The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games and life converge

A Private Ragnarok Online Experience and Recalling 2008’s Total Lunar Eclipse

Nostalgia is the only friend that stays with you forever.” –Damien Echols.

Fourteen years earlier, the moon passed into the Earth’s shadow. For a nearly a full fifty minutes, the moon shone with a bright red and copper hues, corresponding to a L4 on the Danjon scale. This lunar eclipse could be seen from almost the whole of North America, and more unusually, the eclipsed occurred at a reasonable hour: totality began at 2001 local time, and back in those days, as a student, I would be preparing to wrap up the evening. A glance outside allowed me to witness one of the brightest and most memorable lunar eclipses I’d ever seen, and since then, I’ve managed to catch a few other total lunar eclipses, with 2015 and 2018 both seeing “supermoon” eclipses. In 2015, I was sitting down to moon cakes when the lunar eclipse occurred and three years later, I pulled myself away from Battlefield 1 to gaze up at the moon. However, the 2008 lunar eclipse remains special to me: that evening, I’d just hopped onto my friend’s private Ragnarok Online server to meet up with some mates who were getting into things for the first time. Since I’d been fully leveled, I was asked to look over a friend who was just starting out as a mage: the bridge north of the mage town was host to weaker monsters, and this proved to be a good place to begin levelling up for starting mages. I therefore spent thirty minutes walking the friend through some essential spells, and at half hour’s end, said friend had enough experience to begin exploring spells of their own. I sent a message back to my other friends, the server host, and remarked that we were on our way to familiarising ourselves with the mechanics: this friend would later go on to host the World of Warcraft private server, and here, our interest had been to engage in Ragnarok Online‘s War of Emperium guild wars, in which guilds attempt to conquer castles. In order to reach such a point, all participants needed to be familiar with Ragnarok Online‘s mechanics, and so, I spent most of my hours after my studies had concluded in Payon Dungeon with another friend who played an assassin. Together, we slaughtered our way through the first three floors and concluded that the final floor was not worth taking on without more people. In addition, I would occasionally accompany my assassin friend to Morroc Pyramid. In this way, many an evening was spent exploring Ragnarok Online: back in those days, coursework had been remarkably light, and I found myself steamrolling all of my studies, affording me time to go exploring with friends before we migrated over to the World of Warcraft private server.

Ragnarok Online represented my first-ever MMORPG, a Korean game based on a manhwa that first released in 2002. By the time my friend had set a server up, the game had been around for six years. Using two-dimensional character sprites, what stood out to me about Ragnarok Online had been how adorable the player sprites were. However, underlying the game’s simple visuals was an entire world to explore – at that point in time, I’d primarily played sandbox simulation games like Sim City, or first person shooters like 007 Nightfire, Half-Life 2 and Halo. The idea of an open-world RPG was new to me, and I would come to most enjoy the act of exploring new areas in the world of Ragnarok Online: the game’s colourful environments and a remarkably relaxing soundtrack meant in the overworld, I was free to explore areas without worrying about dying to mobs. On evenings where I’d finished my coursework ahead of my friends, I spent time exploring the fields surrounding Prontera and Geffen at my own pace. As time wore on, the server host recommended that I go on over to Payon to power-level my mage, whose Soul Strike capability was especially powerful against undead foes. It was here that I spent hours farming the undead, and over time, I eventually built a formidable wizard with access to potent spells for area-denial. On evenings where my friends were available, we would work together on dungeon crawls. A few weeks after the lunar eclipse, we’d been powerful enough to trivially slaughter mobs on lower floors before reaching the bosses. Before midterm exams began, we were able to defeat Payon Dungeon’s boss, Moonlight Flower: we had a crusader to fulfil the role of a tank, an alchemist for healing and buffs, and an assassin for DPS. In conjunction with my wizard’s devastating spells, our party smashed Moonlight Flower, and at this point, my friend was satisfied that we were ready to try some PvP in War of Emperium. As fun as these group events were, I was always at my happiest when I was exploring, and after I entered university, my friend sent me the server files so I could host my own private server. On a December morning after my first year exams ended, I got my server up and running, ready for me to continue exploring from where I’d left off a few years earlier.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • It’s been over a decade since I last wandered Rune-Midgarts on my private private server, and it took a few moments for me to adjust to the controls again. Player movement in Ragnarok Online is mouse-based, and the WASD keys aren’t bound to anything. Similarly, spells and abilities are engaged through the function keys rather than the number keys. These differences mean I would need to fumble through a different mindset, and I’m glad that my objectives in Ragnarok Online aren’t to play War of Emperium or go on dungeon crawls nowadays, as my muscle memory for this game is nonexistent.

