Review: Ragnarok Odyssey Ace (Sony Playstation3)

Ragnarok Odyssey Ace
Genre: Action/RPG
Developer: Game Arts
Publisher: XSEED Games
Release Date: 04/01/14

For as much as developers seem to be easing into the idea that emulating the Monster Hunter model may potentially make them some cash, the main changes they seem to almost universally attach themselves to is the idea of making the experience easier while also adding a more involved plot than “monsters must die.” Toukiden and God Eater both allow the players to bring multiple characters with them into battle, for example, while also generally reducing the difficulty/item management/grinding aspects of the experience considerably, while adding in plots and subplots to appeal to the less skilled monster hunters in the world, and they generally do a good enough job. That said, for a brand new player to the genre, even those could potentially be a bit daunting, as there are still some complex mechanics and challenging battles to be found, so one could argue there’s still a market for a bright, colorful Monster Hunter sort of game that acclimates newbies to the experience from the ground up. Ragnarok Odyssey made a good effort to be that game, between its colorful world, association to the Ragnarok Online property and simplified gameplay, and while it didn’t appeal to everyone, it was a fine enough first attempt. Well, a year and a half later, we have Ragnarok Odyssey Ace, an expanded version of the original game for both the Vita and the Playstation 3, featuring new content, new dungeons, new gameplay balancing and all of the content from the original game. The good news is that it’s still mostly a solid introduction to the “hunt and kill giant monsters” genre, and newcomers or those without a Vita will probably find a good bit to like here. The bad news is that those who’ve played the original won’t find there to be as much to draw them in; unlike the numerous expanded Monster Hunter releases, this doesn’t add as much as you’d hope to draw in those who’ve played the original.

The basic plot is almost exactly what you’d expect it to be: you’re a newcomer in the mercenary corps in town who has joined up to hunt monsters, protect villagers and make some sort of a difference in the world, as protagonists tend to be. Upon joining, you’re sent into missions of escalating challenge as more and more locations, monsters and challenges await, and eventually the fate of the world is in the balance, leaving you as the only thing standing between the people and certain destruction. One thing Ragnarok Odyssey Ace has going for it is the fact that its plot is based in the Ragnarok universe, so it not only has a lot of material to draw from within its franchise, but also via the Norse mythology the franchise borrows from. There’s not a lot of plot to the game, so those who aren’t big on heavy exposition won’t feel like they’re being inundated with talking; you can think of it as being between Toukiden and Monster Hunter in terms of volume of plot exposition, all in all. There are distinct characters here, and you’ll have a decent idea of their motivations and personalities by the time the game is over, but the plot mostly lets you be the star and gets out of your way more often than not. If you’re looking for something more involved you’re not going to find it here, of course, but if you’re expecting that sort of thing from this kind of game you’ll probably be disappointed no matter where you go.

Visually, Ragnarok Odyssey Ace looks… about how you’d expect a Playstation Vita game to look on a Playstation 3; that is, it doesn’t translate well to the large screen. The colors are very bright and there are absolutely some beautiful setpieces from an artistic standpoint, and the character and enemy models look appropriate to their Ragnarok franchise counterparts, to the game’s credit also. That said, the game is very obviously a lower quality game, visually, and it looks like it could be a first gen PS3 title or possibly even a late-gen PS2 game, as it’s not technically impressive on the PS3 in any noticeable way. There’s not a lot of loading, to the game’s credit (if you’re running it from the hard drive anyway) so it’s certainly making good use of the system resources from that front, but it’s clearly a port and you’ll notice this almost immediately. Aurally, the biggest draw is the soundtrack, as it’s very fitting to the game, featuring a lot of orchestrated tracks that feel appropriately epic when you’re fighting gigantic monsters and such. The audio effects are generally solid as well, though there’s nothing that stands out; everything generally fits well enough, but there’s nothing that really sounds amazing so to say. There’s also not a lot of voicework to speak of, as outside of the various random things your character can call out, most every piece of voicework is random exclamations and short snippets, though it all works fine enough.

Mechanically, Ragnarok Odyssey Ace is somewhat simplified compared to other games in the genre, and if anything it’s got as much in common with something like Dynasty Warriors as it does Monster Hunter. Generally, your characters attack normally with the Triangle button and have a launcher mapped to Circle that can knock enemies upwards for juggling or backwards to keep them away from you. For movement, X allows you to jump, Square acts as a dodge, and R1 allows you to run around as needed. The left stick acts as your default movement control, while the right stick pans the camera as needed, and you can use the D-Pad to lock onto an enemy as you deem appropriate. The game also works off of hotkeys a fair amount, as you can map three items to buttons that can be activated alongside R2 and four skills to buttons that can be activated alongside L1, along with a couple other hotkeyed actions that are set by the game. The game works with the standard health and stamina bars the genre is known for, though the stamina bar only depletes when performing special actions, running, jumping and dodging, so it’s not so punishing as to make you lose stamina for basic attacks, and you even regenerate stamina while doing so, albeit more slowly than normal. There’s no involved inventory, as you can only carry three items into battle at once, and between the special skills, minimal item management, and more active combat that includes air juggles and such, Ragnarok Odyssey Ace is as much a pure action experience as anything else, so it’s really easy to slip into for newcomers to the genre.

