Insert Disk collects Ragnagard (Shin-Oh-Ken 神凰拳) for the Sega Saturn.
Today’s retro game review is Ragnagard (Shin-Oh-Ken 神凰拳) for the Sega Saturn. This retro gaming classic is a rather obscure fighting game here in the West but much better known in Japan with releases on the Sega Saturn and 3D0 Hardware. In many ways Ragnagard is SNK’s answer to Killer Instinct. A set of mythical fighters must battle to restore peace. Each has their own rival fighter and back story for fighting. Ragnagard is fast fun and instantly accessible to players making it one of my guilty pleasure fighting games.
Greetings collectors and welcome to today’s retro game review. If you’ve been a viewer of the channel for a while you’ll know I have a soft spot for Japanese games. Particularly those that don’t always get much exposure here in Europe and the US. Today I’m unearthing one such game. Known internationally as Ragnagard but as Shin-Oh-Ken in Japan. Prepare to meet your new guilty pleasure fighting game as we explore Ragnagard for the Sega Saturn.
Released in 1996 Ragnagard was an exclusive to the Japanese Sega Saturn. Sadly the US and Europe never received this title which means it has taken a while for Western gamers to enjoy its delightful gameplay. Those of you in the know may have stumbled upon this game before on the Neo-Geo hardware under the title Operation Ragnagard. The Neo-Geo release is technically the original. However, the Sega Saturn edition contains extended modes and a few graphical enhancements. As you might guess from the footage this is yet another one of those reasonably obscure fighting games that the Japanese Sega Saturn just loved so much. What drew me this title was the SNK developer credit. Now with games such as the King of Fighters pedigree behind them I was surprised I’d never heard of this game. The premise of the game is rather a classic formula. Each fighter has a backstory and motivation to fight the others and the winner ultimately restores peace to their respective kingdoms. This culminates in an end of game battle against Lucifer.
There’s a varied group of fighters from the cute Japanese girls to the mystic fighters. Instantly you will notice the aesthetic of Ragnagard. It put me very much in mind of the Killer Instinct series. The character sprites are pre-rendered in the same way from 3D computer models. They are then captured and re-animated in to what we see in game. The stages are backed full of detail and really vibrant. They may not all be as pretty as the King of Fighters series but they give just as much impact. As a player I really got the sense that I was fighting in a really decent set of varied locations.
As for the music, well it’s just epic on every level. The tracks in the game are some of the best I’ve heard outside of the mainstream fighting games. Each fighting stage is given its own personality by the compositions and it all fits really tightly together to make an impact. Back to the gameplay though. As with games such as Killer Instinct and King of Fighters there is a heavy reliance on combos and special moves. Each fighter is a representation of a Shinto deity. I’ve chosen the Goddess Seena for this play through. Her special area of interest is all things sea related. A bit like a really kick-ass king Triton. Ragnagard wouldn’t be an SNK fighting game without a fighting mechanic. In this case it’s the way you power up your fighter. Typically in SNK games you build a power meter by either landing a hit or successfully defending an attack. It’s all change in Ragnagard though. To charge up your fighter you simply use the shoulder buttons of the pad. This feature can be used at any time but it does leave you open to attacks whilst doing so. If you manage to power yourself to a full meter though you gain access to your special move set. So there’s a real incentive to try and charge that meter. Once you have fully charged it’s time to go on the attack. The game has numerous special moves which are all delightfully animated and accompanied with hard hitting sound effects. As mentioned earlier the game really impresses with its final battle against Lucifer. It just seems like a big occasion, the music swells, the bass deepens and the action becomes really frantic.
So, why is it you might as that I mentioned earlier that this game is one of my guilty pleasures? Well, that comes down to the how deep the game play goes. When you play games such as Street Fighter and particularly games such as King of Fighters you really have to invest yourself. It’s ok to spam a few punches in those games but you will be found out by human players fairly quickly. Ragnagard does lack some of this gameplay depth. In that sense it’s very similar to another of my guilty pleasures on the system, Battle Monsters. If you are playing on the easier levels you will be able to complete this game with little challenge and no need to learn any advanced tactics. So, in a sense the game really puts the emphasis on fun and a good old fashioned punch up rather than any high level of technical skill. This suits me just fine though. For a highly entertaining battle I’m more than happy with what’s on offer here. It’s not typical SNK but it is most definitely fun. In terms of packaging the CD jewel case is nothing too special. For a full complement you will need to collect the registration card along with the spine card. The full colour manual is rather appealing and gives you a full list of move sets and background story.
As this is a Japanese exclusive you will either have to import from Japan yourself or find a local re-seller. Here in the UK look the current rate is around £10 for this game. However, I would have been happy to pay more. I’ve very much got my monies worth out of my purchase. For the US I’d suggest paying around $15, its well worth the investment in my opinion. Ragnagard does seem to be the gift that keeps on giving. Not only does the CD have a great 24 track soundtrack on the CD it also contains a folder called presents. Inside you will find a complete set of concept character drawings.
I may be a bit of a geek in saying this but I always appreciate any hidden easter eggs from game developers. My final verdict on Ragnagard is that it’s such a shame that it isn’t more widely known about. It certainly lacks the finesse of mainstream fighters but what it lacks in depth it more than makes up for in all out action and fun.
Ragnagard is just one of those games that makes me smile. Just boot it up, power up your fighter and take part in one of the most satisfying retro rumble events you’ve experienced in years.
Ragnagard is technically flawed but has enough spirit to deliver one of the best fighting game hidden gems I’ve played in years.