  • On the other hand, I have no trouble with exploring the world of Rune-Midgarts in Ragnarok Online: after exiting the city of Prontera, I headed out over into the fields surrounding the area and prepared to walk over to Geffen. When I first started out, my friends (among them the server host) suggested that I play a mage based on my personality traits; there is a bit of a meta game in MMORPGs in that classes do seem to reflect an individual. In Ragnarok Online, foes often have elemental traits that make them more or less vulnerable to certain kinds of magic.

  • I headed over to Geffen to do my job change. In Ragnarok Online, mages are the casters, and to level, being a fire mage is a suitable build to go for. My friends actually suggested I go with a bolt build and specialise in soul strike, since at the time, they were interested in dungeon play. Payon Cave became our go-to haunt, and this proved to be the perfect place to power-level, since Soul Strike does bonus damage against undead foes. Besides myself, the server host played a crusader, and one of my other friends became an assassin.

  • Once my friend’s private server had opened, my life settled into a pattern: I would capitalise on the fact that there was so much self-study time to finish all of my assignments, wrap up anything I’d missed at home and go through all of my lecture notes so I was confident I got that particular lesson before dinner, and then after dinner, I would sign in and join my assassin friend to clear out mobs in the easier floors of a given dungeon. Payon Cave and Morroc Pyramid were are favourite places to visit, and the server host actually would create a custom teleporter for us so we could reach our favourite dungeons more easily.

  • On most evenings, the host and a few other players would join us on our dungeon adventures, as well. To help things along, my friend had set the server’s experience gain level to nearly nine times that of the normal rate so we could reach the endgame more quickly, become comfortable with our class’ chosen powers, and so, begin to really do the activities that the server had been set up for: War of Emperium.

  • Because of Payon’s proximity to Payon Cave, this spot ended up being the hub for most of our activities. We would gather here and trade off potions ahead of dungeon crawls, use the text chat to discuss both the evening’s game plan and other topics, and over time, Payon ended up being our Barrens Chat of sorts; upon returning home from school, everyone would sign in, leave their characters here and chat on topics from our plans for the weekend, to helping one another out regarding the day’s lessons: back then, several of us used MSN messenger to chat, but some friends didn’t have MSN, so Ragnarok Online‘s chat client became our go-to.

  • I believe that it was in January when the server first started; I vaguely remember that back then, my term had been sufficiently easy so I could go through my coursework, participate in yearbook activities and have enough time left over to both play Ragnarok Online and watch Gundam 00. Things eventually slowed down once the new year arrived, and while we gained several new players through friends who’d been curious, a few weeks after the lunar eclipse, my friend was already eying the setup of a World of Warcraft server.

  • However, we did end up gathering at his place for War of Emperium events on more than one occasion before the World of Warcraft server went live. These early LAN parties required quite a bit of setup, and I remember that the first time we did such an event, it took over two hours for everyone to be properly kitted out, organised into teams and for my friend to find the server commands needed to manage a War of Emperium event. During this event, I was destroyed because I didn’t fully understand the wizard’s capabilities. On our second War of Emperium event, I’d become a full-fledged Wizard and had all of my spells fully-leveled.

