Off-Topic Reviews: Ragnarok

Follow the rainbow brick road...follow the rainbow brick road...

It's the year 999 AD, and Asgard is in a heap of trouble. As if reeling over Balder's death wasn't bad enough, the armaments of the gods are distressingly not at hand. It's been long since Freyr traded his sword Mimming in exchange for a bride, in an act charitably described as "ill-advised"...but now even Gungir has gone missing, and Loki has stolen Mjollnir and hidden it deep underground. Further, even Heimdall's horn is gone, transformed by evil magic into a serpent and fallen to earth, and without its call the forces of good will be outnumbered at the last battle. For this is the eve of Ragnarok, and the prophets foretell of the gods' demise and the inevitable scourging of the world.

Funny how prophecies always ignore the small actors, isn't it?

Nothing you've heard has convinced you that a human can't change fate. After all, the tools of the gods are lost in Midgard, your world. Freyr's sword, Odin's spear, Thor's hammer, Heimdall's horn...hell, maybe you can even help Tyr; he's been depressed ever since losing his arm. And why stop there? It's a short jaunt to Niflheim to bargain for Balder's soul...if you survive that long.

The gods are praying for mortal intervention. It's time to oblige.

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Ragnarok

Ragnarok (also called Valhalla, for its European release) is a DOS game made by the now-defunct Norsehelm Productions, in 1992. So yeah, we're going old school this time. But enough of that, let's get started.

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Ragnarok is a single-player roguelike RPG (named for the early ASCII dungeon crawler, Rogue). Players pick a name, gender, and character class, and send their character exploring a medieval world, slaying monsters, finding treasure, and growing strong enough to aid the gods and save the world. Or, alternately, finding items that screw you over, getting killed by monsters, and leaving behind your corpse to serve as inspiration and warning to the hapless fools who come after you.

Well...okay, so the ghosts *also* try to kill you, but the point stands.  Besides, they also leave behind their equipment.
"Stay away from those goddamn bears!"

The in-game world consists almost entirely of randomly generated maps (one of the defining features of a roguelike game), and Ragnarok does indeed take "randomly generated" very much to heart.

On a micro level, while locations themselves don't change - you'll always find the village, the Crypt, Jotunheim, etc. in the same areas of the world - the contents and configuration of each screen are only generated when you first find them. This is subtly influenced by the Luck stat, which increases the chance of finding better and more helpful items, though it leaves the monsters and traps that can kill you. On a macro level, each game starts with a different lineup of descriptions for unindentified items. A vellum scroll might be a scroll of summoning in one playthrough and a scroll of pure evil in another, and zapping yourself with that maple wand because it was a wand of healing last game is inadvisable, because it might now be a wand of flaying and subsequently melt you with acid.

...are we sensing a theme here? This is because you will die in this game...and die. And die.

And die.

And die some more.

Did I mention that you'll die? I must have, by now. Suggesting that Ragnarok rewards anything other than trial and error, luck and cold, hard experience would be misleading in the extreme.

Yes, the list is seeded.  I can't imagine anyone dying by *accidentally* making humans go extinct.
A fairly tame list, all told.

Naturally, this can get rather frustrating at times, especially when you die late in the game. Mitigating this partially is the fact that there's a save system, and the fact that the later releases of the game stopped erasing your save files if your character dies (if you're wondering why there are so many "gave ups" in that list...force of habit and save scumming). Not all that much of a mitigating factor, though. No, the real mitigating factor is just what it is that keeps killing you.

Some games seem to like killing the player out of a sense of simple sadism. Many notoriously difficult games are so due to rather cheap factors, like broken controls or cheating AI. But no, Ragnarok kills the player instead with staggeringly insane depth.

Just as a cross section of that depth, there are 28 potion types in the game, with effects ranging from healing, armoring, strength recovery, poison, lyncanthropy, alcohol...not counting the 10 alchemical potions (mixing specific types together), six possible effects from totally random mixes, and even different effects if a given potion is blessed or cursed. This sheer variety is matched not only by the other item types (weapons, wands, rings, scrolls, food, armor, and tools), but by the creatures inhabiting the game world, many of whom have unique powers and properties...some of which you can take advantage of by eating them.

By contrast, character development can get a little disappointingly straightforward in later levels; acquiring skills, powers, and abilities is almost a no-brainer and not so much a "customization" tool per se, and once you master a class by gaining ten levels in it, there's no reason not to take the option to switch classes. All of which is pointless nitpicking unless you're an absolute Ragnarok master, as seeking the (needless to say, various) abilities is still an adventure in itself. And that's not even taking into account that you can transform into almost any creature in the game.