Where the game sets itself apart from its brethren is in its special techniques, as it makes more of an effort to cram in special abilities to turn the tide of battle over anything else. At the beginning of the game you can choose one of six classes, each with its own unique weapon type and statistical merits, so Sword Warriors are balanced two-handed sword wielders, Hammersmiths are heavy-hitting giant hammer users, Clerics are defense-focused mace and shield bearers, and so on. Each class gets its own base stats that govern their basic abilities, but to really get the most out of your choice of class, you’ll be looking to your ACE Skills. Each character can map up to four ACE skills to hotkeys at one time, and each skill you can acquire from the shop in town offers bonuses relative to your job function. For example, Sword Warriors get skills that improve damage, change stances to improve specific stats, provoke enemies and so on, while Hunters get traps and ranged damage attacks, Mages get damaging spells and protective barriers, Clerics get healing and boost spells and so on. You can only carry four ACE skills at one time, which isn’t a big deal in the beginning but can mean you’ll need to mix and match skills later in the game, so building your skillsets relative to what you’ll need for the mission in question can be a challenge. Using these skills burns stamina, called AP here, when used, and each ACE skill has its own cooldown as well, so you’ll need to keep that in mind to use them effectively. Every character also gets access to what the game calls Dainsleif Mode, which is basically a super-powered mode you can kick on once you fill the red Dainsleif gauge to the left of your life bar. Dainsleif Mode jacks up your attack power and speed and allows you to do whatever you wish without dropping your stamina, but constantly burns health while active; the tradeoff is that you gain health while you’re attacking enemies, so as long as you can beat on enemies you’ll be able to keep yourself healthy as needed. These two elements, by themselves, give the game even more of an action flair than many comparable games in the genre, and give the game a different feel from what you’d expect as a result.

Your character, on its own, receives basic improvements as you complete chapters in the game to health, stamina and overall attack and defense, but you can also modify character performance in a few ways. Each character can equip set weapons for their class that can vary, not just from one grade to another, but within their grade, so the same weapon can come stock with more default damage and better or worse effects from each other, making it much more exciting when you find a really great version of a weapon from a drop. You can also upgrade weapons with materials and cash to make them do more damage and to improve the existing skills equipped, and if you max out a weapon, you can even convert it into a card of its skills to apply those skills out as needed while upgrading to better weapons. At around the midway point of the game you’ll also start finding weapons that can be upgraded along paths by completing sub-quests, allowing you to improve them as you see fit instead of in specific fashions, making them more interesting and flexible than normal drops. You can also equip different outfits which offer up various amount of slots, in which you can equip cards. The cards boost various skills, such as attack, defense, HP and AP, and can improve your skills, your Tension bonus (basically, the higher your hit combo, the more damage you do), your resistances and more. The outfits can also be upgraded to allow for more slots in the same fashion as weapons can, and as better cards will generally require more slots from an outfit, this is an investment you’ll want to make early and often, since this is the only way you can significantly impact your stats outside of completing chapters in the game.

You can blow through the campaign in single player in around twenty to thirty hours, though you’ll find that you’ll likely spend far more time than that on doing so if you’re invested in character improvement. Improving weapons and outfits requires money and items, so you’ll find yourself infrequently grinding out stages you’ve already completed to get everything you need to maximize your character before moving on. The Ace release also offers up several more bosses, missions, Extra Missions, and pieces of equipment (both useful outfits and decorative headgear) to find, so even experienced players will have plenty of reason to plow into the game. You can also summon in allied NPC’s to help you if things get to be too much, so they can take the heat off of you and inflict extra damage to enemies. The game also makes a good effort to keep you coming back, between the online multiplayer that lets you recruit friends to beat down enemies and unlock goodies, and the Mercenary Book that keeps track of everything you find and pays out rewards for completing various milestones in game completion. Finally, the game even supports cross-play between the Vita and PS3 for those who have both consoles, in addition to allowing for online play between the consoles so you can play with friends no matter what console they have, and the ability to import your save from Ragnarok Odyssey so you can pick up right where you left off. From that perspective, it’s pretty easy to see how Ragnarok Odyssey Ace is worth the asking price, whether you’re a genre fan or not.

