Virtual reality games lend themselves better to some game genres than others – one of them on the “More” page is rhythm games. From banging notes with laser beam swords to pretending to play a specific instrument – there’s no shortage of options – so developers need a quirk to set themselves apart from the competition. Ragnarok, a launch title for the PlayStation VR2, achieves just that, and stands out for two particular reasons: theming and music choice. In this review, I’ll go into more detail on what could make Ragnarok a VR rhythm game to consider adding to your library.
In Ragnarok, you set sail as the captain of a small Viking ship as you and your crew of fellow Vikings time traverse as far as possible through some dangerous looking but otherwise peaceful locations. As a leader, you don’t have to worry about physical exhaustion from rowing. Instead, it’s up to you to use the power of music and drums to get the crew to move their limbs and plow the ship forward. The gameplay is somewhat arcade-like, where you’ve got four drums in front of you and two hammers in your hand – if you can guess where this is going… well, it’s pretty obvious. As beats of your chosen song come your way, strum the appropriate one when the note is perfectly positioned over the drum. Depending on how well timed your hits were, you’ll either miss, gain points and maintain speed, or gain even more points and an incremental increase in your combo meter. The idea behind the game isn’t particularly revolutionary, but it’s clean, simple, and addictive fun that’s staying power for the quality and clear effort that goes into it.
The combo meter is one of the most important areas of risk and reward in Ragnarok, and while it was a minor mechanic in the larger game, it was something that drew my attention to the game, via zoning out and mindlessly hitting beats. Perfect drumbeats make up the combo meter in your hammer – one charge provides a burst of speed for a short period of time, while a second provides a more noticeable and prolonged burst of speed. The only problem is that… one note is missed and the entire meter is exhausted. So it comes down to whether you build that gauge and risk hitting a more intense moment in the song, or take the brief burst that’s less impactful. Even then, to use the combo meter, you’ll have to bang a gong behind you amid all the other beats coming your way. So nothing better than killing a combo streak by hastily missing the gong. Rhythm games have combo meters almost everywhere to keep track of perfect performance, and that extra layer of gamification to Ragnaroks was very welcome – adding an extra layer of difficulty and complexity.
In terms of difficulty, each song in Ragnarok has multiple options, starting with the typical “Easy” option before moving on to more difficult difficulty levels. While the songs vary between songs, the climb at each difficulty level tends to be a bit steep but tasty, encouraging players to build up their skills to tackle their favorite songs at higher difficulties. It’s also worth noting that the lowest difficulty levels for each track are no picnic, offering a challenge that newcomers to rhythm games can work on to improve.
However, the lustrous grace of Ragnarok is its music choices that really set it apart from other rhythm games on the market. Rather than stuffing its tracklist with hits, the team at WanadevStudio have curated a selection of Celtic and metal-esque music to suit a faster playing style and get you drumming. There was practically no bad song in the mix, and there were real songs that I would love to loop over and over again. It’s hard to pinpoint an exact favorite song of mine, but before I wrote I really enjoyed a session to Mexico by ALESTORM and love the 8-bit introduction to the track. However, I’m hoping that some DLC will be added sooner rather than later to expand the in-game tracklist – especially since custom tracks aren’t possible, unlike the PC version.
Ragnarok makes good use of the PlayStation VR2’s capabilities, particularly in terms of the controller’s haptic feedback, which allows you to feel every hit through haptic feedback in your hands. However, I would say that the game is played much better standing up, as the seated mode has never had a perfect position of the drums for my arms, at least in my experience – I often placed the eardrums above eye level. There were a few isolated issues with missed drum beats, which always sucks given its potential to break up a good combo, but luckily these were just that…scattered and not a common problem. On the visual and graphical side, the stage environments are well designed and detailed, and also justify the game’s entry into the world of virtual reality, even if there’s little time for sightseeing as you jam along to each song.
Overall, at $24.99 USD or your local equivalent, Ragnarok serves as an example of what a VR rhythm game should look like – an interesting premise that the development team has committed to, a soundtrack full of memorable tracks that fit their target niche, and a easy to understand but addictive gameplay. Since the launch of PSVR2, this has been my go-to game for warming up before a game session or just killing time, and it’s great for both extended play sessions and jump-in-jump-out gameplay.