Ages ago, according to the manga, a war waged between the humans, the gods, and the demons. During the conflict, a giant's heart was shattered into pieces called the Ymir, pieces which held great power. After much bloodshed, a loose alliance was formed, allowing for thousands of years of peace. This peace also bred generations of humans who did not truly understand the lessons of their past, which doomed them to once again repeat their mistakes. As legends were passed down from their ancestors, a group became enthralled with the stories of the Ymir, desiring the mystic powers it held, and so began the story of Ragnarok Online.
While the mythological background of the story is intriguing, unfortunately, it seems to have been abandoned in the game design process, leaving simplified collection-style missions established with the single purpose of leveling your character. There is little to engage you in any ongoing plot. This MMO has spent its energy creating a tight-knit social community that keeps subscribers coming back month after month.
As you would expect with an anime based title, the graphics and music are truly the standout stars of Ragnarok Online. The environment is composed of detailed 3D backgrounds with 2D anime sprites that actually blend together very nicely. Don't try playing on your laptop without a mouse because traveling through the levels requires frustrating camera angle adjustments to see where your character is moving. The music has a distinct Korean flavor, and while entertaining at first, after 3 hours of playing RO, I quickly cut the background music off. The music is stored in the game folder in MP3 format, allowing you to replace the repetitive songs with your personal favorite tunes.
Every player starts as a novice. When the game begins, you adjust the basic qualities of your novice, choose a punky hairstyle, then either enter the fields for combat, or take your character through an introductory tutorial. In this tutorial, a computer controlled character will ask you a series of quirky questions, using your responses to choose the class you are most suited for. After my quiz was over, the NPC told me, "You are a very emotionally sensitive person, and you are open-minded. You don't want to be ordinary, and are always eager for a valuable life of your own, so we suggest you archer." In the recently released Juno expansion, a new set of job classes has been added. As you level, more job opportunities become available to your character. Currently there are 20 jobs (or classes) to choose from in the game.
While I knew the title was quite popular in Asia, I was unsure what to expect when logging onto the U.S. servers. For a title that never became the media's darling, there is a solid dedicated user base online. While tolling the main city, Prontera, capital of the Rune-Midgard kingdom, the streets were so packed with players trading goods and recruiting guild members, I had to duck into an alley to avoid claustrophobia.
Ragnarok Online is an expansive world with whimsical towns such as Lutie and the Toy Factory, where it's Christmas all year round, and you attack bouncing presents or crazed toy soldiers. Don't forget to pick up your rare Christmas hat, only available here.
No MMOG would be complete without PVP, and once reaching level 31, you can enter waiting rooms for 500 zeny, choosing either a room based on your character's level or a room with no level restrictions. There is also EverQuest style "capture the castle" twice a week pitting guilds against each other in the "War of Emperium." These battles are full of 99 level Priests and Hunters, so unless you are aligned with an experienced guild, odds are you will be owned within minutes.
It is impossible to describe all the distinguishing factors of this online title in a single article, and it is equally impossible to predict who will find this game entertaining. Personally, I found the collection focused economy addictive, but was disappointed at the options available to lower leveled characters. Classes, as well, are unbalanced in PVP combat, so choose your guild members well. However, if you play for the art, the community, or the "back to basic" style RPG game design, Ragnarok Online is worth a first look.
+ Gameplay is strongly based on community.
+ Well-rendered anime graphics make this ideal for the otaku gamer.
+ Lack of significant violence provides a safe experience for younger players.
+/- Game download is free; game costs $15 a month.
- Game lacks coherent narrative to help maintain player's interest in the plot.
- Localization is poorly executed in many areas of the game.
- Documentation and support for the game is weak.
- Map system is confusing and hard to read.
There are those of us who have never met an MMORPG we wouldn't play for at least a week, and with the free 15 day trial period and free downloadable game client, the game is certainly worth the try. If you are an anime fan, you will find the rare and collectible items a real treat, and if you have the time to level your character and join a guild, the game can become quite addicting. However, if you are looking for World of Warcraft style RPG graphics, this title may not be for you. With Diablo-esque "click and fight" combat on grid based levels, you will find yourself fighting Evil Cloud Hermits, Thara Frogs and Mutant Dragons. Players in RO play the game to socialize as much as they do to level their characters, so be prepared for large cities dedicated to nothing other than commerce and making friends. The GMs will even stage an in-game wedding for a small fee.
Reviewed by Kat Hunter