Game Arts has developed some of the greatest RPGs ever created (Lunar: Silver Star Story being one of them), so expectations were high for their latest game. Instead of creating a new IP, or providing a sequel to one of their own series, Game Arts created a spin-off to GungHo‘s popular Ragnarok Online. While it does not quite live up to Game Arts’ pedigree, Ragnarok Odyssey is still a fantastic game.
The premise is very simple; giants from the Sundred Land have started to invade Midgard and they are destroying human cities. After an attack that wiped out most of the knights, the King decides to give a band of mercenaries free reign while they defend the front lines. On top of dealing with the giants, monsters are running rampant, and provide another threat to the people of Midgard. So it is up to you, a new recruit, to help defend the land from giants and monsters.
After the impressive opening cinematic, you start Ragnarok Odyssey by creating your character. The character creator is pretty extensive, and gamers will have no trouble creating a unique looking character, especially once you start unlocking items while playing the game. After choosing your look, you get to pick one of six jobs that you will specialize in. Each job has their own strengths and weakness, but don’t worry if you think you’ve chosen the wrong job, you can always change it at no cost.
Ragnarok Odyssey‘s story is one that anyone can follow; there are not too many characters to know, there are no factions fighting for control over the kingdom, and you don’t have to worry about crazy twists and turns.The story is progressed by speaking to the handful of NPCs, and besides progressing the story, they will, at times, provide hints on how to defeat some of the enemies you will come across. Even though the story is simple, it is still an entertaining one and shows that sometimes less is more. Plus, the dialogue is often quite funny.
While there is an over-arching storyline, one will be playing Ragnarok Odyssey because of the high-speed action it provides. Combos are executed by pressing the triangle button and mixing in the circle button from time-to-time. You can also launch your enemies in the air and attack them from there. While the action can feel a bit mashy at times, it is also very satisfying launching an ogre in the air and pummeling it into the ground. Battles against bosses are nicely designed, but essential require little strategy to bring them down.
Adding to you offensive capabilities is the Dainsleif mode. This mode allows you to temporarily increase your speed, gives you unlimited AP (a fancy way of saying stamina), prevents you from being stunned, and regain health by attacking enemies, but it comes at a cost. While in Dainsleif, your health will constantly decrease until the mode runs out or you cancel it. This provides a high risk/high reward function that’s useful for taking down bosses and large groups of enemies.
However, don’t think that you can rush headlong into battle. Outside of the Sword Warrior and Cleric, there is no blocking in Ragnarok Odyssey. Instead, you will have to rely on reading your enemies’ attack patterns and dodge. While dodging is not required while battling one or two enemies, larger groups and bosses will require it. There is one thing that holds this mechanic back though, and that is that you cannot cancel an attack to dash. Maybe that is just my Fighting side speaking, but it is frustrating when pulling of a combo and your enemy uses an attack that powers through you and you have no choice but to eat the damage. This is, however, only a minor complaint.
You do have free control over the camera while in battle and a very useful lock-on function. The camera does a nice job of keeping up with the action, but there are times (namely when in a corner) that the camera can become unwieldy. Also, while the lock-on function is useful when fighting one or two enemies at a time, you are left open defensively when using it against larger groups. It is best to freely switch between lock-on and free camera while playing Ragnarok Odyssey.
While I have small complaints about dashing and the camera, my biggest complaint is the lack of hit stun. Often times you will receive damage from an enemy and you won’t even notice it. Outside of blow-back attacks, stun attacks, and elemental attacks, your character will just muscle through them. Granted, when you are hit, a red number will appear above your head, but it can get lost a midst all the on-screen action.
Failure occurs in Ragnarok Odyssey through one of two ways. The first is if you timeout, but seeing as how most missions have a 30 minute time-limit, that should really be no trouble. The other is by being KO’d three times. This happens by, naturally, having your health bar depleted. It is worth noting that after every time you are KO’d, your zeny award will be lowered. After failing a mission you can choose to replay it again.
What is nice is that Game Arts did not shoehorn in any unnecessary gimmicks into the gameplay for Ragnarok Odyssey. Outside of using the touch screen for potions and activating Dainsleif mode, Ragnarok uses no other of the Vita’s abilities. No awkward gyroscope uses, no rear-touchpad, nothing. Just a good old-fashion control scheme that works incredibly well.
