Ragnarok Online - Review

An Exercise In Futility
By: James Enright

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 3
   Interface 7
   Music & Sound 8
   Originality 4
   Story & Plot 1
   Localization 6
   Replay Value 6
   Visuals 7
   Difficulty Moderate to Impossible
   Completion Time NA  

Merchants doing what they do best in RO: Scamming.
Merchants doing what they do best in RO: Scamming.
Ragnarok Online

   It's been a productive few years for 'hack and slash' RPGs. Typically isometric 3/4 top down games with real time battle systems, it's been argued time and time again in the RPG community whether or not these games are in fact RPGs. Regardless of the debate, North American gamers now have the chance to play Ragnarok Online, a recently released hack and slash style MMORPG based on a relatively obscure series of Manga drawn by Myoujin Lee. Made by Korean developer Gravity, this MMORPG continues the trend of foreign companies making extremely popular online games of late. During the free open Beta test period, over ten thousand people logged on the game daily.

   This was a change of pace from the last free testing period, where the game got no more than three thousand users, distributed over two servers. Soon after this latest period, on a week's notice, players were informed that the game was going P2P (Pay to play) again. I figured that I would stick with the game for a month to see if it coming out of beta had changed anything. Now that the month is up, I realize that popularity isn't always an indicator of a quality gaming experience.

   For starters, the graphics are quite dynamic for the game which has been billed as an "Anime-themed" MMORPG. 3-D environments with 2D sprite avatars work quite well, both on paper and in practice. Xenogears would be the closest graphical example I can think of. Sprite animations are well done too, each type of weapon, daggers and two-handed swords, bows and so on, have a unique animation for every class and sex. This sounds fine, given the number of total classes, but there is still no remedy for seeing the same animation time after time, and it can get rather aggravating. Environments are passable, even with the large amount of reused textures, static water, and blurry edges on everything. All this has the end effect of making every series of dungeons or outdoor maps look exactly alike. Monsters often are reused sprites painted a different color. Often, a harder 'mob', as they're called, is easily distinguished by, say a new color, or maybe a super sized version of the original one. It's almost as if to save time, Gravity decided to reuse the first 25 designs they came up with to save work.

   Music in RO is probably one of my high points for this game. While entering a new town or area, you're greeted with crisp .wav files playing catchy, pop-like instrumentals, and at times; brooding piano solos whilst you face hordes of monsters. My only complaint is that the actual tracks themselves are too short. Upon opening the music folder in my Ragnarok Online directory, I realized most were 1-2 minutes long. Granted, the music IS good, that doesn't mean looping it after a minute makes it any better. Sounds fit well, but are easily forgotten; there are too few of them. Every sword/knife/axe sounds the same, the arrows sound like a face being slapped, and the magic sounds like…magic. Think of crackling and shards of ice. With one sound in each of these categories, you know you won't be enjoying the music for too long; the speakers will go off long before that happens.

Cool but useless summons
Cool but useless summons

   Customer service on Gravity's part leaves much to be desired. It seems that Gravity's solution to everything is to "rollback" the servers to a previous time if someone violates the rules by scamming or exploiting the game. This in itself is fine if applied only on the player(s) responsible for the wrongdoing, however, they rollback EVERYONE, not just the specific character(s) involved. This results in loss of playing time. If Gravity rolls back to yesterday, and I was level 20 Job Level yesterday, and 40 Job Level today, I'd go back to when I was 20. In my month of play, I was rolled back 2 times, one of which was a major rollback of 12 or so days. Needless to say, rollbacks such as those in a P2P game are ridiculous. If it was still beta, sure, it's expected. The fact is that it's not beta anymore, and paying customers shouldn't have to put up with so many rollbacks anymore.

   Payment is rather simple, though. Download the game from the official International Ragnarok Online website, and just sign over your credit card number to Gravity on their Website. After sitting around, waiting for an email confirming your registration for a while, you are allowed use of your Username and password. Then, after a hefty install, you select your server and create a character. Unlike other games, you'll only be selecting the hair color, name, and starting stats of your character, such as Vitality, Dexterity, Luck, Strength, etc. Since there are few hairstyles and colors, it's very easy to meet someone who looks just like you, almost right away.

