Ragnarok Odyssey Review: Hammer Time

It’s a rare RPG these days that manages to be accessible without becoming overly simplistic. The era of obtuse and menu-driven RPGs has fallen to the side somewhat as “streamlining” has become the buzzword of the day.

Straddling the line genuine simplification — caught between the ever-dreaded “dumbing down” and frustration — is a tricky task.

Luckily for Vita owners, Ragnarok Odyssey toes that line with only the occasional loss of balance.

Ragnarok Odyssey is an action RPG spin-off of the Korean MMO, Ragnarok Online. Thankfully, you don’t actually have to know anything about that to understand Odyssey. All you really need to understand is that the world is full of giants and other creatures plucked from Norse mythology that need a good smashing. It’s up to your character to pick up the time-honored JRPG tradition of choosing a class, starting quests and killing bad guys.

While that might sound like a pretty bog-standard RPG, Odyssey does have a couple of wrinkles that separate it from the rest of the herd.

For instance, you might have noticed that “gathering experience points” wasn’t listed among the proud traditions that Ragnarok Odyssey draws from. That’s because instead of leveling up in the standard manner, players must collect materials from fallen foes to build and upgrade weapons and equipment. Characters still level up, but only at scheduled points after completing each chapter.

This has the net result of replacing level grinding with level farming. However, since the requirements to upgrade equipment is bottlenecked by the kinds of enemies available in each chapter, it also means that players will have a better understanding of when the game “expects” them to be prepared for a boss fight. And thanks to the leap in character progression after each chapter, returning to previous levels to farm from old monsters becomes almost trivial.

This can save a huge amount of time and aggravation when leveling up lower level equipment for different classes. With that barrier to entry diminished, switching between classes is mercifully easy and can be done between missions.

That simplicity is great, because the difference between classes can be massive. This has the primary effect of making multiplayer the preferable option if you have the choice. While the game is quite easy at times (perhaps too easy) the variation in play styles allow for some interesting cooperative strategy. This can come in very handy when fighting some of the games massive, decidedly more difficult bosses.

Unfortunately, that variance comes at a price. Not all classes will be well-suited to every situation, or to every player. And because every attack combo is unlocked for every class from the start, there’s little chance of them getting better suited for whatever job is at hand. If you don’t like the class you’ve chosen, or can’t manage to squeak past a certain boss with your available abilities on your own, you’re consigned to starting a new game, farming the materials necessary to upgrade new equipment or asking for a friend to drag you through.

Restarting the game because you’ve chosen the “wrong” class before unlocking the ability to switch classes is an unacceptable waste of the player’s time. Thankfully, the ability to trade jobs is unlocked quite early in the campaign, and after that it’s all up to you.

As if to apologize for that early waste of time and patience, Ragnarok Odyssey’s combat is about as fast as it gets.

Some comparisons have been made between Ragnarok Odyssey and Monster Hunter. Those may be apt, but they hardly paint the whole picture. Where Monster Hunter is slow, measured and methodical, Odyssey is a fast-paced pastiche of color and bombastic combos. This is probably best exemplified by the fact that each mission has a 30-minute timer during which all objectives must be met. That might seem like a restrictive practice, but the odds of players actually needing the full half hour to complete even the more difficult quests are low. If anything, it serves as a reminder of how this is a relatively simple game meant to be played in fits and starts like any portable experience likely will be anyway.

Few enemies take more than a single attack chain to slay, and the targeting system allows for nearly endless juggling between foes. Essentially, while the quest and progression structure may resemble Capcom’s Japanese juggernaut, the gameplay has more in common with Devil May Cry and God of War.

Another area where Odyssey breaks away from Monster Hunter (and inarguably surpasses) is personality.

The Monster Hunter games have never had what you might think of as stories, or real characters for that matter. Ragnarok Odyssey, on the other hand, oozes personality. This is in part thanks to what has to be one of the best English localizations this generation.

The plot isn’t terribly complicated or far reaching, but the game’s characters bounce with a perfect blend of Japanese weirdness and just enough self-awareness to keep you from feeling alienated. The silly NPCs drop well-time one-liners with surprising frequency as they contextualize your next expedition. All the while lightly animated emoticons leap out of their heads to drive home the absurdity of it all.

This is all underscored perfectly by the game’s soundtrack, which is wisely the only aspect of the game that seems to hearken back to those aforementioned days of older RPGs. The songs are whimsical, but suitably epic with a strong but bubbly gait. As if that weren’t enough, every song can be purchased at an in-game store and set to play during any situation.

Like the soundtrack and the characters, the graphics are extremely colorful. That being said, this probably isn’t the Vita’s most technically impressive game, visually. Character’s fingers are stuck together in the traditional “mitten” style, while faces are anime-inspired stickers. The colorful art style manages to carry a lot of the weight that the engine can’t, however, and overall it will probably be remembered as an attractive game.

Ragnarok Odyssey attempts to streamline the portable RPG experience into something more accessible to those that don’t have two hours to murder a dinosaur. It mostly accomplishes that goal, though it sometimes wastes more of the player’s time than it should. That being said, it’s got style to spare and — despite its simplicity — moves fast enough to keep repetitiveness at bay. If you’ve got a friend or three with Vitas, this is one of the best you can spend your mobile, multiplayer minutes.

This review is based on a code for the game sent to SideQuesting by the publisher for PSN/Vita

Author: Steven Strom

Steven is a freelance journalist and editor for SideQuesting, as well as several newspapers. He is a podcast co-host for The Side Quest, Lonely TARDIS and Drunks and Dragons. His interests include comics, books, games you've never heard of and fettucini alfredo.

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