Review by holyknight14

"Reserved for gamers with a lot of patience"

Ragnarok: Hikari to Yami no Kojo is one of the latest SRPGs for the Sony PSP. It was developed by GungHo Online Entertainment and is primarily based on the Korean MMORPG, Ragnarok Online. Ragnarok: HtYnK never made much of an impression when it was first released in Japan back in 2011. In fact, most international gamers hadn't even heard about it until Aksys Games announced their plans to localize it as Ragnarok Tactics (RT) for a Winter 2012 release. Ragnarok spin-offs over the years have been highly varied in terms of presentation and gameplay mechanics. RT can perhaps be most easily described as a "standard" SRPG that emulates the style of games such as Tactics Ogre and Final Fantasy Tactics. Gamers who have experience with those types of games will find many of the same strengths and weaknesses in RT.

Story: 8/10
RT takes place on the Grantria Peninsula. Players assume the role of Rito in their adventure. This is the default name of the custom made avatar that the player views the game through. Although Rito is a silent protagonist, he/she can interact with every character in the game and make decisions that alter certain events throughout the storyline. Rito initially belongs to the Toren Militia. The first few scenarios of the game introduce Rito to the main characters of the other factions who will become important throughout the game. After the prologue comes to an end, Rito is free to view the unfolding events of the game through the perspectives of each main power. Each major segment of the game is referred to as a chapter. In addition, each chapter contains three or four main events that tell a specific part of the tale from the views of members of the Toren Militia, Branshaldo Empire and Aura Republic. The player can choose to partake in one main event per chapter throughout the first playthrough.

The storytelling mechanic that is employed in RT is fairly interesting and provides a lot of freedom for the player to experience events as they please. Players can choose to follow their favorite character(s) exclusively or switch around as they see fit. The game always provides brief notes about what is happening overall. However, the full details can only be viewed if that specific main event is selected during the respective chapter. There are also a considerable amount of optional quests that are referred to as sub events. Sub events are unlocked based on which main events are completed throughout the game. These optional events introduce additional characters and fill in some details about the main story, main characters and the history of the peninsula. As mentioned, these are completely optional and only serve to add a little extra perspective to the game.

Overall, RT's storyline starts off rather interesting due to fast pacing and the mystery of the story branches. However, the main plot becomes somewhat repetitive about half way through and also begins shifting focus to a "save the world" theme. Not to mention, each of the five endings are all forgettable to say the least. Perhaps the best way to rate the general storyline is that it "runs out of gas," for lack of a better phrase. On the other hand, characterization is surprisingly decent in RT. Many of the main characters are shown to be more than just "cutesy" pieces of artwork and there are many mixed emotions present throughout the game. There is a lot of character development from the beginning of the game to the very end. In addition, the characters introduced in the numerous sub events are also developed fairly well. A generally polished localization (with some issues) did help considerably as RT is a relatively text heavy game.

Graphics: 8/10
Generally speaking, there is a lot of strength in RT's graphics. There is a lot of beauty present in the world of RT. Each battlefield has its own distinct characteristics complete with obstacles and abundant background scenery. Players are free to view the battles from three different point of views. The details are easier to spot on the closest setting and the farthest setting can be used to observe the battlefield as a whole. All of the character artwork present during dialogue sequences is great as well. Each character is unique in appearance and design. Even the rather unimportant NPCs in towns are generally given their own artwork and there is little repetition aside from random army grunts. In addition, most of the characters have a range of emotions that are displayed during dialogue sessions as well.

Character models are a bit of a mixed bag in RT. To be honest, I think the developers did a good job in transforming the original Ragnarok Online 2D sprites into RT's 3D models. Every initial job in RT is instantly recognizable from the MMORPG without much of an after thought. However, the four unlockable jobs aren't nearly as similar in this regard. Hairstyles can be fully customized in terms of appearance and color. Unfortunately, there is no way to dye clothing and this leads to a bit of repetition if the player favors a few select jobs. Weapons and hats change a unit's appearance when equipped, but there are very few different models. Monster variety is lacking as well and many of them are simply color swaps. Skill animations are generally unimpressive in appearance. The only exceptions are the Burst Attacks. These are rather fun to watch the first few times, but likely not for extended periods of time.