  • This proved to be a game changer: my teammates positioned me at the entrance way with an alchemist and an assassin. The plan had been to wait for the attackers to enter, and then have me use my powerful array of AoE spells to lock down the chokepoint, while the alchemist kept my health and mana topped off, and the assassin would pick off anyone who’d gotten through. On defense, my team ended up very successful on defense, although since my spells were slow to charge, we proved less efficacious on offense, and that day’s War of Emperium ended in a draw.

  • After the last War of Emperium event, my friend moved us over to World of Warcraft, and Ragnarok Online became forgotten. I ended up requesting (and receiving) the server files from said friend so I could continue exploring Ragnarok Online at my own pace; the server host and I had visited several notable locations in Ragnarok Online, including the “unfinished village” that would later become Moscovia, a Russian-themed town that acts as an entrance to the area’s dungeon. However, with my own server, I had unlimited time to explore.

  • My private server was truly private in that it was not configured for others to connect to it; while creating an immensely lonely experience, a far cry from the experiences I had during my friend’s Ragnarok Online heydays, having an entire server to myself meant I could check out some of the most unique places in the whole of the game that we’d never even set foot in. Kunlun is one such place, a Taiwanese-themed town floating high above the clouds. Kunlun is counted as the most romantic place in the whole of Rangarok Online, and others have done in-game weddings here owing to the setting.

  • Kunlun’s theme is one of my favourite pieces of background music in Ragnarok Online, a game whose incidental music is of a very high standard. Whether it be a consequence of hearing these songs non-stop when I first played the game, the fact that the music itself is immensely relaxing, or a combination of the two, nostalgia immediately sets in whenever I hear any of the background themes to the major cities: Prontera, Payon and Geffen have some wonderful songs, as well. As it turns out, I’m not the only one who feels this way: folks who grew up around Ragnarok Online have similarly found the music to be cathartic, bringing back memories of an older, simpler time.

  • The edges of Kunlun town are ringed with floating islands that can be visited. Looking back, I’m not sure if any of my friends had ever visited Kunlun’s floating islands; most of our time had been spent blasting stuff in fields and dungeons surrounding Prontera, Geffen. Morroc and Payon, as well as gearing up for War of Emperium events. In the past fourteen or so years, I’ve come to really appreciate the elegance in Ragnarok Online‘s design; maps are standalone tiles linked by portals, and this made it easy to add new content to the game without altering the game world. Conversely, when Blizzard updates World of Warcraft, changes to the central maps had far-reaching consequences.

  • At some point during my private server experience fourteen years earlier, my friend invited me to check out some of the places he felt were the most novel; when this happened was lost to time, but I imagine that it was during the winter break, after we’d both finished our exams. My friend thus brought me over to the “unfinished town” of Moscovia, which did not have NPCs or any assets on his server version. I ended up updating my server so that it would have the completed town, and this makes all the difference. Originally, Moscovia could not be reached, although after I ran the update, a boat in Alberta provides access to this area.

  • If I had to guess, Ragnarok Online likely uses the same tile system that Sim City 4 uses, employing a combination of 3D assets and 2D sprites to build the game world. Although contemporary titles far surpass anything in Ragnarok Online in terms of visuals, the older graphics have a unique charm about them. It suddenly hits me that, given that Ragnarok Online itself is two decades old now, I imagine that a mid-end smartphone would have the computational power to run such a game, and with a few tweaks to the UI, Ragnarok Online could definitely be made to run on a tablet.

  • With this in mind, Gravity has released a mobile version of Ragnarok Online for Android devices with visuals far surpassing those of the original, speaking to how far technology has come. Back in Ragnarok Online, I continue exploring the Russian-themed architecture of Moscovia; like Kunlun, there’s an entrance to a dungeon in this map, and the area is steeped in lore. The Ragnarok Online and World of Warcraft that I know are quiet places, but I’ve seen gameplay footage on official servers; every nook and cranny of the map is populated, creating a much richer world.