While Ragnarok Odyssey does play a lot like any other action-rpg, there are some things that set it apart. For one, there is the card system. This system is used in place of experience points that is found in nearly every other rpg. After killing an enemy, there is a chance that they will drop a card in battle. These cards provide stat buffs, or debuffs, when you equip them. For example, a card can be +3 attacking/-2 defense. Each card has a certain cost, and you cannot have more than eight cards equipped at anytime. You can also buy low-level cards at a shop inside the mission HQ or tavern. While the card system relies on randomness, it is still a system that works really well.
Besides using cards to improve your stats, you have the ability to refine your weapons to increase your attacking power. This does take quite a bit of zeny, and you have to have the right materials on hand to perform the refinement. Materials are also used for creating new armor and headgear. These are completely cosmetic, outside of your armor which give you the ability to equip cards. Outside of weapon refinement and purchasing armor, your zeny will be used to buy potions. There are a wide variety of potions, including potions for health and ones that provide immunity to freeze attacks. Potions are created by finding the materials in combat and some materials can only be found during boss battles. You can replay these battles at any time, and if you die you do get to keep the items you picked up. There is a small amount of level grinding required, but is not essential to progress through the game.
The missions in Ragnarok Odyssey fall into one of three categories: kill a certain amount of monsters, pick up a certain amount of an item, or kill a boss. That is it, and despite the lack of variety in the missions, I found that I had a very hard time putting Ragnarok Odyssey down. Even though the game is probably meant to be played in bit-sized chunks, hours would fly by before I had to force myself to turn the game off. The action is just that great, even taking into account the few issues stated earlier.
Ragnarok Odyssey has over 100 quests that can be completed by yourself, but is a lot more fun when playing with 3 other people. Ragnarok supports ad-hoc and online mulitplayer. To access multiplayer, you have to go to the tavern (which includes harder versions of the quests). After searching for a room, or creating one of your own, you are set. The host picks which missions are taken but all of the loot is shared among everyone in the room. There is no voice chat, but that is not a big problem. You communicate to everyone through emoticons, gestures, and through keyboard text via the touchscreen.
Ragnarok Odyssey is really fun online, especially when everyone is part of a different job. Taking down bosses are a bit easier because of this, since everyone is using the strengths of their characters. The sense of teamwork is really exciting and makes Ragnarok Odyssey really hard to put down.
However, that is not to say that online is without problems. There is no way to revive any of your squad mates, so if one person is KO’d three times, the mission is over. This is only minor compared to Ragnarok‘s biggest problem – online is not terribly stable. If someone enters the room with a bad connection, you can expect your game to be really laggy, and with no option to boot them, you are at their mercy. Even if everyone does have a good connection, having too many spectacular effects occur at once will cause the game to crawl until all the effects are done. However, when Ragnarok Odyssey clicks, it is a really fun multiplayer experience, and is worth going through the occasional lag here-and-there.
Graphically, Ragnarok Odyssey is really easy on the eyes. The anime influenced character and monster designs are a joy to look at, and the levels are *gasp* popping with vibrant colors. While it does not push the Vita to the limits, Ragnarok Odyssey relies on its great art direction to set it apart from the other games on the handheld.
The levels range from open to close corridors, with the corridors proving the majority of camera issues. You do have a mini map, and it will show you portals where the level opens to a new section. This provides a quasi-open level design, and it works just fine. Each world has a distinct look; whether it is plains, snow mountains, a volcano, or a once forgotten temple, Ragnarok Odyssey provides plenty of variety, even though you will visit the same locations multiple times. The hub world is completely separate from the game world and it is here where you can save, accept missions, and buy various goods.
The audio is nice as well. Some of the monsters do sound eerily harmless at times, and you might feel bad about killing them. Combat carries a nice pop to it, and the soundtrack sounds nice, even though it gets a bit repetitive. Outside of the occasional “Hey,” and the typical battle cries of your character, there is no voice acting in Ragnarok. Personally, that is fine with me, but it may irritate some gamers out there.
So far, in the Vita’s short life span, there seems to be a bit of an identity crisis. On one hand, you have ports of older games, which there is nothing wrong with. On the other hand, you have developers trying to use each and every gimmick that the Vita has to offer, and often times these games just fall flat. However, Game Arts was able to develop a game for the Vita that does neither. Ragnarok Odyssey does not rely on any gimmicks for its gameplay, and feels like it could easily be played on a home console, but the same time, it feels distinctly like a portable title. Ragnarok Odyssey is a great game, and one that every Vita owner should pick up.