Gameplay: 6/10
As previously mentioned, RT is a grid based SRPG with an emphasis on micro managing units and battlefield grinding. There is no exploration as would be typical of traditional RPGs. RT takes place on three major mediums. The first is the world map where the player can choose a destination. Locations are all represented by what they are such as "main event," "town," etc. and are all self explanatory. The second is the battlefield where the player's team fights the opposition. The third is the town interface where players can purchase equipment and supplies, hire mercenaries and talk to a few of the town's inhabitants. Sub events are also started in towns on occasion.

The player's army in RT is comprised of individual units that can be customized in a variety of ways. Each unit must assume 1 out of the 14 playable jobs at all times. Jobs dictate which weapon type, armor and skills will be available to the unit. Each unit's overall prowess is measured by two types of levels. The first is the base level and the second is the job level. Gaining base levels provides points that can be allocated to the six base stats, STR, AGI, VIT, INT, DEX and LUK. Raising a unit's job level grants additional, bonus stats on top of what is gained from base levels. In addition, new abilities are unlocked through job levels and points are gradually earned to raise skill levels. Base levels are tied to the unit and stat points cannot be reset once they are used and confirmed. However, job levels are tied to the respective job for that character. Changing jobs will remove all aspects associated with the previous job and return the unit to job level 1. However, job level progress is saved and job changing does not have any direct adverse effects.

Each unit can equip a weapon, armor and a hat. In addition, there are three slots reserved exclusively for cards. Weapons and armor are generally straightforward ATK and DEF boosters. Hats generally raise DEF and provide a small stat boost in most cases. Cards provide a variety of different effects. Some raise base stats, others add chances to inflict status effects on enemies or prevent enemies from inflicting them in return. There are even job specific cards that provide bonuses intended only for that respective job. Each card is given a potency ranking depicted by a letter such as "C," "B," "A" and "S." The highest ranked cards not only provide the biggest benefits in each category, but may also grant effects that are not even seen in the lower ranked categories.

Battles are relatively straightforward for those who have played similar SRPGs in the past. Turns are dictated by unit speed and actions taken during the previous turn. Units can choose to Move and Attack, use Skills or consume Items in a single turn. There are also a few unique commands that can be selected. The first is the Overdrive command, which is powered by the corresponding gauge at the top right of the screen. Fighting in battle will charge the gauge and then the command can be used to unleash multiple skills in a combo. The second is the Burst Strike command, which is driven by the gauge on top of the Overdrive gauge. Burst Strikes combine the fighting power of up to three team members to assault all foes within range. The combined damage is divided between all enemies. Both of these options create a significant turn delay. However, they are very powerful if used properly. Finally, there is the Rest command. This is an alternative to Wait and will restore a small amount of HP and SP in exchange for a greater turn delay.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the gameplay is the sluggish feeling of the game. Abundant delays are present in every facet of the playing experience, whether it be the interface, the pop ups, transition to animations, etc. There were many times in battles that I opted to avoid using skills simply to save some time, let alone bothering with Overdrive. The loading time to perform a Burst Strike every time is completely unacceptable. Micro management is generally a huge part of SRPGs and even the simplest commands feel tedious. For example, there were many times throughout the game that I postponed upgrading my cards because the poor sorting combined with the lag made it unworthy of the effort required. Playing RT is a chore from start to finish, and although a part of it becomes "tolerable" after hours of play, it never feels natural or acceptable for that matter. This major problem combined with generally average gameplay just makes the game drag.

