Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Genericide Holiday Special, Part 1

It was the night before Christmas,
And all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring,
Except for myself.
Well, and probably some bugs or something,
Like there might be spiders around in the basement maybe?
I guess there always are, in like…the walls and stuff.
Man, that’s gross to think about.

Wait, that’s way off meter,
Why am I even typing this
Shit do over DO OVER


It was the night before Christmas,
And on a certain blog,
I was becoming more sour,
Than six week old eggnog.

A new holiday special,
I was attempting to write,
But I’d had no success,
And been up all night.

“I’m out of ideas!”
I shouted at the screen
“Not a single Christmas formula
Will convey what I mean!”

“The Grinch didn’t work,
When I made him a reviewer.
The Rudolph parody I wrote,
Seems like it was fished from the sewer.”

“I had a magical snowman,
Who listed top games,
But when I gave him FFX-2,
He went up in flames.”

“I’ve considered saving Santa,
With any mascot you could name,
But the problem is none of them,
Tie into reviewing games!”

I rose from my chair,
And I paced ‘round the room.
At this point,
My holiday special seemed doomed.

I was harrumphing over how,
Nothing seemed to go right,
When all of a sudden,
The clock struck midnight.

With a clang the clock rang,
And the impressive sound,
Managed to mask another,
Of chains scraping the ground.

And so I turned from my timepiece,
Only to get quite a fright,
For behind me stood a phantom;
The sight bright and white!

A dead man in chains,
Now dominated my view.
I gulped, and then said
“S-stranger, who’re you?”

“I’m a ghost”, said the ghost,
“It doesn’t matter who;
What’s important to know
Is that I’ve come for you!”

“You’ve become cynical,
And now take tropes for granted.
You write and play grumpy,
As you’re now disenchanted.”

“You need to be grateful,
For the things that you have.
And so now you’ll be visited,
With a fate that’s quite bad.”

“’Quite bad’”, I quoted back,
With a roll of my eyes.
“You may be a ghost,
But you sure can’t improvise.”

“Silence!” said the specter,
“I’m giving this warning!
Now shut up and listen,
Or I’ll haunt you ‘til morning.”

“For your hubris” it said,
“Tonight you’ll pay host,
To a cadaverous cadre,
Of 3 ghastly ghosts!”

At this note I stopped,
And sat back for a while.
Rubbed my chin, and then grinned,
Clasped my hands with a smile.

“Why that’s perfect!” I said,
Startling the shade.
With a puzzled tone he said
“Aren’t you afraid?”

“Not at all!” I replied,
“In fact, please proceed.
For this set-up is
Just what my holiday special needs!”

The perturbed poltergeist,
Simply sighed in dismay.
And said “I don’t
Understand kids today.”

“Tonight you’ll be visited,
By three bad MMOs past.
First at one-“, “Oh I know”,
I chimed in to the ghast.

“Well…fine” said the ghost,
“Then I’m out of here.”
Then with a shake of his head,
The wraith disappeared.

“MMOs, huh?” I thought.
“Well how bad could it be?”

Well the clock now strikes one,
So I suppose we will see.


MMO, for those unaware, stands for Massively Multiplayer Online. This genre of game features your character participating in a gigantic world with thousands of players on the same online server occupying the same world as you. Usually these games are MMORPGs (MMO Role-playing Games), where your character gains stats and abilities for continued progress, often in a fantasy type setting. I’ve played a decent number of MMOs in the past, most notably the equally famous and infamous World of Warcraft, which I enjoyed for several years (more on that another time). Back before WoW was released I would often be fascinated by the MMOs I saw my friends play. One such game is the one I’m revisiting right now, Ragnarok Online.

Ragnarok Online is a top-down fantasy MMORPG that was released in 2003 (well, 2002 in its original Korean release) and only now, a decade later, has gotten a re-release on the digital download service Steam. It always looked interesting to me in the past and since I quit WoW I haven’t played another MMO since. So all in all now is a convenient time to boot it up and see how good this game I often saw a friend playing actually is.

The short answer, er…not very. Why you ask? Well, though the game has a multitude of problems many can be summed up by a single image:

Anyone who played online games about 10 years or more ago should be getting PTSD style flashbacks right now.

Now there are some qualifiers to this image. First of all, I admit I just hit all of the buttons in the top left to get as many windows up as I could at once, so it’s not like you have to deal with this out of the blue. But at the same time, that’s a lot of windows for the game to need to begin with (there’s even one window you can’t see behind some other windows), and it’s not a particularly attractive interface design. These windows also have a lot of tabs, and some of them seem unnecessary, like the seven windows just to handle what quests you have. The other windows are basic stuff like guilds, parties, inventory and skills. But they’re pretty basic for the amount of space they take up, not much is explained and again, the interface is really kind of ugly. It’s very reminiscent of those early internet days. And that’s kind of the point of this whole thing: This game is very much an MMO from 2003, and it doesn’t seem like it ever made much effort to update it from that status.

For example, you may notice that my equipped inventory is a hodgepodge of various cultures and levels of efficiency, from slippers to ninja robes to an eggshell on my head. This isn’t the usual MMO problem of your equipment coming from a bunch of different sources/quests, leading to you looking like someone vomited rainbows on a mass of leather, steel and armor spikes. No, I got all this equipment in the starting town within the first, say 15 minutes of wandering around trying to figure out what to do. And that’s an accurate description of what I was doing, because again, the game doesn’t seem too user-friendly to newcomers. The game starts you on a boat and teaches you an incredible amount before it docks, such as: You can click to move and also click to talk to people (this of course pulls up another window, can never have too many windows). Then you land and, well…that’s it.