  • If my memory is not mistaken, I played Ragnarok Online during January, as I’d just picked up a new Dell XPS 420 to replace an aging computer from the early 2000s. The jump to a Q6600 Core 2 Quad,  3 GB of RAM and an ATI HD 2600 XT meant I was able to play my favourite games of the day, including Halo 2 Vista and Half-Life 2 without any difficulty, and performance remained quite good even with newer titles like Team Fortress 2 and Borderlands. However, the best games of the day, like Crysis and Battlefield 3 gave my machine difficulties owing to the weaker GPU. In the end, the Dell XPS 420 served for a total of five years; it was sufficient for my undergraduate programme, but as the RAM modules began to age and overheat, my machine began to perform poorly. I subsequently built a new desktop, and this machine has served me until the present.

  • The last place I chose to visit for this recollection is Amatsu, a Japanese-themed city where sakura blossoms are in eternal bloom. This town is host to the Amatsu Dungeon, which can only be entered after completing a quest. Questing in Ragnarok Online is a ways more complex than they are in something like World of Warcraft and require a bit of patience to complete, especially since individuals of interest can be quite tricky to find. Quests do explore lore in a meaningful way, but on the flipside, unlike World of Warcraft, the rewards can seem paltry in comparison to the time it takes to complete them.

  • Ragnarok Online actually had no quest tracker at launch, and this feature was implemented a few years later. Even then, during my original run of Ragnarok Online, I never bothered to do any quests, and instead, simply levelled up by beating up monsters in dungeons and fields. With this, I’ve fulfilled a promise to bring my old private server back to life; since I do have a running server again, I may return at some point to write about other places in Ragnarok Online: Yuno was another area I was particularly fond of, and I’ve yet to visit the Christmas fields, as well.

  • Here, I climb out to a viewpoint overlooking the bridge immediately west of Geffen: the bridge north of Geffen is infested with higher level monsters and is unsuited for beginners, but the west bridge is much friendlier, being the place where I walked another friend through the basics of Ragnarok Online some fourteen years earlier. According to my astronomy charts, the next lunar eclipse visible from North America will be in May 2022, although this is only a partial solar eclipse.

Since I received the files for my own private server, I utilised my private server to acquire screenshots and recall my experiences for my old website. However, the server files otherwise remained unused – during university, I spent most of my time playing Halo 2 Vista, and when servers for that shut down, I migrated over to Team Fortress 2. Ragnarok Online and World of Warcraft both fell from my mind until a desire to explore Pandaria bought me back into World of Warcraft. After being unceremoniously kicked from a dungeon in World of Warcraft a few years back, I ended up spinning up my own Wrath of the Lich King server so I could explore without worrying about being kicked by try-hards. The experience had been phenomenal, and as I tread familiar places like Elwynn Forest and the Eversong Woods, I recalled that I also had a considerable amount of fun with Ragnarok Online. After doing some tuning to get the old server files running, I’ve finally returned to Ragnarok Online some twelve years after I ran my private server for the first time, and fourteen years after the eclipse that had occurred the evening I was getting another friend into Ragnarok Online. Although my private server is now a private private server thanks to how my router is configured (i.e. other players can’t connect unless they’re on my LAN), having an entire server to myself for exploration has been great: for someone such as myself, being able to walk through quiet cities, gentle plains, verdant forest and peaceful coasts while listening to Ragnarok Online‘s wonderful soundtrack has proven to be immensely cathartic, a far cry from the higher-octane games I’ve played through since building a more powerful desktop. Despite its age, Ragnarok Online still has its charm: while the days for my hosting my own War of Emperium events are long past (for one, I’m not sure if any of my old friends have the time to do so), being able to casually walk from Prontera over to Alberta and explore some of Ragnarok Online‘s most unique spots remains highly enjoyable, representing a change of pace from my latest gaming exploits.

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