Review: Ragnarok Tactics is great, if a little on the easy side
What a month the Ragnarok series has been having. Hot on the heels of Ragnarok Odyssey, a hopeful PS Vita replacement for the now 3DS-exclusive Monster Hunter franchise, comes Ragnarok Tactics, a tactical JRPG that’s out on PSP for some reason. Oh yeah, and they’re both based on the Korean MMO Ragnarok Online from the early 2000’s. It’s definitely bizarre, and yet Odyssey has been racking up some pretty solid reviews across the board. But what about this other, odd, slightly-dated duck? Is it worth dusting off the PSP for one more go around? The short answer is yes, but as usual, it’s complicated.
The game is a tactical JRPG, but unlike some others you might be familiar with, this game holds your hand the whole way, and while it’s not always fun to be babied, the less intense difficulty makes this particular game more enjoyable than it might have been otherwise. Ragnarok Tactics uses the basic grid system you’d expect, and on top of the handful of main characters you encounter, the rest of your units are made up of mercenaries you hire from the local taverns. All characters level up both as themselves, and as members of the various classes. The classes work well together, especially the Clown and Dancer classes, which are clever compliments to each other, and provide interesting field assists and buffs for your other units to take advantage of. You also don’t have to tie your units down to one class, as you’re encouraged to switch classes between battles. All units can also level up in real time on the battlefield, earning you stat boosts and new skills mid-fight. However, by the end of the game, I just found myself putting all my skill points into my attack stats and relying on the all-too-plentiful “Burst Strike” attacks, in which several characters team up for a massively damaging attack with almost no penalty.
This “no penalty” thing is actually sort of a theme of this game, and one that I’m not necessarily against in this case. For example, your mercenaries can die during one fight, and without even needing a recovery period, they’re ready to go again right away. This is great, because with a cap of eight units per battle, characters die a lot, and it would be annoying to have to continually hire new ones all the time. This game also requires almost no grinding, even though there are plenty of optional and recurring “free battles” that only really exist to bulk up your team for the next story-based fight. On top of that there’s a bunch of cards that you can attach to your units in order to provide special effects and stat boosts, which make the game even easier, but also open up a huge customization aspect, that’s actually really robust and enjoyable.
From a technical standpoint, the game is just beautiful. It’s a PSP game, but the only low-res, grainy, 3D models you see in the game are the actual units themselves on the battlefield. Everything else is highly detailed 2D art that just smacks of effort. I can’t tell you how happy it made me to see the backdrops bursting with bright colors, great water effects, and even plants moving back and forth slightly in the wind. The hand-drawn character sprites are also great, and very expressive, even though they are only minimally animated. As for audio, I enjoyed all the snippets of Japanese dialogue on the battlefield, but I was disappointed to find that the game is not fully voiced. Most of the music is also appropriately epic, but there’s also a bit too much of that funky modern Japanese jazz you run into so often in games like this. Overall though, my experience was largely positive, and I’d even say the graphics are some of the best I’ve seen on the system, so don’t take too much stock in my minor gripes.
The neatest thing about Ragnarok Tactics is the structure of the story. After a brief prologue, in which you team up with three characters from three different factions that are all at odds with each other in order to fight some monsters, your character, who’s essentially just a nondescript androgynous haircut with whatever voice and unit class you chose, is given a choice after every mission to pick which friend you’re going to team up with for the next one. Two of them, Yuri and Cynthia, are high-ranking warriors from two warring kingdoms, and the third, Toren, is some sort of mercenary-turned-man of the people, who in his spare time between murdering monsters for the greater good helps out at an orphanage and tries his hardest to get the whole world to get along. You can choose any of them at any point, and your presence at different stages in the story effects the outcome, leaving you with five distinct endings. It makes it feel like your choices really carry weight, especially when the game blindsides you with the horrible consequences of not choosing another path, during the brief text-only sequences between battles. It’s also cool that after you finish the game, you can go back and replay all the missions you skipped, which was extremely satisfying.
Unfortunately, the least neat thing about Ragnarok Tactics is the actual content of the story. It’s very boring and clichéd, and the inconsistent tone of the writing is off-putting. Sometimes characters use the sort of elevated language you’d expect from a fantasy epic, but sometimes they use modern words like “shitty”. It’s weird, and when there are story segments, they’re rather long-winded, but they don’t really happen all that often, and it’s really easy to just blast through them if needed. The endings are also very unceremonious, consisting of nothing but a nice hand-drawn picture and five or six slides of text. Bummer.
Still, post-ending, on top of what I already mentioned about being able to go back and play what you missed, the number of classes available to you doubles on your second go-around, with some much more interesting skill sets, as well as the addition of guns. There’s also a hefty number of side missions, which are all entertaining and about as well produced as anything else in the game. For hardcore players, Mirage Tower is also a thing, where the better you do, the more floors you unlock, and the harder the enemies get. I particularly enjoyed this aspect of the game, and the rare card loot that came with completing it was very cool.
Bottom line, if you still have your PSP, or you’re looking for a great and slightly more affordable RPG to download onto your Vita, I’d highly recommend Ragnarok Tactics. I’m not sure it’s a better choice than Persona 4 Golden or even Ragnarok Odyssey at this exact point in time, but if you’re a tactical RPG fan, or you’ve been wanting to see what one is like, you’ll definitely want to check it out, and actually, you might even forget you’re playing a last-gen game. It may be a little easier than what you’re used to, but sometimes that’s exactly what a game needs when it still wants to be fun.