It seems almost odd to be reviewing a game for the PlayStation Portable game as the system has gone on life-support here in the states. That didn’t stop developer GungHo Online and publisher Aksys Games from releasing Ragnarok Tactics, a strategy RPG spin-off of the Ragnarok Online series, here is the states. Does the game showcase the age of the PSP in a positive way or a negative way? Well, you will just have to read on below to find out.
Ragnarok Tactics places players in the middle of a long-standing conflict between the Branshaldo Empire and the Aura Republic, who have been in conflict over a land called the Grantria Peninsula for some time. A truce has been called but those things never last. You play as a character of your naming, choosing to take a stance with either side, thus only telling the story of that particular side.
Upon starting the game, you are greeted with a screen to name your character, select your hairstyle, voice, and most importantly your job. This is perhaps the coolest part of the game as your main character is not limited to a set type, instead you get to pick from 10 various jobs. I selected a Clown for my main character and with that I started my journey as a guitar playing fool who attacked his enemies with awesome riffs. If playing the guitar isn’t your thing, you can also choose from classes like Paladin, Sniper, Dancer and High Priest. Each class plays extremely different from the other and, as you beat the game, you can unlock up to four more classes for use.
Not only can you edit the main character, but as you recruit new people throughout your journey, you can edit their names, hair, and even jobs. As you level up through battles, you will earn experience to use on your character’s base stats and then job XP to use on learning and improving skills related to that job. The XP for your level and Job are separate and, when you change jobs, your level will remain the same but your job level will reset. If the system sounds familiar, it is because the game plays a lot like Final Fantasy Tactics.
Again, just like Final Fantasy, Ragnarok Tactics is a strategy RPG that has players moving characters on a grid map. As you select a character, you will have options such as moving, attacking, items, and skills to use. It’s fairly straightforward, you move your character to a distance where they can attack and you do so. Unlike some of the more recent SRPGs, the pacing here is a bit on the slow side, with battles feeling as though they are dragging on for too long with not enough action.
The game tries to get the pace moving a bit with two parts of the combat – Overdrive and Burst Strike. With Overdrive, you use multiple skills in a row on an enemy to try and land a huge amount of damage. You can select up to four skills to use depending on your SP. To use this ability, you have to earn Overdrive points by using the attack command, using skills, or taking damage. Each character can only use Overdrive once in battle, so make it count.
Burst Strike is the other cool aspect of the combat and works like team attacks in Disgaea 4. The strike acts as a co-op attack, where up to 3 party members can do damage to any enemies within range. Like the Overdrive mode though, the Burst Strike is limited to once per battle, so make sure you manage its usage properly. These two attacks do a good job of adding more strategy to each battle, especially when facing off against a boss.
Outside of battles, players have the option to take part in main events to progress the story along or sub events, which give you back story into characters without moving things along. There is also an option to do free battles, which allows players to level up and do some grinding. Free battles will become huge for players as you will need to grind for levels to keep pace.
On the world map you can also visit towns along the way, learning information from the locals, hiring new recruits and stocking up on supplies. Ragnarok Tactics gives your characters a slot for a weapon, armor, headpiece, and up to three cards equipped. Cards are acquired in battles and help improve your stats or elemental attacks. You can also collect rare cards by killing an enemy with overwhelming force. The game also deploys an ad-hoc mode that I was unable to test but the mode allows you to exchange items and equipment with friends or submit a group of soldiers to do battle with a friend.
Visually, things are a bit of a mixed bag and it is clear that the graphics have really hit a wall with the PSP. The opening scene and the background’s for each battle are really good looking, along with the character models during cut scenes. However the character models during battle and the effects of each attack are muddled and unimpressive. On the audio side of things, the main theme to the game is downright captivating, though it sets the rest of the game up for failure as the tunes never live up to that opening sound. There is also no voice-work to be found in the game, which is a bit of a letdown but I understand why it was omitted.
Ragnarok Tactics is a good tactical RPG that never gives you a wow factor but stays solid throughout. Battles feel like they are stuck in mud at times, but are helped out by good battle mechanics and the Overdrive and Burst Strike modes. The game is playable on the PS Vita, which is a huge boost to it and hopefully the community who picks it up, but it would have been nice to see what could have been if it was an actual Vita title. Fans of tactical fantasy games should really give this a look, but beware it is kind of pricey for a PSP title, coming in at $30.