Yes, I have five eyes and eleven fingers.  The creature that does that to you can also give you migraines, hit you with acid, and change your sex.
Still got a ways to go...

This is simultaneously Ragnarok's cause of death and biggest draw. Exploring not simply the in-game world but the physics and mechanics that govern that world, along with the random generation, place this game near the pinnacle of nonlinear RPG gameplay. It wouldn't be much of an exaggeration to say that I was still discovering things after years of playing.

Storywise, on the other hand, there's not much. Essentially, you simply set out into the world with those six specific goals in mind, to find Freyr's, Odin's, and Thor's weapons, Heimdall's horn, and some way to replace Tyr's arm, while also bargaining for Balder's soul (taking some liberties with actual Norse mythology in the process). And even these are more along the lines of suggestions than imperative objectives...though if you want to save the world, you really need to do at least most of them, or else the demons and evil gods will win. Ultimately, though, this fits very well with the trial-and-error sort of nonlinearity Ragnarok espouses in its game design.

While talking about technical details of an 18 year-old game might seem kind of off, Ragnarok isn't that bad for a game of its time. Hell, even compared to other roguelikes, this game apparently broke the mold by having not simply a true graphical interface, but unique sprites for every monster type and terrain feature in the game (something the far more well-known and appreciated game Nethack has since adopted). On the other hand, there's no music, and sound effects (included specifically in the Valhalla release) are small and unessential. The control interface itself is also nothing terribly complicated and barely worth note (other than F2 turning off automatic pickup of items).

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Verdict

There's not much to say beyond what's been said...unless I were to start listing off random facts and advice about the game (starting as a Conjurer is pointless, writing is an essential skill, eating dead wraiths gives experience, finding Heimdall's horn is the hardest and thankfully least essential quest, there's only one way to steal from the Bazaar, a Magician's power of changing the items in your pack can be turned to your advantage, being female is slightly more advantageous...), which would certainly reinforce what I've been trying to get across, but would rather miss the point of a review.

Ultimately, I do recommend Ragnarok if the idea of nonlinear RPG gameplay sounds appealing. While the game is old and requires a program like DOS Box to run on most modern machines, it's also freeware, and can be found on several abandonware sites (notably Home of the Underdogs).

Besides, I can't help but appreciate a game that includes a literal "panic" button, that you can use when someone is approaching...

Naturally, this requires a backup excuse for why your computer suddenly runs on DOS.
"No boss, I'm just...running diskcheck!"

_______________________________________________

Side Notes

This review was my entry for Review Wars III, where it somehow did respectably (taking second overall). Congratulations again to Miracle Of Sound and Heart Of Darkness, for their winning reviews of Ico and Rhythm Heaven!

For more from me, stay tuned pretty soon for reviews of Melty Blood and Kana: Little Sister...

Huh. This game certainly sounds interesting. I think I'll look into this when I finally get DOSBox running on my laptop.

Congrats on second place, btw. It's a very well-written review.

obligatory cheerleading for NeutralDrow ;) nicely done review ^^

This was another great review that made me go out and emulate get the game.

Congrats, and Review Wars hopes to see you again.

Heart of Darkness:
Huh. This game certainly sounds interesting. I think I'll look into this when I finally get DOSBox running on my laptop.

Congrats on second place, btw. It's a very well-written review.

Mekado:
obligatory cheerleading for NeutralDrow ;) nicely done review ^^

Thanks, guys.

To be honest...I'm still not especially satisfied with this one. Might be the oddity that, other than my Xchange review (and the non-games), this is the first one I've written that's below 1500 words. Or it might be because the reason for that was my completely running out of things to say. The line about listing off random facts wasn't really a joke.

Pimppeter2:
This was another great review that made me go out and emulate get the game.

Congrats, and Review Wars hopes to see you again.

Yep, no need to emulate. This game is legal to download! ^_^

And as I said, I hope to judge next time...even if the rules didn't explicitly prohibit me from submitting a review.

...naturally, next time will probably be something like "story-heavy games," and I'll have just finished Hourglass of Summer, and I'll scream and scream and scream...

Review the more recent Korean game that shares the same name, the one that is a mmorpg game please.

I have never heard of this game you are reviewing.

Is it really a game, or just a thing you heard about from the internet?

Again I feel obligated to ask.... why do you all feel the need to review games older than my car? Doesn't it seem more realistic to review current games instead of doing the copy paste from reviews years old????

I won't claim plagiarism since you can't see what I mean, but seriously.... try reviewing a game that can out in the last year at least.....no?

Sober Thal:
Review the more recent Korean game that shares the same name, the one that is a mmorpg game please.

