Korean-based developer Gravity Corp.’s massively multiplayer online role playing game, Ragnarok Online, draws inspiration from a number of different worlds. It stands out among the dozens of MMORPGs that have saturated the market because, while it plays like Diablo II, it looks ands sounds more like Secret of Mana.
Spanning across more than a dozen nations, I would attribute Ragnarok Online’s success to its large and dedicated cult following. As newer, better looking, and more immersive MMORPGs are released, Ragnarok servers continue to open, and subscription numbers continue to increase.
Starting out in the game isn’t too unlike what genre vets are used to. Character creation is the first step. Players choose from a variety of hair colors and styles while their gender is determined by their own sex, or at least what they claimed while registering an account. Starting stats, like strength and agility, can also be tweaked to preference. Once that’s out of the way, new characters begin in a training area where they have the option to learn the basics of the game. Non-player characters guide them through the different menus in RO and demonstrate how to equip items and use skills. After the tutorial, players take a “personality test” to determine which character class they are best suited for and are then automatically sent to the city of that class’ guild. Starting out can be a little confusing as you aren’t really given much direction as to where to go or what to do first, but wandering around aimlessly and exploring is a part of the fun of the game, at least for me. I personally find the atmosphere the game generates to be enthralling, and a true sense of exploration and adventure are two elements absent from many MMORPGs today. Players will catch on quickly enough though: other players and computer-controlled characters tell newbies where they should go while menacing monsters indicate where they shouldn’t.
Movement is controlled entirely by point-and-click. Using the scroll wheel, the camera can be zoomed in and out and angled anywhere from overhead to nearly side view. While some angles are impractical, it is a lot of fun to change perspective on the fly.
Combat can be a simple matter of clicking and holding the cursor on an enemy until it dies, though characters also learn a number of attack and support skills useful for inflicting damage or increasing powers. Many areas in the game have “bosses,” or super-powerful monsters who can take a half dozen characters to defeat, usually resulting in a chaotic mess of hack ‘n slash, spell-casting, healing, and dying. It can get pretty hectic at times, but the simple controls and intuitive hotkeys keep things painless enough.
Enemies drop a variety of items, naturally, and the rarer items can take hours of killing to obtain. Thankfully, there is a set period of time (about five seconds) to pick up dropped items before others can come around and snatch them away. While monsters do not drop money, they do drop themed objects which can be sold in town: wolves drop fur or claws, whereas a skeleton might drop a bone. Loot can be used in various quests, or used to forge powerful items for your character, so it’s always a good idea to research what uses various items have. Enemies also drop unique cards, named for the creature that drops them, which can be inserted into a piece of slotted gear to enhance its power. To top it all off, blacksmith player characters in the game are capable of forging powerful weapons from these items. Some ask for money; some do it for free, if they’re nice. I personally have spent countless hours searching for the right materials to forge into a weapon for my character.
Also none-too-surprising: felled monsters reward their dispatchers with experience points. Said points serve a duel function by raising both the “base level,” which allows for more attribute points, and the “job level,” which opens up more skill points. Attribute points increase statistics while skill points can be used to unlock new attacks or unique, class-specific abilities. Base level starts at 1 and continues to grow to 99, while job level maxes out at 50 – signifying mastery – and then resets with each new job. Jobs are progressive. Everyone begins as a novice, unlocking basic skills at each level (such as the ability to create parties, or the ability to sit to regain HP faster), but they can eventually perform special quests in order to achieve their desired character classes. Before actually committing to a class, novices are free to pursue any career path that looks agreeable so long as they’re willing to travel to the town where that job is taught.
Once a certain competency is reached in the post-novice jobs, like swordsman or mage, more specialized classes, like knight, wizard, monk and dancer become available. Mastering these specialized jobs was as far as a player could go up until recently, which led to many maxed-out characters (easily identifiable by the ring of light they emit) running around with nothing more to advance.
