"In a game where your character can have a giant, bright blue flat-top haircut with a big pink bow, you can't help to be anything but amused."
PlayStation Vita owners have been gnashing their teeth waiting for the impending holiday season. It's not a stretch to say that they've been underwhelmed during their search for titles this summer. I even stooped to picking up this year's iteration of Madden last month, just because I wanted a new game to play on my gorgeous little handheld. The winter holds quite a few titles that RPG fans should be excited for: Persona 4 Golden, Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward, and GameArts' Ragnarok Odyssey.
It's no secret that Ragnarok Odyssey pulls much of its design from Monster Hunter, the 800 pound gorilla in this subgenre. You take missions, kill lots of stuff in the same areas, collect materials to improve your gear, rinse, and repeat. So rather than go through a rote description of my first few hours with the game, here's instead five things that Ragnarok Odyssey does right inside the Monster Hunter formula.
1) It keeps the missions short.
Lots of handheld games aren't designed to be played on a handheld. Despite being quality titles, games like The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky don't lend themselves to quick spurts of play. Ragnarok Odyssey, on the other hand, keeps its missions short and engaging. Even during missions that had me slay 50 of a particular enemy, my mission time rarely exceeded ten minutes. This is great for a multitude of reasons: the game is easy to pick up and play whenever I have time, it's simpler to hunt for a particular type of component I need to upgrade a weapon, and I never get lost forgetting what my objective is.
2) Your out-of-battle experience is streamlined.
Let's get one thing straight: if you're playing Ragnarok Odyssey to explore towns and talk to NPCs, you're doing it wrong. Ragnarok Odyssey keeps things simple by having only a few areas to explore: the guildhall, where you snag missions, buy new potions, and advance what small story there is; a town square with vendors; the tavern, with its multiplayer missions; and your room, where you change your equipment. Since most of the game's gear keeps things in plain English terms, rather than statistical nonsense, you'll never find yourself out of place.
3) GameArts didn't skimp on the customization.
In a game entirely focused on your character, it makes sense that you should be able to craft him however you'd like. Not only can you change your face, hairstyle, and skin color for just a small amount of in-game money, your character's wardrobe can be changed as well. This isn't just a cosmetic change, either, as each wardrobe set equips a specific set of ability cards. As such, you might keep a particular set of clothes equipped with cards specific to a certain enemy or weapon type.
4) Nothing but high-flying, fast-paced combat.
Enemies in Ragnarok Odyssey spend a lot of time in the air – because you've put them there. Many of your attacks launch enemies aloft so that you can get some free hits on them. Some boss battles even require you to keep yourself airborne to defeat them. Unlike many RPGs, like Ys, it's not frustrating at all for this kind of aerial combat, as Ragnarok Odyssey is pretty forgiving and enemies tend to fly toward you. Even on the ground, combat is quick and entertaining, as you juggle strong and fast attacks along with dashing away from enemies' strikes.
5) It keeps the tone light.
A game focused entirely on combat can grow tiresome without the right ambiance, and Ragnarok Odyssey provides it without taking itself too seriously. Yes, you're fighting monsters on the frontier, but your commanding officer knows that your enemies are armies of slimes and wolves and reacts appropriately. You hunt birds because he "needs quills" and other such frivolous quests. In a game where your character can have a giant, bright blue flat-top haircut with a big pink bow, you can't help to be anything but amused.
"The PS Vita is currently without a Monster Hunter-style ARPG, and it definitely seems as though RO could scratch that particular itch."
Hot on the heels of Ys Origin, Unchained Blades, and The Last Story, XSEED Games is hard at work localizing the Vita action RPG Ragnarok Odyssey. As the title implies, Ragnarok Odyssey is set in the same world as the mega-popular Ragnarok Online MMO, though where and when during the MMO's timeline Odyssey takes place is intentionally left unclear. Editor John McCarroll and I had a chance to sit down and play the game at this year's E3 with XSEED's Tom Lipschultz.
The game is set up very similarly to the Monster Hunter or Phantasy Star Portable games. You create your character from six different classes: sword warrior, hammersmith, assassin, hunter, mage, and cleric. You will have the chance to tweak your character using a set of customization options (though we didn't have the chance to peek at the creation tools), and are then thrown into a hub world, where you are free to further customize your character, play with gear, and take up solo and up-to-four player cooperative missions. XSEED has stated that, much like Monster Hunter, much of the story in Ragnarok Odyssey is background and lore-based; the gameplay is the primary focus in this game, and it shows; don't expect much in the way of extended dialogue sequences.
While there isn't any traditional leveling to be found, Tom informed us that the majority of your character progression will be based upon your equipment. The game offers a robust variety of weapons with which to arm your character, akin to the Monster Hunter series. Prior to missions, you are free to customize your arsenal and prepare your supplies for the battles that lay ahead. Once the missions begin, you are thrust into a specific area and tasked with hunting down specific baubles or beasties. Some missions feature massive boss enemies that take a great deal of strategy to defeat, whereas others will have you cleaning up lots of scrubby foes and stealing the gems and goodies that explode from their adorable (these are Ragnarok Online baddies, after all) corpses. Combat feels punchy and satisfying, and centers around knocking enemies into the air and chaining together the longest possible combo you can. Characters have a direct attack, a more powerful attack that launches foes, a jump, and a dodge move that works both in the air and on good old terra firma. Unfortunately, the game doesn't feature any sort of lock-on system, and as such combat felt as though it sometimes devolved into a "swing everywhere and hope you hit something" party. The rest of the controls work pretty well, though, with the camera attached to the right analog nub offering a fairly good degree of control over your view.
The game looked quite nice, especially on the Vita's screen. The area I had a look at was a forested lake with a cave, and there was a great use of color throughout the zone. Sparking waterfalls and flowing rivers dotted the landscape, and while the path through these spaces was narrow, there was plenty of space to move around and whack some slimes. I didn't really get to listen to closely to the audio, but what sound effects I did hear seemed like par for the monster hunting course.
I came away reasonably pleased with Ragnarok Odyssey. The PS Vita is currently without a Monster Hunter-style ARPG, and it definitely seems as though RO could scratch that particular itch. The single player mission I played through was fairly enjoyable, and I can see the customization and both local and online multiplayer options really captivating Vita owners starved for some cooperative role playing action.