With no confirmation of a Monster Hunter iteration and Phantasy Star Online 2 nebulously assured for ‘sometime in 2013’, PS Vita owners eager for a creature-killing time sink have been forced to remain stalwartly optimistic. Mercifully, the release of XSEED’s Ragnarok Odyssey for Sony’s portable platform is likely to satisfy that craving, by delivering an absorbing procession of quests that are ideal for gamers with an abbreviated amount of playing time. Save for a structure which fails to mask the game’s repetitive nature and several minor technical glitches, Ragnarok is a worthy additional to the Vita’s woefully underdeveloped role-playing library.
Booting up the game for the first time ushers players to the character creation screen, where an avatar is generated from an assortment of preset parts. After selecting a name, face, hair style and voice, players pick from one of six job classes. From the Sword Warrior capable of wielding a Cloud Strife-sized sword, the bow-brandishing Hunter, and offensive powerhouse- The Hammersmith, Ragnarok’s roster of characters cover the fundamental archetypes. Expectedly, selection is more than just cosmetic, with the decision affecting gamer’s approach to combat- at least until player’s unlock the ability to change classes at will.
Prudently, Ragnarok Odyssey forgoes the long-winded opening dialog which often accompanies the commencement of a role-playing title, allowing players to quickly jump into their first errand. Eradicating a collection of ten Porings (Ragnarok’s rendering of the conventional vulnerable slime) is the player’s preliminary undertaking, a task which occurs with incessant frequency during the title’s twenty-hour campaign. One slight variation is the fetch quest, which tasks the player with gathering a specific commodity that’s divvied up by slain beasts. Regretfully, Ragnarok doesn’t articulate the general location of commodities, and when combined with the randomized nature of drops, errands can occasionally prove fruitless. Still, given the brevity of these tasks, quests are an ideal length for PS Vita owners seeking commute-time creature carnage.
When pitted against the majority of the game’s ground-based and airborne minions, the title’s battles are refreshingly breezy. Each class uses the triangle and circle button to release a volley of strikes, with certain classes having the ability to charge attacks, block, and enter Dainslief mode- a berserker ability which proves offensive power in exchange for constantly dwindling health. Given Ragnarok’s overarching structure, comparisons to Monster Hunter’s combat are inevitable. In execution, they’re divergent, with Odyssey providing manic, combo-tapping, air-juggling brawls that contrast sharply with the methodical monster scrutiny and measured swings of Capcom’s franchise. Although attacks can dizzy the lead character, leaving the player prone to assault from a mob of incensed enemies- picking off isolated foes is about as deep as Ragnarok’s strategy gets. This allows the title to be more accessible, but also eliminates the pleasure of discovering attack patterns and uncovering a creature’s inherent weakness.
Ragnarok Odyssey’s lighthearted interpretation of combat is particularly evident when the game seals off a small area, preventing passage until every adversary is vanquished. During these episodes, conflict is predictably intense, but frustration can occur when ranged characters such as the Mage or Hunter are forced to fight in tight spaces. As with boss battles, the game’s camera can have difficulty keeping up with the action, forcing players to hack away at unseen adversaries. Otherwise, third-person perspective is functional, optionally allowing players to lock on to foes with the left trigger, and cycle through threats with a tap of the directional pad.
Whereas JRPGs traditionally focus on the improvement of a player’s stats, Ragnarok Odyssey employs an inverse approach- tasking players with advancing the proficiency of their weapons and armor while their abilities remain stagnant. Strangely, the material requirements for cultivating equipment are buried within the title’s menus, making efforts to develop specific pieces of gear cumbersome. Alternatively, the title’s handling of buffs is inspired, permitting players to carry a number of cards in battle which augment the hero’s basic abilities. Embedded with the game’s outfit equipping screen, management is effortless, allowing for a speedy shift of loadouts.
Naturally, the stateside localization of Ragnarok Odyssey includes the online multiplayer component which was patched in after the release for the Japanese version. While solitary gamers searching for escalated levels of challenge are free to take on quests offered at title’s local tavern, it’s apparent that these expeditions were designed for a party of four characters. Aside from the regulation that the party cannot accept missions which transcend the progress of the least experienced team member, Ragnarok’s multiplayer experience is otherwise unfettered. Boosted by a bulky assortment of emoticons and gestures, the seeds of camaraderie are available for players to cultivate, as well as maintain with powerful matchmaking tools.
Although the PS Vita’s first birthday is looming, the portable’s software library still feels underdeveloped, enfeebled by omissions across several key genres. While not without fault, Ragnarok Odyssey is a worthwhile entry in the action/role-playing realm, with gameplay mechanics aligned with the constraints of commute time gamers. Had a version of either Monster Hunter or Phantasy Star Online already been released for Sony’s portable, Ragnarok would likely seem subordinate. Without such a point of reference, the title emits a muted sheen, separated from the shadow of an unsparing competitor.