First launched in Korea in the summer of 2002, Ragnarok Online became a significant hit there, but didn't approach a similar level of popularity in North America. As a result, it didn't come as a surprise that when its sequel entered live service here last week, the news didn't exactly generate a storm of media coverage. However, Ragnarok Online II has been on my personal radar for some time, primarily because, as a long-time observer of the MMOG scene in the Far East, I was well aware of the exceptional success the original attained.
On the other hand, my knowledge about the follow-up game was fairly limited. When I reached out to learn more and to get a better feel for the game's prospects here, Gravity Interactive referred me to Jason Koerperich, the Director of Game Operations, who took the time to fill me in shortly before the end of the final beta.
MMORPG: First, what would you like readers who aren't familiar with the history of Ragnarok Online to know about it? What were the keys to its popularity in Korea?
Jason Koerperich: Ragnarok Online (RO) officially launched in Korea in summer 2002 after years of public beta in several languages, then here in June 2003. The game was most popular in the East due to the ease of community play at Lan Cafés and the saturation of the anime culture. The long beta and the expanding interest in the anime culture both helped. So did the fact it plays very quickly; you can run and gather, and wipe out huge hordes of monsters all in one fell swoop. This unlocked free-form engagement, letting more console-minded players feel at home.
MMORPG: Since we know work started on a sequel several years ago, why has it taken until now for Ragnarok II? Why was the The Gate of the World version scrapped after more than four years in development? What key problems have been addressed in this one, Legend of the Second?
Jason Koerperich: RO2 has been in some form of development since at least 2004 if not before. Many ideas were tried, including Gate of the World. That was a very different animal than Legend of the Second. From my play experience and discussions about Gate of the World some conclusions were: it was a brutal grind, it had some interesting systems like swapping jobs and keeping a skill, and leveling up your weapon, but the look and the play felt lacking; also, the quest system would really have needed to be completely retooled. In the end, it was tested and launched to some extent, but just didn’t draw players’ interest like a Ragnarok sequel deserves, so back to the drawing board it went.
The biggest difference is RO2 LOTS is designed to not only have all the features players expect when playing MMO games today, but also does it with beauty, story and community features that make it a pleasure to play rather than feeling like a “task” to be overcome. ;
MMORPG: How would you summarize Ragnarok II in 150 words or less?
Jason Koerperich: RO2 is a beautiful game that you and your friends can enjoy casually or hardcore. Enjoy the immersive adventure story fraught with drama, deceit and heroism that you are a witness and a protagonist in. Big adventures for small groups, enriched with unique missions alongside the main story. You alone or with your group can create special items for others and participate in the Guardian Profession system. For those collectors and image-minded players, we have rich costume and customization options along with card collecting and trading for those that want to achieve everything! PvP dueling, team battles and guild vs guild options exist to prove who is the strongest in the world. Guilds directly help players as more than just a grouping and chat option; it offers new powers that only guilds can grant you, which directly come into play when doing the guild PvP options.
MMORPG: What leads you to believe Ragnarok II can succeed in the current competitive North American market?
Jason Koerperich: We’ve seen our communities grow up, some lack the time to play the 30+ hours a week that used to be a standard for their MMO lives. We have seen the dawn of super competitive player versus player game scenarios, and the growing and draw of the big raid challenges. We address these challenges and opportunities with an experience that won’t force you to dedicate a second life to enjoy it. You can get full enjoyment with a smaller group, which neatly fits into the class archetypes and the crafting system. A small group can be 100% self-sustained by supplying each other with their crafting.
Of course, we remember the big guild vs everybody “War of Emperium” from Ragnarok 1, which is already in testing for RO2, for those wanting to take on the world and be rewarded for it! Also, I love the story you get to live; the world feels so much more alive and centered on what is happening in Rune-Midgarts presently and how it relates to the original Manwas (Korean Manga) and Ragnarok 1.
MMORPG: Since every publisher says their game will succeed, why should our readers set aside their almost instinctive skepticism and believe your claim?
Jason Koerperich: Ragnarok has been beloved by millions of players over the past decade; RO2 is the next chapter in Ragnarok’s story. Our goals are more modest than most publishers; we want to present a game that endears itself to those who play, we want to be more focused on being the best game for those players rather than trying to meet every for all MMO fans. We know this strategy will work to meet our needs, as long as we continue to meet our players’ needs.
MMORPG: What would you like to say to those people who think every MMOG from Asia is "just another grinder"? Why should they believer Ragnarok 2 might be different?
Jason Koerperich: We have certainly played and published our fair share of games that fit this stereotype. Ragnarok 2 was developed over the years after TONS of feedback on what would attract players and also separate us from our competition; certainly, this is one advantage of nearly completing development and getting the opportunity to rethink the entire game structure. One design factor we needed to address were the leveling barriers to entry. Level capping a character in RO2 will take much less time than most popular console games would take to finish, well under 100 hours; we expect to see level max characters within a week. We want players to get to level cap because that is when a lot of the daily content and the PvP options really open up. The levels are for you to learn your class and experience the story; at the cap, you can enjoy the instanced dungeons and the daily quests along with ample PvP options.
MMORPG: What kind of MMOG player is most likely to love (not just like) Ragnarok II, and why?
Jason Koerperich: Players who love being in a more community-driven world, where small groups can go and thrive rather than needing to get HUGE squads of people coordinated to complete any relevant goals. Players who can’t dedicate massive hours to a project, but still want to be a part of a thriving MMO community. And of course, those who enjoyed RO and want to experience what has happened to the world a few hundred years after the Day of Despair, which is the story that the manwa series Ragnarok tells, and RO1 leads up to. I played tons of MMOs, including RO back when I had less life responsibilities; now, I don’t have the time to commit consistently and I am unable to play effectively. That would be much less problematic in RO2 due to the focus on smaller group activities.
MMORPG: To finish up, is there anything more you'd like to tell our readers?
Jason Koerperich: Ragnarok thrived because of its community, and much of that came from the wonderful look that Ragnarok has, inspired by the original and community art. Ragnarok 2 characters look like the concept art. We are remaking all the game voices in English, the voice talent that worked on this project did an outstanding job giving more life to the world, it certainly is worth a play through to enjoy! Give us a casual week of your time to play through the story; it is of course free to install and play. You may just find the game world you want to stay in longer.