For a good portion of this gaming generation, many of have played or at least glanced at Ragnarok Online. Apparently enough of us have played at least once or twice (millions in fact) it to spawn a sequel, and now Ragnarok Online 2 has stepped up to the plate to fill the rather big shoes of the original. Sporting brand new 3D graphics, while still maintaining the childish charm, I was actually surprised to see Ragnarok Online 2 as populated as it was. I can tell some might be playing it purely out of nostalgia but for the most part the game is decent enough play for a spell. This is especially true if you’re bored and can’t afford something that’s more robust and entertaining in general. But it’s not quite the same.
An overwhelming sense I got from Ragnarok Online 2 was that I was in some little kid’s dream, like a Kingdom Hearts tale with slashed up Norse mythology and Jell-O monsters. All the characters, despite some of them having beards and other older features, looked like they were children. This somewhat fits since almost every creature looks like a real-life object with an anime face plastered onto it. Not speaking ill of it, that’s just what it is.
There’s also the sort off odd basis on Norse mythology. The story goes that Freyja, goddess of love and sexy things, brought about a cataclysm when Odin bedded a human female that later bore a child. Now, I’ve read a few Norse stories and this had me scratching my head. It only got worse when they told me an incarnation of Baldr, called “Chaos” (really?), fought against Freyja, seemingly ending the cataclysm. I say seemingly because the weird, LSD-influenced anime world seems to be pretty healthy and vibrant. In some memory flashbacks the world actually looks pretty grim and, dare I say, creepy. The ‘boss’ of that flashback had two floating masks flying around him, and I got a very Final Fantasy X Seymour Natus vibe from it, minus all the grandeur. Moving into the in-game music, it wasn’t bad, but I can’t exactly rate it highly either. It wasn’t annoying enough to mute initially, but I can’t bring myself to remember it. Most of the music and sounds were certainly not as enwrapping as some of the other virtual worlds out there. However, I really enjoyed the login screen music for some reason. It was very elegant, and managed to give this element of wonder to the game during the login process. The login/secondary password screen was very beautiful too, I felt like I was logging into a video game made by Studio Ghibli.
Now we can get down to the good stuff, the real attraction for players; casual and hardcore both. Which is why this is such a shame to write. The game certainly has the structure and planning of an MMO, albeit a grindy Korean one, but the end result felt lacking. I did get some enjoyment during my playthrough, especially when I got to punch and torch that anime jell-o monster, but I think that was just the novelty of the whole situation. As I said though, there is a good amount of structure to it. You quest and kill things, quest and kill some more things, complete challenges, and eventually level up. Going into more detail, challenges unlock as you level up, but these are, for all intents and purposes, extensions of the questing and killing objectives that you’re already completing. More often than not, they’re lined up with where you should be doing your questing.
Leveling up is a bit more classical in terms of video game history. When you advance in level, you get stat points, usually enough to increase one per level. You also get a skill point, which then upgrades or unlocks a skill for you to use. After considerable leveling, you unlock a new job slot, which allows you to go down a more specialized route. As a priest, do you want to do more holy damage, and a larger array of hostile spells? Or would you rather buff and heal your teammates to victory? You’re free to choose whichever path you desire. However, you’re still locked to the general usage and mentality of your class, as Ragnarok Online 2 does employ a trinity system that the MMO market seems to be splitting on.
Another confusing feature is the fast travel system: you fly on brooms everywhere. Like, witches on broomsticks. While it fits with the art style and general feel of the game, when you consider the dark, Norse undertones, it can leave one with a sour taste in their mouth. The combat is somewhat uninspired compared to today’s trends, just a serious of point and click with no real interaction with the environment outside of watching for the (extremely) bunched together spawns.
While the gameplay can be stale and repetitive, there are certain features that I find both interesting and engrossing. One in particular is the card system. The cards are the equivalent of trading cards of the monsters in-game. I’m a sucker for collectible card games IN games, ever since the days of Final Fantasy 9. As a result, I kind of look out for games that brandish a similar feature. While there is not a card game attached (it’s only collectibles), the idea of trading and selling the cards, almost like a second currency, is intriguing to me. As of this moment, I have not played enough to see where the card system goes, or if it is easily complete-able, but I hope it is as engaging as my mind wants it to be. Another interesting feature, mentioned above in Gameplay is the unlocking challenges board. While they could have certainly done more to make it awesome, the general idea is there. You open up more things to do, as you do them. I swear, the human psychology goes nuts over stuff like that, and the popularity of games like WoW is just proof-in-practice.
Polish is where this game takes a bit of a downward turn. Despite the game not being that graphically pleasing, or strenuous on my internet, I had trouble running this. I’m certain that I get better frames in WoW or GW2 even. However, I have to acknowledge that those are far more established and funded games. Nobody has fun when they see a slideshow of anime monsters and teen heroes, though.
While I did dislike quite a few pieces of the game, enough that I’d normally drop it, I still find myself interested. Not enough to play for keeps, but to keep tabs on development for sure. This probably goes back to that sense of childish wonder, which very few games seem to capture nowadays. If the developers took some of the more positively received ideas from RO1, and reconsidered their ridiculous cash shop (which I’ll explain below), then hell, I’d give this game another shot.
While the game does sport a Social system typical of other MMORPGs, that’s really as far as it goes. There is a world-spanning looking-for-group chat, which EVERYONE should turn off as soon as possible. Seriously, it just fills up the chat constantly and blots out any other important chats such as trade, whispers, local, etc. The good news is that the game is rather populated, especially in the denser channels
A sad realization of this game is the cash shop emphasis. There is a VIP package which can be bought which adds permanent stats, as well as movement speed and other things. I can understand wanting to make some money off of a free MMO, but these things are a big no-no and certainly a PR’s worst nightmare. Only diehard fans will want to pay for the extra bonuses of the cash shop, and while I have no idea how many diehard fans there really are, I have to say I doubt it’s enough to sustain the game for an extended period. Luckily, the cash shop isn’t blared in the users’ faces’ much, but it is still a shame.
Ragnarok Online 2, at the end of the day, is an interesting MMO with some tragic design decisions. The good news is that most of these issues can be fixed, so long as the companies choose to fix them. I imagine the Ragnarok IP of old could be popular again one day, but for the time being, most people will want to let leave this title for the carrion.