The PSP has become known for RPGs and especially Strategy RPGs in the last couple of years. With Ragnarok: Tactics, Aksys brings another quality one stateside.
SRPGs like Disgaea, Fire Emblem, and Final Fantasy Tactics have passionate fan bases and for good reason. Done right, SRPGs represent a great platform for developers to introduce and cultivate memorable characters and story. Balanced with engaging battle and RPG elements, it can be a very rewarding gaming experience. On the other hand, these genres are often overlooked by gamers used to something faster paced and not as challenging. Personally, I fall more into the latter category, if anything. While I can respect great story and characters, as well as art and music which these games often have, the pacing and rigidness of the battles can be hard to accept.
Going into Ragnarok Tactics (RT), I was excited to give the genre another go. I had heard of the Ragnarok franchise, including its MMO presence and Odyssey released on the Vita just a couple of weeks ago, but had never played it. With Tactics, the game begins with an animated and narrated intro that explains humans stayed out of a holy war between gods and demons. However, centuries later, they found plenty of reason to fight amongst themselves. Two kingdoms emerged across the great land, but they are at only a fragile peace. Besides the two factions, Branshaldo Empire and Aura Republic, a third exists. The Toren Militia, which is where you come in.
After the intro, you have the option to Install (225MB) data (even on the Vita, which is where I played it on), or you can forgo this. Then, it's character creation time. Your character will be seventeen years of age and can specialize in a dozen or so Jobs, which are essentially classes. Some of these, which you can see but not select, are unlocked after your first play-through. I chose High Wizard, but you can also be a soldier, assassin, and so forth. Moments later, you're swept away into your first of many conversations and battles.
My first impression after choosing the Story mission on the world map was how pretty the art was. Graphically, this isn't a powerhouse -- it's a PSP game afterall, so it has its technical limits, no doubt about it. But as far as the art style and design go, RT would impress me on a regular basis. The game is presented in that quasi 2D/3D isometric view. This gives the background and character animations some depth, but you're still playing a 2D-centric game. The opening battle scene that sees you and three other party members battling numerous ogres and wolves, is set against a gorgeous outdoor environment with running water, lush greens, and gray stone. It's really pretty, and for as long as these battles can take, it's nice to have something pretty to look at, not to mention to compliment the excellent music. I might not normally make an explicit point of mentioning something like this, but the title theme is really, really nice. The song has a perfect fairy-tale melody to it that is, in a word, captivating.
Not everything with RT is as attention-grabbing though. For me, again not someone who has spent a lot of time in the genre, I struggled with the battles. The battles of course are a major part of the game. My issues came not so much with anything technically wrong with RT, although I can't say I have played more than just two or three of RT's peers. No, instead it was from the core mechanics that are intrinsic to the genre. The pacing is often just tiresome, to be blunt. Having read some other reviews to see if I was off base with this, it appears a good number of other, more genre-seasoned writers agree. RT does include some cool attack bonuses like Overdrives and Burst strikes, but mostly it's a grindfest, and not a welcoming one. I died several times over in the first battle. I found myself being baited in by the enemy and unable to keep all of my allies alive, much of this due to my poor SRPG skills but some, perhaps, to a brute AI.
Of course, characters do level up and there are towns where you can barter goods and even hire some help to improve your chances. You can even change your Job if you find being a Wizard or whatever isn't for you, and when you do so, you also open up the possibility of learning unique cross-Job abilities. Towns and NPCs often have a lot to say and you can often chime in by choosing a response which can change the mood or alter the path of the game, although to what extent and how often I'm not really sure. RT does feature a system called AIZ which is like a new game+ mode, designed to help repeat players discover the other paths and info they didn't in their first play-through.
Besides the numerous Jobs and optional battles and Guilds to further enhance your time and enjoyment with RT, an Ad-Hoc mode is included. I was not able to test this mode, but it allows players to both exchange equipment and characters. You can also challenge them by submitting a group of characters ready for battle.
With that, let's get to the summary.