December 10, 2012
At the start of the game players pick from one of six classes, each of which are unlocked from the beginning. Each focuses on a different weapon type, ranging from broadswords for the sword warrior or dual blades for the assassin. There are also over a dozen different types of hair, eye and voice styles to pick from, so players who are pickier with their character customization options shouldn't have a problem.
If you've played any of the Monster Hunter or Tales of the World: Radiant Mythology games, you'll have a good sense of how Ragnarok Odyssey's story progression goes. After selecting a mission from the guild halls you'll set out to complete the mission, which generally ranges from killing a set number of monsters or collecting a set number of items. Each mission has a set time of 30 minutes, although almost all of them can and will be completed well before that time elapses. The system works quite well for the inherent portable nature of the PlayStation Vita as you can easily play through a mission or two during your free time.
As stated before, Ragnarok Odyssey has six different classes to pick from. Some are melee focused, such as the sword warrior and the assassin, while Clerics are tanks that can self-heal. Unlike some other games, Ragnarok Odyssey lets you freely switch between the classes between missions, so you never feel stuck because the game forced you into a particular skill set or where you're penalized for switching.
The battle system is easily one of the game's highlights as it takes the core gameplay of Monster Hunter, but makes it much more fast-paced. Players have a choice between weak attacks which can be easily chained but deal less damage, and heavy attacks which deal more damage but take longer to execute. Both of these can be chained together for combo attacks with the pattern depending on your character's class.
Each class differs on how their controls operate, but for the most part the controls are pretty standard across all of the classes. This means you shouldn't find it too hard adapting to class switching. Ragnarok Odyssey also has the standard defensive manoeuvre, but what differentiates the series from Monster Hunter is the ability to dash forward in the ground/air and upwards to scale some of the game's larger behemoths.
While the gameplay mechanics do make it easy to combo enemies, the reverse also holds true in Ragnarok Odyssey. There are numerous times when a mission will go from easy to overly difficult as enemy mobs perform combo after combo without any breaks. Sometimes bosses will also have an attack which can stun in preparation for a mammoth combo. Expert players can dodge or dash their way out of these attacks, but for beginners and moderately-skilled players, these unexpected difficultly spikes might be a bit of a turn-off.
In place of levels are stat bonuses via equipping new gear and minor stat increases after clearing each of the game's several chapters. Gear and the chapter stats only give a minor increase, however, as the main source of stat increasing come through cards - a Ragnarok series staple. Dropped randomly by enemies, each outfit has space for up to eight cards initially with the ability to expand for cards with higher equip costs. Cards range from attack/defense increases, increase healing powers and even class-specific skills.
In addition to cards, monsters also drop materials which can be used to refine weapons, expand outfits and purchase gear which differentiates your character from the norm. If you've played previous XSEED releases like Way of the Samurai 4 and loved the wacky and sometimes absurd clothing combinations that were possible in those games, you are in luck as there's headgear ranging from paper bags to devil horns which you can adorn your character with.
One minor complaint about this system is that enemies and bosses don't always drop the same items every time, so there will be times when players have to farm a mission multiple times in order to get the correct item drops. And to further complicate things the game doesn't tell the player what enemies drop what materials, so you're essentially shooting in the dark.
While these options do separate Ragnarok Odyssey from its peers, they also create some problems. At times it feels like there's a barrier in your way with specific classes, as the amount of damage you can deal, even with card bonuses, fails in comparison to the damage needed to take down a boss in the 30-minute time limit. The game does have online capability to get around this issue, but if you can't play online you are essentially forced to pick and learn another whole class to progress.
Playing alone might get tedious after a while, so Ragnarok Odyssey gives players the option to cooperate locally or online via the tavern next to the mission center. The team leader chooses the mission for the team, although they are limited to the chapter progress of the least progressed player (i.e. if one hasn't completed the first chapter, you can't play outside of that chapter). When it works the action is fluid, but occasionally the game lags for split-second or two. There's also an issue where the game doesn't automatically force players to go somewhere if the majority of the group wants to progress, as one could easily stall out in an area of the dungeon and waste everyone's time. When everything works, it's a great experience, but the minor flaws do detract from what could have been.
Players need to cooperate to work together, which is where Ragnarok Odyssey excels. Instead of putting chat options in menus and forcing players to either dive through them using the controls or touch, there's a single slide-out menu with easy finger access to the presets defined prior to the battle. Healing can also be done via touch as well as traditional methods. A lot of PlayStation Vita developers fumble here by overusing the touch screen functionality, but the developers for Ragnarok Odyssey hit a nice sweet spot of using it just enough to make the player's time easier and they should be commended for this.
As far as visuals go, Ragnarok Odyssey is easily one of the contenders for the best graphics so far in the crop of current releases. Instead of a drab and dreary style copied over from the PS3, Odyssey utilizes a bold and colourful style pitted alongside flash visual effects. There is a bit of overuse with the bloom and some of the environments are a tad bit flat, but when you're beating up enemies these things aren't nearly as noticeable. The developers also did an amazing job with the loading times as they're essentially non-existent.
Ragnarok Odyssey has its fair share of missteps, but there are some definite highs too. Odyssey does an amazing job at letting players get directly into the action faster and quicker without overusing the touch screen mechanics that have faulted so many other developers for the handheld in the past and it does help to fill a void for this genre on the system. If you own a Vita and want a long-lasting experience, this is one odyssey you should embark on post-haste.
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