The gaming industry has been around for well over 30 years and in that time many genres have been born and many lifetimes have been spent both developing and playing these great adventures. But while games were once singleplayer affairs or restricted to couch multiplayer, they eventually took advantage of the internet to bring players from all over the world together, and thus the massively multiplayer online game was born.
In the late 90's/early 00's I was but a young child, not even 10 years old. I had no idea what an MMO was and the only games that were on my mind were the kind that could be played on a home console like the Xbox or PlayStation. However, years later, after the rise of World of Warcraft, I got a computer of my own and learned of MMO’s. At first I tried to play World of Warcraft because that was the one everyone was talking about at the time. My mother went out and bought a 14-day trial disc which I then promptly installed... only to learn that my computer was far from meeting even the minimum requirements of the game. So in the end I didn’t get to partake in the online sensation that was sweeping the nation. And then Ragnarok Online happened.
(Author’s Note: None of the following images were taken by me.)
Sometime around 2007/2008, my older brother was told to download an unofficial RO server by some of his friends. They were having so much fun playing Ragnarok Online that my brother came to me and showed me it, and I promptly got set up myself. What awaited me was world filled with people that I never dreamed that I would meet. There was so much to discover, so much to do, it was almost overwhelming.
Unlike most MMO’s where you choose a class when you create your character, Ragnarok dropped you into the role of Novice. For the first ten or so job levels, you were stuck as the most basic of basic classes. Once you hit the job level cap, you would visit an NPC in one of the main cities, a Job Master, and they would allow you to select a new job. There were a lot of jobs to choose from. Swordsman, Mage, Rogue, Dancer, even Super Novice. That last one always seemed more like a joke class because, while it was more powerful than the standard Novice, it was still far from being the best job in the game and it didn’t have anymore jobs above it, effectively blocking off your progression.
Once you had made your selection, your character would grow taller like going from a child to a teen or adult, and their clothing would change to match the job you had selected. And once you reached job level 50, you would visit a job master yet again to select an Advanced Job, resulting in new clothes and abilities.
Now, I may be making it sound like any other MMO where you grind levels and move up a progression ladder, but there’s a lot more to the game than that: Community. The best example I can think of is the church in the first major city you arrive in, Prontera. Like some MMO’s, Ragnarok Online has a marriage system. And so, to facilitate this gameplay mechanic, there are two churches in the game where you can be married to another player. These churches often became social gathering spots with players just waiting for someone to come and get married, acting as random witnesses to the event. They would sit on the pews and chat, or the dancers and bards would get up and play music and/or dance. And then the NPC’s would announce that a wedding was about to get under way and the two players would walk up the aisle to the priest and the wedding would happen in real time with no cutscenes or anything. Players would slip on their tuxedo’s and dresses(The wedding wouldn’t proceed if you weren’t wearing them.), the rings would be handed to the priest, the priest would hand back wedding bands, and then confetti would fall from the ceiling and wedding bells would ring. Everyone would jump for joy(Or what passes for jumping.) and it would end there.
BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE!
Unlike a lot of MMO’s, Ragnarok Online allowed married players to adopt another player as their child. Yes, you could adopt other players. I thought it was the coolest thing at the time and it warmed my heart. And then it would get kind of annoying.
In order to be adopted, a player must have remained a Novice. A lot of “parent” players had a tendency to dote on their adopted children and some just loved to roleplay. This caused what I called the “adopt me” conga line. Novices would sit in a far corner of the church, waiting for a wedding to occur. When it was over, they would approach the couple and spam “Adopt me please!” This could go one of a few ways:
1) A Novice would be chosen at random and taken to the adoption center which is inside the church.
2) The married couple would make a run for it.
3) The Novices all get shot down and wait for the next wedding.
If a player was lucky enough to get adopted, their character would shrink to the size of a young child, and they could then take on “baby” versions of the normal job classes. Basically more joke classes intended more for roleplaying than PvP.
