The PSP has seen a surplus of off-kilter RPGs in the twilight of its life, even in America, where it is no longer even considered a viable platform in the eyes of the general public. This is due mostly to the fact that Western game companies refuse to develop for the hardware at this point, and thus the only games being made for it at all are from Japanese developers. Games such as Ragnarok Tactics can be released stateside with relatively few resources, and these titles are arguably all that are keeping the system alive now.
Ragnarok Tactics is a spinoff of the popular MMO Ragnarok Online. It is the third to be released under the Ragnarok name, following Ragnarok DS and Ragnarok Odyssey. Tactics, hence the name, is a strategy-RPG, as opposed to the action-RPG gameplay of its predecessors. It uses the genre staples of an isometric viewpoint, a grid-based layout and a wide variety of selectable characters. Tactics stays the course, and sticks to everything that made the genre loved by its diehard fans. And that’s exactly the problem.
You don’t need to remind me that a game can rely solely the basics in terms of mechanics, narrative or artistic direction, and still be a good game. Still, it has to either do something interesting and unique with one of the other aforementioned elements (El Shaddai), or just do everything so well that it doesn’t matter (Dragon Quest). Unfortunately, Ragnarok Tactics does neither of these things. It uses familiar genre tropes and mechanics, but the game both fails to realize the significance of these elements on the game as a whole, and simply does nothing with them that makes them stand out in any way.
The combat is copied and pasted from about two Disgaeas ago (if we’re being generous), and the battlefield layouts aren’t exactly imaginative. Now, I must stress something at this point. There is nothing necessarily bad about the gameplay. Nothing is broken, and the mechanics, taken individually, serve their purpose just fine. Given the amount of quality SRPGs available on the PSP, though, being adequate simply isn’t enough to justify the time investment. For a game to make an impact, it has to stand out among its peers, something Ragnarok Tactics doesn’t quite seem to grasp.
The visuals in Ragnarok prove to be its one aspect that could be called a defining feature, although that may be a stretch. The fidelity of the graphics is quite high for PSP standards, rendering all the characters as 3D models on 2D backgrounds. The character and enemy models look gorgeous, with a high polygon count and fluid animation. The backgrounds are also richly-animated, and really feel alive. The art direction itself is boring, derivative, and uninspired, borrowing from every anime-inspired RPG ever made, but at least everything looks polished and clean. I appreciate that the developers took the time to maximize the potential of the PSP hardware so late in its life.
The character portraits are also highly detailed, albeit uninspired, and make cutscenes tolerable, since you can at least watch the pretty artwork. The audio isn’t anything to write home about; sound effects are stock for the genre, and don’t stand out as particularly crisp or original. The same can be said for the soundtrack, which borrows the same thematic elements as other games in the genre, but with a strangely subdued tone that feels inappropriate for the more intense scenes such as battles.
Is Ragnarok Tactics a bad game because it was released so late in the PSP’s life? Absolutely not, but at this point in the system’s life, there are fewer excuses to play something sub-par. I may love JRPGs, and in this day and age you take what you can get, but a bad game is still a bad game.
Pros: Nothing strictly wrong or broken, high-fidelity graphics
Cons: Bland and forgettable, boring soundtrack, paper-thin characters