big Single-Player RPG).
I tend to avoid MMORPGs. I have enough addictions in my life that cost me too much money, which leads me to believe that indulging in games like WoW and Everquest would be too much of an undertaking for me. And on top, it's all so angry... giant Orcs smashing each other with battle axes, elves casting spells over the raging hordes, nerds of all ages screaming about healing and instances. It's just too scary to approach as a n00b. Fortunately, all of that sort of goodness can now be had, as Ragnarok skips out on all the scary parts... and the people, too.
[image1]Ragnarok DS tells the story of Ales (you can name him anything you’d like) who discovers a young woman named Sierra who's lost her memory. Not surprisingly, her amnesia causes her to cling to the most familiar thing to her: that would be you. And why not, you're on an adventure, right? Maybe she'll find out something about her mysterious and forgotten past as you meet new people from town to town and explore the world! It's a win-win for everybody!
I know Ragnarok started (and continues, at the point of this writing) life as an MMO, so I expected a bit more in terms of differentiation, even if the story revolves around my character the same way. Aside from any superficial tweaks, however, there a deep system here that not enough portable games (and most mainstream RPGs) have. The point-based development system is in place here, where every level up earns you two different types of upgrades: your base stats (strength, defense, luck, and all those) and your job class skills. The classes are pretty standard: Swordsman, Magician, Thief, Acolyte/Priest, Archer, Martial Artist (Taekwon Kid, baby! *readies the Crane*), and Merchant - with each class evolving to a higher class later, complete with a spiffier title and a wider range of spells at your disposal, once you reach the magical level 30. Even weaponry can be upgraded, both by a blacksmith in town adding a point here or there and by the cards that some enemies can leave behind after they've vanished from battle.
The actual movement and exploration is akin to those of Diablo and Torchlight, but with a stylus: Lock onto an enemy, and you'll start attacking. Choose a spell or specialty attack, and while you continue to pound away, you'll be required to perform a certain swipe or charge, such as lining through or charging over an enemy. It makes complete use of the stylus to the point of ignoring every button on the DS entirely. The D-pad is only good for walking, but is basically rendered moot when touching an enemy starts the fight. In menus, though, the D-pad and a single “select” button would have been more efficient than the stylus. Still, it's a nifty control scheme that allows you to assign shortcuts for each item and attack, ready to be used at a moment's notice.
[image2]The real problem with this otherwise nice introduction to old-school RPG-ing is the backtracking. You'll spend the first few hours over the same stretch of space you started out in. It's almost like playing a game with breadcrumbs: You go out for a bit, drop them behind you, find your way back, and then repeat this over and over, going a little further each time without getting lost. Except these maps are small enough that it only takes one, maybe two, walkthroughs for you to know exactly where you're supposed to go... yet the game still asks you to backtrack through the same area. It's a good thing the environments are pretty, because it's going to take some time to reach anywhere new.
Ragnarok is not a daunting venture for someone who's looking for a primer into the deeper trenches of the genre, but it is a little much for the regular gamer who's just looking for a character to empathize with and a story to follow. Sure, it's cute and inviting, but the level progression is so in-depth and sometimes restrictive that it will likely fool its audience, who might expect to poke and prod at the screen without worrying too much about stats and menus.
I was really hoping to play a great online mode in Ragnarok, but alas, the multiplayer is regulated to what's called the Mirage Tower, where you and up to two friends can fight in randomized dungeons in search of rare items. Nope, this ain't an MMO... this is primarily a single-player experience based around a developed online game.
[image3]And this is made painfully obvious when you start to play through the storyline and find yourself falling asleep at the sheer blandness that is the “plot”. It has no pop, nothing that stands out. Every character, except Sierra, speaks the same way and more often than not comes across as completely clueless, even when talking about something they claim to know about. All of them are formed around the most basic stereotype of RPG characters, and the story itself is a straightforward, no-frills cliché that we've all played many times before.
When I first heard about this game, I admit, I was interested. I've only heard good things about Ragnarok Online, and I was hoping, somehow, for an MMO to grace my little dual-screen, but I suppose we're just not at that point yet. Pity... I could see one as cute as this taking that somewhere. Though, I think I'll still take this one around with me for a little while longer.