And then of course players could get divorced if they wanted too, and this would revert the adopted child to a normal character. Did I mention that marriage is ridiculously expensive? Something like 2,000,000 zeny, not including the cost of the tux and dress which were expensive on their own. You had to be damn sure you wanted to get hitched.
After playing the game for a while, it was only natural that I eventually found my way to the markets. Now, pretty much every MMO has some form of player market. I play Final Fantasy XIV regularly these days and the player market takes the form of various Market Boards throughout the game world. Players put their items up for sale on the board and other players can buy them without the player even being online. Ragnarok Online was a bit different in this regard.
As a Merchant class, players could set up stalls almost anywhere in cities. These stalls are denoted by speech bubbles above the players head that has a money bag on it and a short message, usually what the player was trying to sell. But the occasional vendor in a city was not nearly as awe-inspiring as the horde of Merchants in the actual Player Market area. It was its own worldspace that had NPC vendors for everything imaginable, and then a very large stone platform where players lined up and set up shop. If you needed something, anything, you were likely to find it there. I always loved walking past all the merchants because it made me feel like I was in a real marketplace. Sometimes I’d stop and actually look at what they were selling, but rarely bought anything because players drove their prices up to insane amounts. Even common items were price gouged.
Ragnarok Online had a really interesting fast travel system. No warp stones, no focal points, no cash payments, nothing. You just typed a command into your chat bar and BAM! You find yourself somewhere else in the massive game world. You could put in random coordinates and find yourself somewhere you never even knew existed. I found this out while playing with my brother. His friends had located this isolated platform in a dungeon. No monsters, no chests, no entrances or exits. It was just... there. They stumbled upon it by complete chance and decided to make it their hangout. They gave me the coordinates, I punched them in, and in an instant I was there. It was this little slice of the world that no one else knew about, just waiting to be discovered. We spent so much time there that, even after everyone had stopped playing, I still went back there and relaxed, remembering all the fun times we had. I’ve long since forgotten the coordinates to it, but I still wonder if someone else ever found it.
But that also brings me to another point and it’s something that I feel is lost in newer MMO’s(Ragnarok Online predates World of Warcraft and the WoW-clones that followed.). I’ll be playing Final Fantasy XIV or any number of other MMO’s I try out and I see players everywhere, but they’re either looking at the market board, buying from NPC vendors, or running from quest to quest. They don’t stop to just chat unless they’re roleplayers. It’s all business, all the time. But in Ragnarok Online and to a less extent RuneScape, I would be wandering through a random monster infested area, only to stumble upon a group of players just sitting in a corner where the monsters patrol paths don’t reach, relaxing and chatting like a bunch of campers or having a picnic. Sometimes they chose a wooded thicket or perhaps sat next to a lake. But the fact remained that a lot of players were content to just hang out and they would find all kinds of places to just... exist.
Now, not all RO servers are created equal. As I mentioned near the start of this article, I played on an unofficial server called Dark-RO Force. Experience gains were increased ten fold, allowing you to level quickly and get the jobs you wanted in a reasonable amount of time. But there were also a few unique jobs hidden on the server. Over the course of your travels, you could stumble upon Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Anakin Skywalker. The first two will you set you on the path to become a Padawan, even giving you a lightsaber, while the latter would allow you to be a Sith rather than a Jedi, with matching robes and lightsaber to go with your newfound evilness. It was a goofier side of Dark-RO, one that you wouldn’t find on official servers. Sadly, the last time I logged into Dark-RO, the player count was barely above 200, down from the 2500 players it had when I first started playing.
Ragnarok Online was such a big game and its community was unlike any other I had seen and remains so to this day. The original Ragnarok Online was recently restarted as Ragnarok Online RE:START, essentially setting the world back to square one and will be updated continuously. If I had to guess, Ragnarok Online II didn’t do as well as they had hoped and so they’ve defaulted back to the game that everyone loved. And I can agree with that because Ragnarok II was definitely a WoW-clone and just did not have the charm of the original. Perhaps one of these days I venture back into Rune-Midgard and play again. I have so many fond memories of Ragnarok and I’m glad they’ve decided to keep it alive even after 14 years.