I think it was somewhere around my 20th mission in Ragnarok Odyssey, when I was soaring into the air for the millionth time to pummel a ravenous wolf on a frozen mountainside for the hundredth time, when I realized that all of my earlier reservations concerning the game had melted away.
Keep in mind that said reservations had actually dissipated within just a couple of hours of playing the new Vita game. But it wasn’t until this most recent trip up Mount NameICanNeverPronounce, many hours later, when the thought actually occurred to me. Those hours had just whizzed by and, for the first time in a long time, I had found myself completely lost in a portable gaming experience.
When I first dove into Ragnarok Odyssey, Gung Ho’s spin-off brawler RPG based on its popular MMO, I was worried that my options outside of the admittedly limited mission-based gameplay were going to lead to my tiring of the game far too quickly. Like every other fan of the genre, I was comparing the game, and rightfully so, to another similar series: Monster Hunter. When I discovered that my options for activities outside of bashing baddies was basically limited to upgrading my weapons and gear, fine-tuning my loadouts and chatting up the handful of NPCs, I worried that there wouldn’t be enough variety to keep me interested in the game or its world. I mean, how’s a guys supposed to take a break from slaying monsters if he can’t fish, cook, mine or garden?
I distinctly remember expressing these concerns to my special lady friend while taking a break to refill my glass-o-tea. “Everything about the game seems polished,” I said. “It’s really solid. But if I don’t unlock some extra activities soon, I’m afraid it’s going to feel like a whole lot of wasted potential.”
As I said, my concerns were squashed rather quickly. Ragnarok Odyssey isn’t trying to be a massive RPG experience crammed into the palm of your hands, even though it is quite massive. What it is trying to offer is a boiled down adventure with enough moving parts to keep the player experimenting, coupled with a laser beam focus on the title’s core purpose: Beating the stuffing out of countless monsters for lots and lots of loot.
Basically, what I’m saying is that by avoiding all of the frills (Because, let’s face it, all of those other activities I was talking about are uninvolved time sinks to begin with), Gung Ho has made Ragnarok Odyssey into an ideal portable game.
Along with great visuals and a wonderful soundtrack, Ragnarok Odyssey comes packed with a massive amount of missions. Each chapter is broken into 10 or so smaller missions and most missions can be completed within five to fifteen minutes. Most of these missions include ridding areas of monsters, destroying a certain type of monster or collecting certain items but, as Ragnarok Online and countless other MMOs have proven, that simple formula is one that works. And as anyone who has lost half of their day to said MMOs, or as I frequently lost while playing Ragnarok Odyssey, you know that it can work very, very well.
And then there are the massive bosses that occasionally pop up, requiring a bit more time and strategy to overcome and changing up the tempo nicely. Even better: While all of the bosses are a bit easier to tackle in multiplayer, every single one of them can be bested solo provided that you properly prepare, keep a cool head and take the time to figure out their patterns. Even the towering ice giant, a hulking blue beast that requires you to literally fly around his body while avoiding attacks and dealing out damage, can be toppled with thoughtful gameplay. Sure, it’s more fun to have four people creating chaos all over the five-story behemoth, but you can’t really beat the feeling of going toe-to-toe with a walking skyscraper all by your lonesome, hacking away at it for twenty minutes and finally giving your fingers a rest when you see the monster slowly crumble to the ground.
Ragnarok Odyssey’s game structure is meant to be ideal for quick play sessions, but as I proved with untold hours of mashing on buttons and collecting all of the shiny goodies that popped out of my enemies, it also works just as well for marathon runs. The cycle involves taking on a mission, making sure your gear is perfect for the conditions, murdering massive amounts of critters, returning to the hub world and repeating. You can chat up the NPCs for additional story elements, utilize your resources to make better weapons and gear, buy a few extra potions and then head right back into the fray.
Nothing here is a waste of time, and nothing here takes up too much of that time to begin with. This is further evidenced by the fact that even when you die you get to keep whatever items you had collected up to that point and there is no real leveling system, a big surprise in the RPG genre. Instead, each of the game’s various customizable outfit comes with a number of slots that can be filled with cards that possess various pluses and minuses. The better cards take up more slots, meaning you’ll have to do some tooling around in order to find the best mix for your various classes.
By not having a leveling system, and since a single copy of a card can be used on multiple outfits, Ragnarok Odyssey makes changing classes an absolute breeze. When I decided to put aside my standard sword-wielder in order to try out a mage, I was able to equip my outfit with strong enough cards to jump right back into the action from my current location. I didn’t need to create a separate save file for my new class or go back and level the new class up from scratch. I’m able to jump into any of the game’s six classes whenever I want and continue feeling like a badass, a feature long overdue in the land of RPGs.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not at least mention Ragnarok Odyssey’s online component. Everything I love about the game is available in ad hoc or online play, complete with an easy to use lobby system and room options. While setting up a party chat with friends is the only way to use voice chat in the game, RO does offer a plethora of emotes (dancing, smiling, high fives), customizable catchphrases and a full text chat option to get your point across. It’s not ideal, but it gets the job done. I had no trouble jumping into parties and hunting down monsters as a group, meaning that a game that can easily last you a good 30 hours in solo play has been extended indefinitely. It’s hard to imagine strategizing and playing with friends ever getting old.
Ragnarok Odyssey is perfectly lighthearted through and through. It may not have all of the features you have come to expect from an RPG, but it works better as a portable experience because of those changes. In short, this is exactly the type of game the Vita needed from the get-go. It has effectively set the bar for big, multiplayer RPG experiences on a next gen handheld, and I can’t wait to see where the genre goes from here.
Ragnarok Odyssey has a few technical issues–like a camera that can go wonky if an army of enemies get you in a corner–and can get repetitive, sure, but if its gameplay is the kind that usually clicks with you, then it will likely click very, very hard this time around. Looking at my growing library of Vita games, this is the game I expect to still be firing up a year from now. There will always be more hill trolls and massive bears in need of a good pummeling, and Ragnarok Odyssey makes delivering those beatdowns a real treat.
Ragnarok Odyssey is a headline title in its genre.
This review based on a Vita digital copy of the game provided by the publisher.
About the Author:
Ryan Winslett is an Arizona-based journalist and freelance writer. He is a contributing writer for Gaming Blend and his work has also appeared on Joystiq, Gamasutra and Joystick Division. His only crime is loving too much.
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