"There were never any 'oh, cool!' moments..."
The first holiday season for the PlayStation Vita is finally bringing a slew of new games to the slow-to-start handheld. Amongst them is one of the first original RPGs for the platform, GameArts' Ragnarok Odyssey. RO isn't shy about what it is - a game that takes a great deal of inspiration from Monster Hunter while adding in its own fast-paced combat and debonair story. Unfortunately, despite this, Ragnarok Odyssey manages to find itself mired in the same grind-heavy sinkhole as many of its contemporaries. It's still a worthwhile romp for fans of the subgenre, but not for every RPG fan.
What Ragnarok Odyssey does correctly is clear right off the bat. Character creation and customization are slick and I was off and running with my blue-haired warrior in no time flat. There are six classes, all selectable from the get-go, and each focuses on a different weapon type, ranging from dual katars to massive broadswords. RO won't pigeonhole you, either, since classes can be freely switched as "costumes" shortly after the game begins. There are also a slew of other non-class costumes which keep you dressed to the nines. Accessories can be worn, too, so my cyan dynamo could find himself a dress-wearing, bow-donned swordsman faster than he might have liked.
Costumes aren't just for show, though, as each one has an expandable number of slots to fit Monster cards. Random drops off of slain creatures, these cards provide both significant boosts and drawbacks to various statistics alongside other effects. The power of a card is directly comparable to its rarity, with more powerful cards requiring more slots to equip. The cards you equip to a particular costume stick with it, so you can have a very wide range of quickly-equippable builds at hand. The other side of character customization comes from weapons. These drop from monsters or can be purchased in town, and either type can be upgraded with the appropriate funds and items. Also, don't expect to level up after a certain number of enemies have been slain - at the end of every chapter, characters gain a modicum of health and other statistics. This doesn't change much, so the gear still remains the focus of customization. RO's systems aren't particularly complex, but do their jobs well.
There are some significant issues with RO's inventory management to get all of your new items and upgrades. Every item can be potentially used, but figuring out what items are needed for each upgrade requires a visit to that particular store. If that wasn't bad enough, it's incredibly difficult to tell what items are potentially trash, what can be sold without issue, or how rare a particular item is. It's frustrating and a huge stain on what is an otherwise effective level-up system.
Still, the combat initially matches the novelty of the customization. It manages to not only borrow many of the strategic elements from Monster Hunter and Gods Eater Burst, but throws in quick pacing and aerial shenanigans. Your combo attacks can launch your enemies skyward, helpless while you get a few smacks in with your weapon of choice. It's something that's useful and it isn't particularly awkward, which is a breath of fresh air compared to most other Action RPGs on the market. Unfortunately, there's not much else to do in the air other than dash and slash at one spot.
There's not much in the way of combat modifiers other than enemy variety. The basic attacks are based on the weapon/class you've chosen and there are a few preset combos for you to follow. Dainsleif Mode, a berserker stance, can be activated once a sufficient amount of porings and other enemies have been slain. Dainsleif causes you to gain immense amounts of power and allows you to dash with an unlimited amount of stamina, but it constantly saps your health. To counter this, each strike will siphon enemies' HP, so as long as the fight continues, your health remains. Berserking is useful in some circumstances, but it's not a regular ability to be used whenever an opportunity strikes. Unfortunately, this means that the key to defeating 90% of enemies is button mashing.
For the first ten or twelve hours of the game, I loved trudging into the same zones to fight the same monsters simply because the fighting was so entertaining. However, there was a point where I just got frustrated with all of the repetition. Quests keep themselves relatively short, but killing 30 wolves or 15 porings or collecting 20 feathers is entertaining for only so long. There are some exceptions to this: online multiplayer is entertaining and staves off some of the repetition, while boss battles are always challenging. It's unfortunate that despite the interesting boss fights, repetition still rears its ugly head. Some bosses have to be farmed to get certain types of gear or drops for upgrades and even the most intriguing boss becomes rote quickly.
The repetition wouldn't be such a frustrating element if there were a story-based impetus driving you along, but the plot is insubstantial at best. You're a member of a military force and your job is to do whatever inane missions your senior officers decide you should do! To be fair, there's never a point where Ragnarok Odyssey takes itself seriously - take a look at some of the screenshots, after all - but even a funny game needs an underlying driving force. Other than to make my characters better, I never found it. There were never any "oh, cool!" moments, nor did the beauty of any particular piece of gear keep me entranced.
The other aesthetic elements of the game follow suit almost entirely. All of them are technically competent, but none of them are impressive. Character models and environments take advantage of the Vita's power, but the Ragnarok artstyle isn't impressive here, especially because it's repeated so often.
Despite its issues in just about every department, the core of Ragnarok Odyssey is a competent Monster Hunter-style adventure. For the right audience, the fast-paced combat counterbalances any issues with repetition and awkwardness. That leaves much the audience in the lurch; Ragnarok Odyssey fails as a game with appeal to a wide range of RPG fans. If you're a fan of the Ragnarok universe or just happen to be waiting for Capcom to bring the next Monster Hunter to the Vita, this game will tide you over.