“God DAMN that moose is creepy. I’m not the only one who sees that moose, right guys? Anyone? There’s totally an admiral moose with a pipe staring at me with dead eyes, right? Please tell me someone else sees that.”

The game gives you a series of intro quests that completely overcomplicate simple actions like walking around, talking, and using items. But for the most part they just throw you into town and let you figure it out yourself. There are dozens if not hundreds of NPCs in town, I certainly didn’t talk to all of them. And yet, despite giving in-depth explanations for the most basic things, there’s almost no sense of direction. I don’t know where I’m supposed to go, what I’m supposed to do, or even what I can do. There’s shops, quests, and information on how characters and classes work everywhere, but absolutely no guidance or pretense to not being a video game. It feels like…well, it feels like an old game that had a bit of an intimidating start to begin with just kept throwing stuff on top of it without making sure the underlying structure was sturdy. Like a man who builds a thirty story skyscraper on top of a flimsy wooden tree house he built as a kid.

I’ve gotten this feeling from a number of games, actually, all from around this same time period. And to be fair, I completely understand how it happens. This game is old, and most old online games aren’t World of Warcraft. They don’t make the money to update or even put a fresh coat of paint over their old interfaces and systems, and even if they did why would they? The majority of any people still playing at this point are old guard or returning players who are used to and have no problems with these systems that seem unintuitive to newcomers.

However, I still don’t feel too bad about criticizing this, for two reasons: Firstly, the game just saw a re-release on steam, it’s the only reason I’m playing it and I’m sure there are others out there who saw a free game on a popular online service and thought they’d give it a try. Second of all, and more importantly, even if I understand why the game isn’t very user-friendly at first, that doesn’t make it any more enjoyable to play. I’m not judging how good Ragnarok Online was when it was first released, I’m judging how it plays now, and the antiquated interface is a point against it.

This area is right down the road from the dock, you can still see the boat on the minimap. There are NPCs everywhere with various things to say, some important, many not-so-much. I may seem to be making a mountain out of a molehill with how much the game just drops you in, but it made it difficult for me to figure out something interesting to do and enjoy myself.

Despite all this being bothersome, it certainly doesn’t kill the game. I was still looking forward to seeing what the game had to offer when I got out of town and got to the actual game part, as opposed to the stilted tutorials, inventory management and random wandering part. So after a bit, I headed outside and tried out the games combat. I clicked a tiny ball of fluff that presumably was a rabbit-like creature and walked up to it and hit it. It hit me back. I clicked it again and killed it, dropping vendor trash. I clicked on another ball of fluff and hit it. It hit me back for over half my health and I died.

…weeeeeeell yeah this is going about as expected.

The combat in this game, sadly, is not very good. People today may deride World of Warcraft’s hotbar rotations, which is to say the fact that its combat ultimately amounts to pressing a combination of button attacks usually in the same pattern; but at least this usually involves some movement and the intelligence to find out your best combos in the first place. Not to mention the fact that strategies can change given the situation. Ragnarok Online doesn’t even start you out with an ability or anything, you just click the thing, causing you to stab it until it dies. Of course, this being an old-school MMO this won’t work for long and you’ll soon be eviscerated by an embarrassingly adorable blob creature.

Pictured: Monstrosities of terrifying power.

So how do you keep from even the involuntary convulsions of a quadriplegic toddler killing you? Well, there is one other aspect to this incredibly nuanced combat system. You see those potions? Talking to people in the starting town got me 350 of them. I hit the potion button in between clicking on things. I have now achieved tactical mastery.

I may have other icons on my hotbar, but those are from my mages book, which I got when I was looking into the classes I could choose. Everyone starts the same, and apparently it’s a bit before you can develop into an actual class. In the meantime, I was given a book with example spells to show me what being a mage is like. The reason they’re example spells is because they do 1 damage and thus are functionally useless. And honestly, even if they did decent damage they’re nothing special, ranged clicking doesn’t add too much strategy.

So I wandered around the starting area a bit more clicking on things to kill them (sometimes given variety by lag). I occasionally had to go somewhere else because other people were running past and killing everything in sight (remember the days when we had to compete with other players for monster spawns? Unfortunately, now I do). I continued my fascinating dance of clicking monsters, clicking where I wanted to walk and clicking my potion icon, until eventually my entire health bar was cleaved off by a raccoon in a Santa suit.

Yeah, I think we’re done here.

Ragnarok Online may not be all bad. It seems there’s a decent amount of content, and perhaps the combat gets at least marginally less dull as the game continues on. The art is pretty enjoyable, although mainly the 2D sprites, the 3D environments are serviceable but clearly a little dated. As the starting town was playing Christmas music at the time I only really heard one song in the game, but assuming it’s representative the music is at the very least not bad.

Here’s that one song, whose peaceful serenity saw me murdered by a delightful variety of precious woodland animals.

…but even though it is a decent game in a number of ways, I can’t really recommend Ragnarok Online. I can see how it might have been a popular game in its heyday, but a lot of the things it does that might have been more acceptable in those days seem fairly dated now. It may be free, but there are lots of free MMOs out there and I think these days we have some better alternatives. In the end, the world didn’t draw me in and the combat didn’t interest or engage me. I just ultimately can’t play a game that I have so little interest in.

So score one for team humbug, we’ll see what happens next when the clock strikes two…

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