   There are two types of levels in RO, character levels, and Job levels. When you gain a character level, you get to adjust your stats more. After a job level, you get to pick skills associated with your job. Some of the main jobs are the Thief, who hits fast and dodges well, and the Acolyte (the token healers). Merchant, my personal favorite, is a class that can buy things at discounts, and create their own player-run shops, and use quirky combat skills to boot. Everyone starts out as a Novice, a starter class with no skills whatsoever, unless you count the ability to sit as a skill. After reaching novice level 11, you can pick a real job.

   There's a catch, as there often is. Different classes are based on different stats. Thieves, for example, need Agility, primarily. To get the agility needed, you need to tweak your stats properly from the beginning. Nothing is stopping you from having wacky stats, like Vitality for a Thief, but some "builds" have better results than others, leaving little room for uniqueness and individuality. Then after you get your first job, you get to level it to 40, in order to get an advanced version of that job. Some examples are the Assassin and Knight, and they're grown-up versions of the first jobs. You'll naturally be killing monsters to raise your XP and increase your levels. This is where RO skates through the thin ice for me, as this combat is done with a typical point and click real time battle system. Just hold Control, left click on a monster, and repeat until him (or you) are dead. Collect your loot, sell it if necessary, rinse and repeat. Throw a few spells and skills into the mix and you have RO's battle system. It's nothing to dwell on, if you've played any Baldur's Gate game, Diablo or any other similar game, you've done this before.

The traditional anime intro
The traditional anime intro

   It's fresh at first, but ultimately uninspiring the 567th time. And that's one of the main problems with RO. When you get up there, in the 20s and 30s in Job level, things start to slow down. Where you were once getting 5-10% on your Job XP bar for one kill, you start to now get 0.1% and lower, making your playtime a constant click-fest. To make matters worse, other players will think nothing of stealing your kill, by attacking it taking XP based on damage they do. A lot of people who do this are using bots. Little to nothing has been done about this, with only temporary bans being handed out to repeat offenders. This is a kick in the face to honest players, who sit there hours on end, working for their levels. Forget about interacting with anyone, either. Often a staple, a selling point of MMORPGs, RO's community seems to suffer from moron syndrome. Grammar and syntax are a rarity among players, as is kindness. I swear, if I see the letters "Plz" in a sentence replacing please one more time, a pen will go into my eye. Socializing with someone remotely intelligent is rare. It seems most players would rather treat this as a "Powergamer's game" and leave a substantial gulf of silence between themselves and anyone else.

   If you want plot, or even a backstory in your MMORPGs, stay even further away from RO. Aside from a little backstory about a war between humans and monsters, there is no story at all to speak of. This makes Role Playing in this game nigh on impossible. All a player can do is level, look for rare loot, level, sell items and explore many maps, and do a quest, of which there are about 10 or 15, and all of which extremely short.

   The point I'm trying to make is that RO isn't really worth 13$ US funds a month. Don't get me wrong, the whole game isn't negative, but there are few positive aspects anymore. Since going gold, not really much has changed from beta. There was one patch which added pets recently, being able to catch monsters and use them as your personal pet, but nothing else has changed. NPC text still has many grammatical errors and "Engrish" syndrome, bugs reported many times by testers still occur, features and new jobs players were promised a year ago never have shown up, and rollbacks plague a game which supposedly is 'released'.

   Having played the beta, I can honestly say the game plays the same now as it did at the beginning of the summer. Like so many others of its kind, Ragnarok Online suffers from an extreme degree of repetition. Granted, when you first play it, it is fun. But over the weeks and even months, it's easy to realize that RO isn't really worth the time or money. Like so many other games before it, Ragnarok Online just fails to get the formula right. Game developers like Gravity don't seem to understand that we play games to escape the repetition in our lives, not experience it on a greater scale.

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