Apollosoft is a company well versed in the tactical strategy RPG. Created from the fallout of Summon Night developer Flight-Plan, their pedigree with the isometric RPG has a solid foundation. Since many of Flight-Plan’s strategy RPG’s went unlocalized, this makes each new title from this crew a curiosity to be explored. This being Apollosoft’s first localized game and one of the last PSP RPGs released in the west, it needs to live up to the pressure.
Thankfully for those that are curious like I was, Ragnarok Tactics doesn’t require any preceding knowledge of the Ragnarok Online universe.
Ragnarok Tactics is an odd little tactical RPG. It plays to convention like any other popular isometric strategy RPG. If you have played Disgaea or Final Fantasy Tactics, you know exactly what you are looking at here. Where it’s differences lie is mostly in presentation.
After a short period of peace, war is about to break out upon the world after the death of the Branshaldo Empire’s King. From here you stumble across 3 people of different affiliations and become allies. When the first strike of the war begins, your army must join a side in the fight.
This simple backdrop allows the player to follow along any of 3 separate routes that align with your allies. Each ally is working for different factions in an attempt to figure out a way of bringing an end to the war while each mission gives you one of 3 or 4 different battles to choose from. Your victory in each battle changes the dynamic of the story according to which ally you sided with. Its nice to see the routes you take affect major consequences such as whether acquaintances live or die while also opening the story up.
From here, the oddly translated “Another If Zapping” system (AIZ) comes in to play. The AIZ system is built around extending the game by allowing you to replay the game and spend up to 5 AIZ points at certain times to allow you to explore another pathway while still keeping your party levels and data in tact. It’s a system that expands the game greatly as the game really truly begins to open up once the first playthrough is finished.
Once you finish whichever path you chose in the first playthrough, the second playthrough begins to give you many more options. Outside of the obvious ability to change the outcomes of those allies that might not have made it in the first go round, the fact that you keep your level means the game has to respond to that. This means you gain new equipment and jobs, face tougher enemies and even are allowed to enter side missions that you couldn’t before.
Seeing as my initial playthrough only showed me 4 of the 30 or so sub-events, there is a lot to pick up here. Ensuring that you see what you need to see using the AIZ points system is important as it really opens everything up. It’s a smart system when you factor in that to make the best possible master of a job will require spending extra time exploring other job classes to find unique crossover skills. AIZ is simply tied in to the core concept of everything in the game and it is a nice system to work with.
Most of the gameplay in Ragnarok Tactics is reactionary. Enemies on the battlefield will respond to how close you are to their vicinity. If you are within range of attack, they will come forward. Otherwise, for the most part you can just pick off one or two at a time if you are careful. This is a major part of the strategy of the game as most battles have anywhere from 1-3 party members that have to survive the battle. If they get swarmed by more than a few enemies, it’s usually game over.
While it is a unique approach, it makes the initial grind a bit slow in the beginning as you try to figure out the range on enemies. There is no permadeath so much of the game can be utilized by sacrificing pawns to keep your main players at bay. The only really unique attribute that separates this game from something like Final Fantasy Tactics is the flashy Burst Attack and Overdrive charge moves. Burst Strike allows multiple characters to band together and create a flashy combo. Overdrive allows you to mix and match special moves together to attempt and create a unique super move.
This style of gameplay works really well, but to have multiple party members taken over by characters not consigned to standard leveling structures becomes a hassle during each of the main missions. Experience and Job Points that could be used to level the characters up are abandoned which makes the loyalty of the characters an issue. I understand that this had to be abandoned to ensure balance for players jumping timelines, but usually my own creations are of much better quality than the allies I am paired with in that battle.
It’s irksome to be trying to level up my own better fighters when my party is taken over by 2 party members that aren’t going to follow those guidelines.
All tactical RPGs have some form of character customization and Ragnarok Tactics follows many of the same conventions. There is an assortment of classic job assignments that fall in to typical Ragnarok Online naming conventions. A Bard will be known as a Clown, but there won’t be any skills that particularly shake things up. It’s nice that you can personalize the sex, hair color and hair style of your party which is made easy due to the 3D models on display.
While they lack a bit of personality, they do show item differentiation in weapons and hats which looks pretty cool. Unfortunately, armor isn’t customizable for some reason. While the customization is nice, there is just the bare basics to really showcase. Navigating job classes has very little crossover, but what it does have is pretty interesting. By accessing special attacks in Overdrive, you can unlock an ability that can be shared across both the jobs. The game often gives hints as to the combinations you can unlock in discussions with the townsfolk so grab your pen and paper and start taking notes.
It’s not quite as rich as many other job systems, but it works to keep the game grounded from people exploiting numerous jobs.
It has to be said that Ragnarok Tactics has some of the best looking painted stages I’ve seen in a while. Don’t let the images of these blocky 3D characters distract you. The characters and levels are amazing to look at. To have great characters with diverse facial expressions and response adds a lot to the appeal of the game. Many of the characters however are odd.
They all fall in to some form of stereotype which is fine, but a few times in the game you’ll experience some really weird interactions. I’ll only list one example so as not to spoil to much of the back story, but after a soldier tried to kill the population of a village, Toren (nicknamed “the Destroyer”) proceeds to call that person an insane monster which is an appropriate response. He then gets reprimanded for being mean by his partner and proceeds to say “Oopsy! You’re right about that, Fiona. Sorry about calling you insane. And a monster…” It’s just odd dialog and there is enough of it to be noticeable. There is a lot of humor in the game to offset some of the themes of war. While it could be argued that it adds character, sometimes it removes some of the charm from these characters.
While this story isn’t nearly as strong as say Final Fantasy Tactics, it does have an interesting enough personality to back up it’s issues.
Ragnarok Tactics is an interesting tactical RPG built upon a solid battle system. Where the game really sparkles is in it’s presentation of the 3 different factions enhanced by it’s well executed AIZ system. It is because of this system that everything builds in to something unique even if everything plays a bit standard. With 5 different endings to achieve, Ragnarok Tactics is worth diving in to again and again.
[+Great Replayability] [+Solid SRPG Foundation] [+Excellent Art] [+Interesting Story Presentation] [+Extra Optional Quests] [*Odd Interactions] [-Too Focused on Guest Battles]