The popular Korean massive multiplayer online role-playing game is heading to the Nintendo DS so you can take your addiction wherever you go. Ragnarok was released in Japan in 2008, and Xseed has teamed up with GungHo Works to bring the game to North America. Based on the free-to-play PC game, Ragnarok DS follows the story of Ales, a recent orphan who has decided to set off into the world and become a famous adventurer. A larger, darker story unfolds, but in our first few hours of play, we didn't learn much except that there were a group of evil individuals who were trying to hunt down Sierra, a lovely young woman with a peculiar headdress and mysterious magical powers.
The story begins with Sierra attempting to flee from her pursuers with the help of a couple of brave men. It's obvious that she plays an important role in some kind of master plot, and she barely manages to get away. By the time she is found by Ales, she has lost all her memories about her past, which also includes everything about the world around her. Over time, she learns more about her surroundings, but for now, all she knows is that she should stay close to someone who is willing to protect her. Ales is a young man with father issues, and he has just recently lost his mother. He is driven by the desire to seek out fame and fortune, allowing Sierra to come along. Throughout his travels, he'll meet new friends that are willing to help him achieve his goal.
Like its MMO counterpart, Ragnarok DS involves a lot of venturing between places, fetching items, bringing them back to their owner, and collecting drops from certain creatures. The story was pretty linear, and we were always told where to go next, or we could take up side quests at the local tavern. The game moved at a relatively quick pace, and because we were constantly regenerating, we never had the need to rely heavily on items or run back to the inn to recover. Zenies, the in-game currency, weren't that hard to come by because the monsters were constantly dropping things we could collect and sell. For a portable game, it was easy to stop, do a quick save, and come back to the game later. Even when you die midway in a dungeon, your progress will still be saved, but you'll be sent back to the last town at which you saved your progress.
What keeps you coming back for more is the amount of customizable options that you can apply to your character and gear. As you level, you'll earn status and skill points so that you can increase your stats as you see fit. You can follow the various job paths that are available, which include swordsman, magician, thief, archer, taekwon, acolyte, or merchant. Jobs are leveled individually, so you always have a base level that will increase as you gain experience, as well as a job level so you can test out a different style of play to see which one is right for you. Some jobs require that you meet a minimum level before you can switch. For a price, a blacksmith in town can help upgrade your weapons, but you risk losing your cash and your weapon if he fails and breaks your item. Some weapons and armor come with card slots where you can insert monster cards that will boost the stats of your gear. Monsters in the wild will drop cards, along with helpful items and other goodies.
You can play the game entirely with the stylus, but you can also use the D pad to maneuver around the screen and use the stylus to select items, as well as other menu options. Gameplay is incredibly straightforward and easy to learn. You tap the enemy to attack, and your character will automatically attack until either you or the enemy dies. At the top of the screen, you can set shortcuts for spells, items, and special skills. There will be times when you'll need to draw on the screen to attack your enemy, but it will simple stuff like slashing through the monster or drawing a small circle around your target. Your AI teammates are automatically set to follow you and perform their duties, depending on their skills and personalities. Each member has a drop-down list of what he or she can do that is specific to the character, so you can always set your swordsman friend to go after the toughest creature or have Sierra linger in the back to focus on healing. The option to have them flee if things go awry is also there.
We also had the opportunity to test out the multiplayer features of the game--which are limited to the Mirage Tower in the desert--where you and up to two other friends (local or online) can take on the challenges on each floor. There are more than 50 floors that are randomly generated, and they also have random complete conditions. We would either be running around hitting switches in order or clearing out enemies to force the next warp point to appear in order to advance. It's a simple setup where, as long as one person knows what he or she is doing, you can follow along to complete the challenges. Otherwise, communicating via the DS is tricky because you're limited to fixed messages and four face buttons for shortcuts. A boss fight was always waiting at the end, and after about an hour, we were able to snag quite a few items, as well as gain almost 10 levels in the process. This was nice considering we kept these levels in our main game so we were much stronger than the members in our party. In this multiplayer mode, you can also customize the appearance of your character to your liking, and as you play through challenges, you'll pick up more random stuff to decorate your avatar.
Ragnarok DS retains the same cutesy look as the online version, even though you're working with a much smaller screen. There are three camera zoom levels to work with, but they all feel a bit too close. When you're wandering into a new area without a map, it may take awhile before you stumble across the small treasure chest that contains the layout of the area. Once you get into the groove, though, it's quite addictive, especially if you're always looking for ways to upgrade your equipment. For those itching to play an MMORPG-type game on the go, look for Ragnarok DS when it is released February 16.