Ragnarok Odyssey - Staff Review  

A Ragnarok-y Ride
by Michael A. Cunningham

Ragnarok Odyssey
20-40 Hours
+ Bright, vibrant looking characters
+ Simple, responsive interface
+ Easy to access online co-op play
- Frustrating, repeated bosses
- Lots of superfluous content
- Too many filler missions
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Easily lumped in with Capcom's Monster Hunter series, Ragnarok Odyssey is the Game Arts variation on this newly risen subgenre which takes place within the world of GungHo's MMORPG Ragnarok Online. This game is far from a clone of the series that has taken Japan by storm, but for now it remains the most similar experience on the PlayStation Vita. While Ragnarok Odyssey is an easy game to jump into and fun to play in bursts, it unfortunately lacks the depth and variety to make it a lasting experience.

   While the game's story is almost non-existent, its mission-based setup works well enough to push players along. The game is broken up into chapters containing ten or so missions each, and players must tackle these one at a time to progress through the plotline. The world outside the main hub town is not open to fully explore, so it is only through these missions that players can venture out to hack monsters to pieces. These missions are timed and require players to defeat a specific number of an enemy type, gather a specified amount of a certain item, or vanquish a boss monster before the countdown ends. Sadly, this is about the extent of the mission content. There is little variety here, meaning that it gets repetitive fast. Thankfully, these missions generally do not take very long to complete, usually no more than ten minutes each, so when played in small bursts of gameplay it's much more enjoyable to get into for some mindless hack-and-slashing.

   Ragnarok's missions ramp up in difficulty as players progress. Enemies will not only become more powerful, but the game will throw out more foes, many with an array of annoying status effects. To combat this challenge, players have two types of melee attacks: a standard attack which can be turned into different combos and a knockback attack that will send enemies soaring. As this is the basis for combat, all jobs are melee focused except the Hunter with its ranged bow; it's just that the magic themed classes of Clerics and Mages have other abilities to help offset their lack of physical strength. Where the strict melee classes have powerful charge attacks when holding down the standard attack button, Clerics will perform a healing spell and Mages will enhance weapons with elemental bonuses. While very useful as support in co-op, both classes are designed to be able to stand on their own in single-player as well.

   Along with this, players can carry up to three different types of potions into combat, each with a carry limit based on the quality of the potion. Potions can be purchased at a shop in town, though the more complex ones will also require special ingredients as well. This means having to plan ahead which will be the most beneficial to take on a mission, as these cannot be changed midstream. That said, the equipment and potion interface is quite nice, especially since potions can be easily used by just tapping a conveniently placed icon on the touch screen.

Dynamic trio Dynamic trio

   Missions can only be failed in two ways, time running out or dying three times. The multiple life feature is a great boon, as many bosses can one-shot even a well-equipped warrior with ease. This is one area where there is a similarity to the Monster Hunter series, as characters do not level up in typical RPG fashion. Only through equipment enhancements can players directly improve their character, though the game does grant stat bonuses and health boosts after each chapter is completed. For the most part, though, doing better in the game requires the player to become more skilled at combat and to effectively upgrade their weaponry.

   Weapons vary by class as each has a specific type that only it can use. Other than buying or finding a new weapon in the field, these are upgraded through the process of refining. This requires a combination of materials and money. The rarity of crafting items varies by chapter, so it's a bit of a forced progression. There is no way to unlock weaponry earlier than the game will allow. As far as armor goes, players can purchase new outfits, though it is mostly cosmetic. Each armor set has a unique bonus skill, but additional effects have to be added on via combat cards. Cards are found from defeating certain enemies or can be bought or traded from an in-game shop. Armor type limits how many cards can be equipped and each card takes up a different number of slots on the set, so customization is key to crafting a successful playstyle. Outfits can be expanded in the same way as weapons: just add the right materials and a little money.

   While armor is only partially cosmetic, players can unlock and purchase hats that are purely for looks. Be it a knight's helm or a hat topped with the cute Ragnarok mascot, Poring, these are simply available to make characters look more unique. Each piece of equipment can be dyed a different color, so that helps since players cannot mix and match individual pieces of armor.

   With all of the superficial dressing that goes on, it's at least very impressive looking. Sporting a bright, cheerful veneer, Ragnarok Odyssey rarely lacks for color. Visual options for character customization are fairly robust and can be modified at the hub town later on for a nominal fee. There are even additional skin types and hairstyles that become available throughout the game. Despite the quality of the designs, characters are too small on the screen to see much detail while playing, so much of it feels wasted. That aside, armor and hat designs are beautiful, animations are fluid, and the game plays at a solid frame rate throughout.

Beautiful settings Beautiful settings

   Another area that sees Ragnarok suffering both visually and from a design standpoint is from excessive reuse in enemies, areas, and mission objectives. Too often it feels like players are forced to do the same thing in the same area against the same enemies. There are too few times when the game branches out into new territory, and even when it tries something new like defending the town from a monster assault, the focus is still simply to defeat the attacker before time runs out. So while combat is quick, responsive, and simple to get into, that often feels like all that's here. The differentiation between classes, especially once players can swap jobs, allows for lots of experimentation, but never really adds enough depth to be worth diving in too deeply.

   The game's co-op mode, which is available both online and locally, is very accessible and makes plowing through waves of enemies or tackling bosses much more satisfying, as long as all players are at the same point in the story's progression. Players cannot jump forward, so those who have moved further along will be stuck replaying older sections of the game with only materials and money as a reward. This is helpful in hunting for materials for new equipment, another of the game's strengths, but is mostly to help boost other players up or to get past a challenging boss. Online co-op is a really great addition, as it's wonderful to get a team together to plow through some of the more repetitive missions. It's not always as helpful with bosses, as the ramp up in difficulty and chaos of having four people doing their own thing often ends up confounding things and strategy goes out the window. That said, a good mix of co-op helps make the more mundane quests more enjoyable.

   Ragnarok Odyssey gets a few things right and then misses the mark on others. The speed of combat, challenging boss battles, and unique character designs are all great. That said, the game fails to offer enough variety in the battle system, with combat often boiling down to button mashing, air dashing, and dodging over and over with an occasional fight with the camera thrown in for good measure. Defeating a tough boss can feel very rewarding, but too often the path to get there contains so much filler that it doesn't seem worth it. While the game's visual style is very vibrant and appealing, it reuses so much of it that it gets old quickly.

   All of the problems listed here are clearly something to take into consideration when looking at Ragnarok Odyssey, but this game is not a typical start-to-finish RPG. It's best played in chunks with occasional bouts of co-op thrown in for good measure. Though it starts off easy enough, later chapters are very taxing, so expect to attempt certain missions over and over. Thankfully, online co-op is a reliable way to find help when things get tough. Story, characters, and setting are not the focus here, so those wanting a pure skill-based combat experience will be more at home than those seeking a complete game. This game is a great time killer that is easy to pick up and play, but lots of frustrations and repetitive content mar that experience.

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