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XSEED and GungHo certainly like to release quality games for the Vita. Orgarhythm (our review) was a unique take on rhythm games, and Dokuro managed to blend platforming and puzzles to create an fun time waster. Now with Ragnarok Odyssey, they have shown how well multiplayer gaming can work not just on a portable console, but for games in general.
Ragnarok Odyssey is a spin-off of Ragnarok, a Norse mythology inspired MMO. If you have little knowledge of this series, like we, it doesn’t matter since the story explains anything that you will need to know. The story is mainly told between chapters, with extra information available if you speak to the handful of NPCs (non-player characters) in the game’s hub area. You take the role of a new recruit joining the Fate’s Scales Mercenary Band. They’re tasked with defeating the giants that have appeared from the Sundered Land, an area that was hidden away until recently. Their base of operations is a massive wall that acts as a barrier to the Sundered Lands and is meant as a last line of defence against the giants. The story mainly just an excuse to go around destroying ever tougher monsters, and for this sort of game it’s fine.
XTgamer Gameplay: 10 minutes of video
To start with, you create a character using Ragnarok Odyssey’s great character customisation system. There are many crazy hairstyles and voices that you can pick among other things, so you can make some pretty interesting characters. If during the game you don’t like the look of your current character, you can buy new parts for them including, strangely, faces. More parts are unlocked as you progress though the game, which in turn increases the amount of ways you can customise your character.
The game is fairly linear, with missions being chosen from either the guild or tavern. The tavern allows you to play through harder versions of regular missions, which is why it’s recommended to play with others, but the rewards are far greater. This allows those that feel the game is too easy to ramp up the difficulty considerably. Missions are grouped into chapters, with each chapter ending on a giant boss monster. Successfully completing a chapter will upgrade your characters base stats, which means that you will be stronger even if you keep the same equipment.
When you start a mission, you are sent to the quest area, which is comprised of many smaller linked areas. The objective is usually either to kill a certain number of enemies or collect the required amount of items. Later missions will require you to hunt down many enemies, while you will find yourself swarmed by many of them. Each mission can be completed pretty quickly if you are geared up correctly, with most missions being done in around 10 minutes.
This is a welcome design choice, since the game is on a portable device. The length of the missions mean that you can quickly whip out your Vita if you have spare time and complete a mission or two, then put it away until next time. The surprisingly quick load time also help to reduce the amount of time that it takes to play through missions, and more games should try to follow Ragnarok Odyssey’s example.
Now to the main part of the game, combat. Ragnarok Odyssey is very fast paced, with characters being able to dash around on ground and in air. You can even dash multiple times in mid-air to reach enemies quickly. Dashing and running, as well as some class specific moves, uses up attack points (AP) which when depleted, will leave your character unable to dodge attacks until it recharges. This means that you have to keep track of your AP gauge at all times to make sure that you’re not going to leave yourself at a disadvantage.
Attacks are executed by pressing the triangle and circle buttons, which activate a weak and strong attack respectively. Doing a strong attack after different amount of weak ones will lead to various different combos which are useful for different situations. However, after a while you may find yourself just repeating the same attack while fighting regular enemies. Most classes can also block in case you are unable to avoid an attack.
Each class also has its own set of attacks; The Sword Warrior is the most balanced, with all his stats being average. The Hammersmith can execute powerful attacks, at the cost of speed. Assassins can dash around the battlefield, delivering precise but weak attacks. The Mage can hit enemies with different status effects to turn the tide of battle. Clerics have the ability to heal themselves and others, and the Hunter can attack from afar with their bow. Early on in the game you unlock the ability to change between classes freely, which keeps missions fresh and allows you to tackle enemies in different ways.
There are also other features that you need to take account of while playing. When you give or receive damage, a red SP bar fills up. When full, you are temporarily able to enter the powerful Dainsleif mode. In this state, your attacks are much more powerful and AP is infinite, but there is also downside to this. Your HP constantly deteriorates during this mode, with the only way to restore it being to attack enemies. This means that you have to constantly be on the offensive until Dainsleif mode wears off. The player also has the ability to launch enemies across the map or into the air if they stagger them, which leads to great combo opportunities.
Most of the game is controlled using the Vita’s buttons, but the touchscreen is also used and for one it’s actually a benefit. Many Vita games try to incorporate touchscreen controls, but they usually get in the way. Here, it’s only used to select items and activate Dainsleif mode. You can also use buttons for these, but we usually found ourselves using the touchscreen instead since it was a lot faster. We’re glad they didn’t try shoehorn in any other Vita features, like the back touch panel, and just used what they felt would improve the game.
While your character gets stronger at the end of each chapter, the only way you will be able to defeat the ever stronger enemies is by equipping cards. These are dropped by enemies and they replace the regular levelling system that many traditional RPGs use. The cards are attached to the clothing you are wearing, and they can be switched between outfits at will. It’s an interesting choice since this system allows for an amazing amount of customization, with some cards having their own unique effect. The problem with this system however is that it sometimes doesn’t feel like you are making much progression. Without an easy indicator like a character level to gauge how strong you are, sometime you may not be sure if your character is powerful enough, especially with some of the tougher bosses.
It is also possible to upgrade your weapons and outfits to increase their parameters. This allows you to get stronger, but it also introduces another problem: grinding. To upgrade your equipment you need materials which are dropped from enemies and containers that litter each mission area. While many materials are easy to find, there are some that are only obtainable on certain missions and with a small chance of actually getting them when you complete the mission. While certain cards can increase the likelihood of you getting the material, you will need to repeat missions many times when trying to upgrade to the strongest weapons. This is nothing new to those that play this style of game, but it can be off-putting for some.
The greatest feature of Ragnarok Odyssey is definitely multiplayer. You have the ability to play locally, or with up to three others online. While the game is fun in single player, this is definitely the best way to play. Connecting to an online game is easy, with a list of option present that allow you to find specific games based on things like the progress of the host. The games I played online ran well, with only a few bouts of slowdown, even though everyone I was playing with were in the US. Playing together with a group of people that are using different classes is extremely fun, and really adds a lot of extra playtime to this game.
There are some annoyances that we have not mentioned yet. The camera can be a pain sometimes, with it usually being too close to see what’s going on if you are in an enclosed space. Locking on to enemies can also cause the camera to mess up at times. Ragnarok Odyssey also has some crazy difficulty spikes at times. You can sometime breeze through many stages, but then suddenly meet an enemy that wipes you out easily. This can be rectified by improving your equipment and cards, but it feels like some extra work could have been done to balance out the difficulty of some missions. These problems only happen occasionally, and they could be easily fixed if a sequel is released at some point.
This is definitely a must-have game for Vita owners. Ragnarok Odyssey is extremely fun, with challenging and addictive gameplay. If you know others that own a Vita, make sure they get the game as well since the multiplayer should definitely not be missed. Ragnarok Odyssey is currently slated to be released later this year in Europe, so if you don’t feel like importing the US version (a demo was also released there this week), the wait shouldn’t be too long for this amazing game.
We captured all screenshots and the video from our review version.
Price: 39.99 US-Dollar (US PSN / Retail)
Publisher: XSEED Games