That said, one of the more concerning issues with the game is the fact that, despite the game advertising a significant rebalancing of the experience as one of its selling points, it’s still significantly unbalanced in terms of its sheer difficulty spike, which is a big sticking point in the “Monster Hunter for newbies” impression it gives off. The first few chapters are honestly very easy to work with and your character improves at a natural pace that makes progressing through the chapters fairly reasonable, but at around the fifth chapter everything goes to hell in a hurry. You go from reasonable action-focused battles to fights where enemies can, and will, drop your health bar from full to dead in one attack with no warning, and while this is fine from a Monster Hunter/Dark Souls perspective, the game doesn’t warn you of this in the least before it happens. When a game leads you down that path and makes it apparent it’s going in that direction, that’s fine, but Ragnarok Odyssey Ace essentially betrays the player, pushing them into the deep end with little build-up and forcing them to learn FAST how guarding and dodging work instead of pushing them to learn over time. For those who have spent a large amount of time playing games in the genre, this is fine, as you’ll be ready for the changes in difficulty and the pattern recognition aspects of the game when they come up, but for new players coming to this for the first time, it can be a significant wall that impedes their progress and sours them on the genre earlier than it should. The ability to summon in NPC’s to help can mitigate this slightly, but it doesn’t help nearly as much as in games like Toukiden or Gods Eater Burst; in those games you can use the NPC’s as a way of adjusting the difficulty to your liking by subtracting allies, while here you’re punished for using allies, and they honestly don’t help enough to matter.

Also, while this sort of thing is tolerable in games with tight, precise controls that can be mastered solely on the merits of the player, this game is not so good at the strong control side of things. The controls work and are fine enough, but they’re imprecise at times and don’t help the player much when it comes down to adjusting to the difficulty of the later sections of the game. With something like Monster Hunter, everything is very precise and works in a specific way; here, there are times where performing an action at a specific timing doesn’t guarantee it will function the same every time, which can be the difference between dodging an attack and getting smeared. There are also some collision detection issues, most notably with ranged attacks, that can make things frustrating when you’re clearly outside of the range of an attack and it hits or standing dead-center of an attack as it passes harmlessly by your character. The way the game handles weapons and armor is also kind of hard to really appreciate at times. While getting awesome random drops can be fun, weapons really only come down to their base damage and inherent stats, so watching the game go through a story sequence where the blacksmith hands you a brand new weapon, only to realize it’s basically much worse than the weapon you’re already holding is kind of silly, and standardizing weapons would help a lot to mitigate that. Also, while it’s nice that you can wear whatever costume floats your boat, for the most part, because they’re only differentiated by the item slots available, it’d be nice if the armor had some kind of effect on your stats, if only to give you more of an edge in some boss fights beyond what the cards offer.

Ragnarok Odyssey Ace is the sort of game that could have been a very good introduction to the giant monster hunting genre, and you can see where it makes that effort in the early goings, but some balance issues and mechanical limitations make it easier to recommend to intermediate players over anyone else. The plot is as basic as you’d expect from the genre, the game looks like an upscaled Vita title but has some solid artistic elements to make up for it, and everything basically sounds more or less as it should, if not amazing. The core mechanics cross-breed a lot of the best elements of Monster Hunter and Dynasty Warriors into a game that takes the core concepts of the genre and adds special attacks and aerial combat in a way that can, at times, be very cool. There’s plenty of content to find and unlock, online multiplayer, cross play between the PS3 and Vita and the ability to import old Vita saves into the new game, so whether you’re experienced with the game or coming in fresh you’ll have plenty to do and lots to see. That said, for as much is said about rebalancing the game in the advertising material, the game has an obvious and sharp difficulty escalation at around the halfway mark of the plot that’s not well implemented and will likely heavily frustrate newcomers to the genre. Further the mechanics aren’t strong enough to really support the difficulty spike, there are some notable collision detection issues that frustrate at times, and the simplified weapon and armor systems are cute but could stand some fleshing out if only to give players a more obvious edge against the enemies. If you’ve spent some time with the genre, Ragnarok Odyssey Ace is fun and offers some novel changes to the concept, but its early-going simplicity gives way to a massive challenge spike that makes it hard to recommend to newcomers, and it lacks in some mechanical variety that would make it appealing to diehards, leaving it a fun diversion, but a lesser experience than what it could be.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Ragnarok Odyssey Ace is a fine upgrade to the original game, and the PS3 port is welcome for those who don’t have a Vita or who want to play the game on a bigger screen, as it’s a fun enough game in the genre, albeit one that could stand for some stronger focus and depth. The storyline is basic but works for the intended purpose, the visuals are obviously not taxing the PS3 but are artistically strong enough to get by, the audio is solid overall even if nothing stands out as amazing, and the base gameplay is simple to figure out and work with. The game makes a big effort to be more fantastic than its brethren with special techniques and the powerful Dainsleif Mode, and between its own mechanical novelties, the variety of things to collect and earn, online multiplayer with friends and cross compatibility with the Vita and PS3 versions, there’s certainly a lot to love about the game. That said, for all the talk about the game being rebalanced, there’s a fairly obvious difficulty spike about halfway through the campaign that will likely put off unskilled players, and even the ability to summon in NPC’s to help you doesn’t do much to mitigate it. Further, the game isn’t as mechanically precise as its brethren, there are some apparent collision detection issues, and the game doesn’t do as much as it could, or should, with its equipment systems to really help the player along or give them any real options should they want it. Ragnarok Odyssey Ace is a fun novelty entry in the genre that should be amusing enough to tide over those who are big fans of the genre, but newcomers will find it to ramp up too fast to adjust to, and diehards will find the game too limited for their tastes, making it a fun, if limited, entry in the genre.



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