Music/Sound Effects: 7/10
RT's soundtrack isn't bad at all and I found myself enjoying more songs than not while playing. However, most of the tracks are rather repetitive and I found myself feeling less attached to them after awhile. There is also a notable lack of variety and the same handful of songs are usually heard from the beginning to the end. However, there were one or two tracks that I thoroughly enjoyed. Overall, I've listened to worse and RT's music is definitely not bad. On the other hand, the sound effects really aren't worth mentioning. Most attacks sound the same regardless of what they are. Some have their own unique effects, but that's a pretty rare occurrence.

Voice acting in RT is limited to battle cries for the most part. The only exception is the dubbed introduction, which isn't too bad. Rito and all created generic characters have customized voice selections. The player can choose through a generous assortment of different voices to create a little originality. Voices range from high pitched, ear piercing yells to very mellow tones to grim threats. It's all customizable, so I felt that this was a very positive aspect of the game. In addition, named characters all have their own, unique voices for the most part. They do sound similar to the assortment used for generics, but they all have their own little quirks to distinguish themselves. Overall, the voice acting is quite strong in RT compared to a lot of games.

Challenge: 3/10
I grade a game's challenge based on how well it fits the game and whether or not it fosters enjoyment. RT starts off with a fair amount of challenge as the player's team is fixed and outnumbered. However, this quickly changes once mercenaries become available and the game opens up. Most battlefields feature enemies that simply wait in position until the player moves a unit within their movement range. The enemy will then charge in and fight until killed. This process essentially repeats until the opposition is wiped out. There are very few situations where the enemy will move ahead of time. As a result, the player is usually throwing an entire army against one or two enemies. Sure, the player can opt to split up their team in order to conquer the map faster, but the only reason to do so is to save time. This basically makes most missions a battle of patience rather than ones requiring actual strategy.

RT also suffers from a number of balancing issues that diminish the challenge as well. There are a lot of glaring flaws in the stat mechanics and the point allocation system. Different jobs require a varying amount of stats to be competent in battle. However, some jobs require far less than others. Snipers, for example, gain almost everything they need from just the DEX stat. On the other hand, a job like Paladin benefits from almost every stat and the player will need to pick and choose. Over time, the jobs that require less stats to function will become much more powerful than the others. The skill system is riddled with problems as well. Many jobs have skills that are just completely useless in practical application. Other jobs only rely on one skill to be effective out of a total of nearly ten. One late game Champion skill in particular is worth mentioning. It completely removes any bit of challenge RT may have had due to its extreme overpowering nature.

Replayability: 9/10
Since RT has multiple story paths, the game does have quite a bit of replayability. A first playthrough will only cover roughly 20% of the game's content. Players are then given the option to create a clear game save. When this file is loaded, it allows the player to start from the beginning of the game with all of their data exactly as it was. This also unlocks the A.I.Z. system. A.I.Z. allows the player to complete multiple main events per chapter by spending points to backtrack to previous battles. Players who are interested in completing RT 100% will likely have to play through the game several times to unlock the final route. In addition, there is also the 24 floor Mirage Tower that the player can complete in order to obtain the game's best equipment. All in all, RT provides a lot of reasons to replay the game if the player is intent on experiencing everything.

Final Words
There is a lot to like about RT. It has an interesting storytelling system, strong visuals, a decent soundtrack and faithful ties to a charming MMORPG. The first time through the game is generally enjoyable and will probably take around 15 to 20 hours on average. Those looking to fully complete the game will find that the task will likely take 40 to 50 hours, give or take. Unfortunately, the flaws in the gameplay, notable lack of challenge and sluggish system response greatly detract from the overall experience. Playing RT eventually feels like work rather than entertainment. RT is definitely worth a try for SRPG fans with patience or those who like Ragnarok Online and want a decent spin-off. However, this game is not the one to look for to attract newcomers into the wide world of tactical titles.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 11/19/12

Game Release: Ragnarok Tactics (US, 11/06/12)

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