I have never heard of this game you are reviewing.

Is it really a game, or just a thing you heard about from the internet?

Again I feel obligated to ask.... why do you all feel the need to review games older than my car? Doesn't it seem more realistic to review current games instead of doing the copy paste from reviews years old????

I won't claim plagiarism since you can't see what I mean, but seriously.... try reviewing a game that can out in the last year at least.....no?

The review was written with the intention of reviewing a cult classic, which can be a game from whenever. The review fits in the context of what it was intended to do.

Also, the User Reviews section is not limited by the same time restrictions that this site's featured reviews are. Users can review any game from any time, and review anything else that's not a game (movie, book, pizza, whatever). You can ask to have only games from the past year reviewed, but good luck making the people in this section conform to that...

Sober Thal:
Review the more recent Korean game that shares the same name, the one that is a mmorpg game please.

I have no interest in Korean games, or Ragnarok online.

I have never heard of this game you are reviewing.

Is it really a game, or just a thing you heard about from the internet?

It's a game I've been playing for over a decade.

Again I feel obligated to ask.... why do you all feel the need to review games older than my car? Doesn't it seem more realistic to review current games instead of doing the copy paste from reviews years old????

Mostly because, surprise surprise, there were good games made over a year ago. Like Planescape: Torment, or Chrono Trigger, or Final Fantasy VI, or Super Mario World 2, or God Hand, or Devil May Cry. Besides, have you seen the games I usually review? I think the most recent eroge I've played was a 2004 release, and the oldest one will probably be 1995.

...wait. "Copy paste?"

I won't claim plagiarism since you can't see what I mean, but seriously.... try reviewing a game that can out in the last year at least.....no?

No.

And to be honest, I think you better clarify just what the hell you mean by plagiarism. The closest I came to plagiarism in this review was almost using LordKat's catchphrase "You're going to die...a lot."

hm... looks interesting... always was a fan of most Norse mythology related things

Tsunimo:
hm... looks interesting... always was a fan of most Norse mythology related things

Well, long as you don't mind Thokk being an actual being rather than Loki in disguise, it shouldn't be a problem.

...oh, right, another side note: the game spells it "Balder." Don't screw up and spell it "Baldur" or "Baldr," Hela will be a bitch and not give up his soul.

How in the fuck is a mere mortal supposed to lift Mjolnir? Thor needs to wear Megingjord so he's strong enough to pick it up and wears his Járngreipr so the damn thing doesn't backfire and kill him.

Stupid stuff not being right.

Nice review by the way.

fanklok:
How in the fuck is a mere mortal supposed to lift Mjolnir? Thor needs to wear Megingjord so he's strong enough to pick it up and wears his Járngreipr so the damn thing doesn't backfire and kill him.

Using any of the weapons of the gods requires superhuman strength. In game terms, Mjollnir requires a strength of 30 to wield (note that humans typically can't go above 18), meaning you need some insane magical backup to actually use it. Most likely the Amulet of Might (one of the seven artifacts), whose effect is modeled after Thor's belt.

NeutralDrow:

fanklok:
How in the fuck is a mere mortal supposed to lift Mjolnir? Thor needs to wear Megingjord so he's strong enough to pick it up and wears his Járngreipr so the damn thing doesn't backfire and kill him.

Using any of the weapons of the gods requires superhuman strength. In game terms, Mjollnir requires a strength of 30 to wield (note that humans typically can't go above 18), meaning you need some insane magical backup to actually use it. Most likely the Amulet of Might (one of the seven artifacts), whose effect is modeled after Thor's belt.

Ok then how do you keep Mjolnir's magical energies from frying you to death when you do pick it up?

fanklok:

NeutralDrow:

fanklok:
How in the fuck is a mere mortal supposed to lift Mjolnir? Thor needs to wear Megingjord so he's strong enough to pick it up and wears his Járngreipr so the damn thing doesn't backfire and kill him.

Using any of the weapons of the gods requires superhuman strength. In game terms, Mjollnir requires a strength of 30 to wield (note that humans typically can't go above 18), meaning you need some insane magical backup to actually use it. Most likely the Amulet of Might (one of the seven artifacts), whose effect is modeled after Thor's belt.

Ok then how do you keep Mjolnir's magical energies from frying you to death when you do pick it up?

Probably the same way Eitri and Thrym did it, by being just that hardcore. And considering by the time you're anywhere close to finding Mjollnir you've already gotten tons of magical armors and can pretty much eat giants for lunch (literally, if you so desired), it's not too much of a stretch.

It actually is possible to kill yourself with Mjollnir, if its power reflects back at you (the lightning is treated as a wandlike ray weapon).

 

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