One of the core drivers to starting this blog was to unearth and share unassuming freeware games that don’t get much coverage elsewhere. To some degree we’ve done this; at least – you won’t find many of the games we cover on Gamespot or Rockpapershotgun, but the rabbit hole goes a lot deeper… and its time we started digging into our vault a little more. I present: Hyuke Kigyouden, or, in its more easy to pronounce form: Ragnarok.
An obvious Castlevania inspired indie effort, Ragnarok isn’t going to provide any surprises at first glance, and even though it probably won’t dethrone indie stars like Cave Story or La Mulana any time soon, it’s an interesting enough – if still formulaic – take on the formula.
Starring as what looks like a school-age cat* girl (this is Japan** we’re talking about here), Ragnarok will seem familiar to anyone who’s played Castlevania: enter a castle, kill skeletons, get abilities. Sub-weapons make their appearance, with the first being the usual knife throwing weapon, shortly followed by everone’s favourite axe. I mean – who are we kidding, here – it even takes some sound clips and graphics wholesale from said inspiration. So, yes, Ragnarok doesn’t get a whole lot of points for originality.
* OK; actually they’re just equipped ‘Cat Ears’ and, ** as far as I can tell, it’s actually Chinese (despite having a seemingly Japanese name and being hosted on a Japanese website…who knows)
However, while it wears its derivative heart on its sleeve and perhaps doesn’t quite have the production quality and distinct personality as games like Cave Story do, Ragnarok is by no means an entirely uninspired clone. For one thing, it’s a lot faster than most of the old 2D ‘vanias – mainly because unlike that latter game’s main protagonists, you don’t wield slow, clunky whips… because who tries to fight the undead with whips anyway? That’s some kinky shit. Instead, Catgirl is wielding two samurai swords – which slice through the enemy about as fast as you’d expect they would.
Sub-weapons can be similarly as fast, their SP recharges at a reasonable clip, and in a nice touch, you can also angle certain sub weapons up or down. This all results in a much faster pace of slicing and dicing; leaping towards an enemy while throwing knives down at him before connecting with a rapid 3-hit sword combo is satisfying. Of course, don’t take this to mean Ragnarok is without challenge – while not patricularly difficult, enemies and bosses can easily take a large chunk off your health.
Your character can collect a bunch of different equipment items, and various of these have their own special attributes or effects. Once you’ve surpassed the typical knife and axe sub weapons, for example, you can find more interesting items like a magic wand which can be charged up for a long range fire attack. In a refreshing change, simply walking into enemies doesn’t hurt you – you have to actually connect with their attack to be harmed.
You’d be forgiven for expecting Ragnarok to be a short affair, perhaps an hour or so – I did. However, once you get out of the first area, a whole world map opens up, complete with a village and upgrades to purchase, and new locations to unlock. Whether it’s a “complete” game or not, though, is harder to say. Best I can tell, it’s in not-so-active development (receiving the last update, 1.0.9b, about six months prior to this article), so it’s likely that it’s not finished. Still, from what I’ve seen so far, there’s a good few solid hours in there – and it’s entirely free; Ragnarok is worth checking out.
An important note: your game is not saved at the “checkpoints” in the first level. You can’t save until you finish the first area and reach the village. So make sure you make it that far before closing the game (should only take 15 minutes or so).