Thanks to the new Transcendent Class Update, however, yet another level of specialization is available for those who’ve mastered the previous ones. These new transcendent classes include lord knight, high wizard, paladin and biochemist, to name a few. Simply leveling one character to these new Transcendent Classes will take months for the casual player, but attempting to master many different classes between different characters could provide unlimited challenge and entertainment. While that may not sound exciting initially, observing characters around you and seeing the intricacies of other builds for the same character class will definitely spark interest in other jobs.
Continual updates and special event also constantly add new depth to the already expansive experience. There are always new quests to complete, usually along the lines of retrieving items from baddies, reaching the bottom of a dungeon, or helping a citizen of Midgard in need.
Ragnarok’s community is an integral part of the game too. Partying together and joining guilds allows you to keep track of your friends and most people are always willing to offer advice, items, or even physical help in your quests while more competitive players can duke it out in player-versus-player arenas to settle their online scuffles. The biggest attraction though, has to be the guild wars.
Guilds can participate in a twice-a-week war of the worlds by trying to claim any number of castles spread throughout Midgard. A lot of planning and coordination is required for these events and victory earns bragging rights in the form of in-town displays for the conquering guilds. This aspect of the game is probably my favorite, if only for the chaos (several hundred characters are usually involved) and the rush (they usually last just about one hour).
As a guild master, I’ve found guild management to be particularly engrossing. I’ve had to arrange my offline schedule around these massive skirmishes in order to launch attacks or help my guild mates fend off those who would try to take our castle or castles, depending on how well we did in the previous war. So much strategy is involved, and with the huge number of character classes and other variables to consider, the outcome is never certain!
Unlike most new MMORPGs, Ragnarok Online’s graphics are not resource intensive in the slightest, but they have a cute charm that is tough to beat. The characters appear anime-inspired, and the locales in the game are representative of the world in which Gravity provides its services. There are pyramids, tropical islands, deep jungles, and underwater caverns to explore. More fantastic locales include shipwrecks, haunted castles, underwater palaces and giant ant hills. There are so many different places to see that, even though I’ve been playing since the alpha phase, I have not yet seen about a quarter of them. The fact that they are constantly being added in doesn’t help matters much either.
The overall look of the game is very bright, with flashy greens and blues above ground, and brownish pink tones for the deeper and darker places. The general look and art style of the game reminds me, again, of Squaresoft’s Seiken Densetsu (or Mana, in the US) series, plastered with bright characters and environs. While 3D is hip right now, I prefer this simplistic approach to the big blobby WoW art style or the grainy, drab-colored FFIX look.
The music in this game is also likeable, to say the least. I suppose it has to be, considering players often spend hours at a time in one area. It is one of the elements that pulled me back into Ragnarok Online after long periods of absence. Gravity had an in-house group known as soundTEMP create a super poppy and painfully catchy set of songs to match the diverse locales of the game. The styles range from Korean pop to break-beat techno to orchestral to Christmas classics (as heard in Lutie, the snow-laden town where Santa Claus lives). For those who care, the music is stored in MP3 format in the installation folders, which was a plus for me. Of course, if the soundtrack is not your thing, you can always turn the music down and play your own; RO isn’t so demanding as to prevent anyone from running a media player in the background.
The only real drawback to the simplistic style is that customization is limited in certain ways. However, if cool hats are your thing then Ragnarok Online is the game for you. Gravity is frequently adding new headgear for players to wear: pirate hats, egg shells, birthday cakes, you name it. Players can equip gear to the top of their heads, their eyes and their jaws (beards, cigarettes, iron mouth guards, etc.), leading to unlimited possibilities, at least as far as your head is concerned. Also, a clothing dye feature is to be implemented in the future, allowing players to customize their clothing palette. There are weapon-specific sprites too, though switching armor, sadly, has no visible effect.
With a unique look and aural backing, and limitless gameplay, Ragnarok Online is a very deep and rich experience. From exploring countless dungeons, to seeking innumerable items, there is always something to do in the world of Midgard. The variables presented by guild wars and the constant updates make the possibilities limitless – just be mindful of the heavy time investment required of you.