Before I begin, I wanted to say that I have written this review with the collector mentality in mind (being one of the last physical PSP games in the NA region), but I have not shied away from my viewpoints of the game itself for those curious to the foundation of the game and if it is for you or not.
I pre-ordered this game over a month before it came out not expecting a top notch game, but I come out of it surprised and finding myself wanting to play it more than I ever thought I would. Ragnarok Tactics is a spin-off to the MMO game, Ragnarok Online, that is based on the more traditional gameplay genre of strategic RPGs, such as Final Fantasy Tactics, Growlanser, Tactics Ogre, and Disgaea. This is not a bad thing, as the game borrows from its original MMO source material such as with its classes such as Assassins, Lord Knight, High Priest, and Shaman (I was the Assassin class myself) in terms of style, and in terms of gameplay offers the ability to heal while sitting, which I loved. The story will not necessarily suck you in, but the simple prospect of having conflict between two sides against each-other while you can divide yourself against the two works well enough and you, as the player, can inflict change depending on which decisions you make at each point during cut-scenes.
The art direction is quite nice, and the pictures do not give it justice. I did not do that much research on the style of the game because I was familiar enough with the series having played it with friends years ago and more recently playing Ragnarok Odyssey (PS Vita), but before I got the game while looking at pictures, I can say I had a hard time identifying if the game was 3D, 2D-3D, what were the characters models composed of, and the like. What I can say now is that the backgrounds for each battle are painted with great scope of distance, meaning that when the camera zooms in really close to the character's area during certain sequences, it still looks just as beautiful as it did from afar. That is not to say the backgrounds for each battle arena are statics, as there are layers of substance that bring it to life. For instance, water streams, weather, and moving particles or items make the stages come to life. There is no camera like more popular SRPGs you may be used to (Tactics, Disgaea, MG Acid, etc.) but the gameplay and strategy are not ruined because of this design choice.
Furthermore, characters are wonderfully stylized during battles. Let me take a step back real quick into the very first menu of the game however: character selection. Straight from that menu screen with up-close 3D models of the characters you can choose from to be in the game, the game uses style over highly detailed character models, which works amazingly on the PSP's limited capabilities (which is unfortunately commonly compared to more contemporary devices like tablets, consoles, phones, and even the PS Vita). I have always found this to be the PSPs greatest strength. The graphics reminded me of Wind Waker's style, and if you are a fan of those types of visuals, combined with the SRPG genre, there is no doubt you will have a tremendous time playing this game. On the other side of graphics, in terms of cut-scenes, the 2D artwork is just as breathtaking. Everything looks very suited to the PSP and it defiantly keeps jaggidies to a bare minimum. Whether it was during combat (3D) or cut-scenes (mixed 3D characters with 2D portraits), everything looks like a fluid 2D experience.
As for the packaging, which collector's out there might be wondering (if any of you already have not pre-ordered/purchased it that is), it most certainly shines out as a heart-felt effort. The front of the box (look at Amazon's pictures for a look) has a magnificantly drawn piece of artwork with the title really standing out. The side of the box (where the PSP logo and title go) is really interesting. Instead of the words going like they are now, from left to right, the letters go down one at a time, such as when the box is standing up. For example:
It's a very curious choice because out of my collection and the games I have seen, there is no other PSP box I can find like this. I don't know if I like it, but it's growing on me because of its uniqueness. The back of the box looks beautiful, but the text is small, dark yellow, and blends in too much to the background. It makes it a headache to read because of these faults and not necessarily the font type, more like the font size and color. The manual on the inside is in black and white (unfortunately), but it is a 29 page manual with plenty of detail on the class types, gameplay, and more. The UMD art is a more expressed version of the front of the box, with both women separated with more color. Overall, the physical box and its contents do well, and it does not seem like they cut corners (tiny manual, basic box) on this late release.
If any of you are itching to play a well rounded, although sometimes slow, SRPG on your PSP or Vita, this could very well be the game for you. I am more surprised with how well this game turned out than I thought I would be, and it is great with daily commutes or to unwind at the end of the day. If you are a fan of the series, this purchase is almost a no-brainer. If you are looking for a more action packed adventure of the same quality, grab your Vita (or get a Vita first) and tackle Ragnarok Odyssey with a four player online system. For the PSP collectors out there, you may be looking for a price drop first, which may happen for a while, but you owe it to yourself to grab this game as soon as possible. It's a great swan song to the final days of the PSP.
Finally, I just wanted to say one more thing: Aksys Games, I can not thank you enough for bringing such quality games overseas. Next up is a new Hakuokai PSP game from them. They have sold me as an ongoing supporter and customer. Check out their website if anyone reading this gets a chance.