Developer: Game Arts
Publisher: XSEED Games
Platform: PS Vita, PS3
Release Date: April 1, 2014
ESRB: T for Teen
This review is based on the Vita version of the game
Fighting games may be the go-to example for iterative re-releases in videogames, but it seems like those within the â€œHuntingâ€ Action-RPG subgenre have been just as guilty as of late. The Monster Hunter franchise has seen more versions/releases than you can count on both of your hands, regardless of it being only ten years old itself, and even exclusive Vita titles like last year“s Soul Sacrifice to the the fairly recent Toukiden have quickly made sequels to their prior releases.
Now comes the new and supposedly improved follow-up to 2012's original Vita release Ragnarok Odyssey, which is also a loose spin-off to the classic MMORPG Ragnarok Online. Boasting entirely new content and cross-play between both PS3 and Vita, is there enough reason to take another lengthy voyage with Ragnarok Odyssey ACE?
Did you play the original Ragnarok Odyssey? Well, for better or worse, that doesn't really matter either way as all players will have to play all of the missions as well the entire story mode from scratch, regardless of the their progress in the original, with minimal transfer functionality beyond importing "skill cards" for returning players. This alone should help give an idea on who this re-release is for—that being specifically for enthusiastic fans of the original or newcomers altogether. In the matter of fairness, it needs to be mentioned that the new content in this version includes new post-game bosses/quests, ACE skills, "The Tower of Yggdrasil" mode, and a few other mechanical tweaks and cosmetic additions.
Unlike some of its contemporaries in the genre like Soul Sacrifice, God Eater Burst, or Toukiden, Ragnarok Odyssey Ace doesn“t really have much in the way of a direct storyline. The player can poke NPCs for occasional Norse-themed narrative context, but it really boils down to little more than being assigned to slay a specific number of monsters or big enemy bosses with occasionally humorous quips in-between. The main story mode in particular is absolutely identical to the previous release, so players are not going to see anything new until hitting post-game material with the exclusive ACE chapters, which are still rather thin for story context.
What has been, and still is, Ragnarok Odyssey's primary strength is its fast-paced and mobile combat. Even now the combat system is the main difference between it and most other titles in the "Hunting" subgenre which are usually more grounded (literally and figuratively) in their slower, methodical pace. Also, while short in number count, classes have a decent variety in skills and in terms of general moveset: Assassins are nimble and focus on inflicting status ailments, Hammersmiths are slower but pack quite a punch, and Hunters fight mainly from afar. Subtle nuances like Clerics having a technical parry mechanic, or the Mage class requiring charged-based inputs mid-attack for stronger moves, also help each class play distinctly different. In the ACE release in particular, classes have been balanced out so they are more well-rounded overall.
Speaking of term "ACE", one of the new gameplay furnishes of this release are "Ace Skills". In the original release there were certain abilities that a character could use by holding down the circle button and were specific to each class. ACE Skills streamlines these abilities by placing them via shortcuts, as well as having outright more of them, so they make each class more versatile and the skills themselves more viable in the midst of combat; so, in the case of the Cleric, they can draw from more healing spells as well as status increasing buffs that they couldn't before.
The most substantial new addition is the newly added "Tower of Yggdrasil mode" which appears after the main story and is introduced in the new ACE chapters. Unlike a good majority of the missions of the game, which only have you kill X amount of certain enemies, this mode brings a randomly-generated dungeon component to the game. During this mode, side-objectives also spontaneously appear and upon completing them can yield tremendous, albeit brief, benefits to the player's stats and item drop rates, so the gameplay structure is more actively rewarding and interesting.
Where the game buckles down—and this newest release only reemphasizes— is just about every else. My biggest complaints primarily stem with its overall gameplay flow, balance, and the lack of mission variety in general.
It may sound like a weird complaint to have, but Ragnarok Odyssey's combat system does not seem to particularly suit the structure of the game. Most enemies are massive damage sponges, and generally unflinching at that, so it seems at odds with battles that are supposed to move fast. This is only more obvious as the player fights a ton of recycled enemy types and bosses through most of the chapters. For a more technical complaint, a lot of the skills come off as rather clunky due to their protracted animations, many of which can not be canceled through jumps/dashes, so bosses, for example, will get many free hits because of attacks you outright can't react to. In general, most of the combat fails to hit a sort of satisfying sense of finesse despite having decent base mechanics.
Another oddity is that multiplayer isn't designed to encourage it, ironically enough, at least early in. In these type of games where you'd normally want to team up and help each other, it can actually be less practical with other players, online or locally, because the entire team shares the same three lives pool. It may not sound like a big deal at first but if you take into account stuff like the instant kill moves that many bosses have, it is not too hard to imagine one person (or more) accidentally messing up and ruining an entire team's effort rather quickly. That said, one significant improvement Ragnarok Odyssey ACE makes over its predecessor is the ability to hire CPU characters join during mission. This can be beneficial not only because CPU characters do not deplete from the player's life stock but also because they infinitely respawn and can help divide the enemy's attention (despite being dumb as bricks).
Progression in general is done in a very limiting and oddly linear way. You could relish in the death cries of adorable slime or mushrooms monster all day but still won't directly get stronger as a result. You see, a character's overall base stats are mostly only increased at the end of each story mode chapter. Even the game's attempt at player customization with "skillcards" (which enhance certain skills and stats) or weapon upgrades are often times funneled generally by later game missions or rare item drops, leading to a very awkwardly formulated progression style.
To not sound totally down of the game, Ragnarok Odyssey ACE is still a good-looking game in motion on the portable system. It is, of course, less impressive nowadays since little has changed visually, and because technical standouts like Tearaway and Killzone: Mercenary exist. However, there is something to be said about maintaining a colorful art direction, with charming visual quirks from time to time, and a fairly smooth presentation throughout, despite situations where the player is pitted against huge bosses or hordes of enemies, or both.
Ragnarok Odyssey ACE is in many ways inoffensive in its execution, but there are so many seemingly minor chinks to its design that really add up and bog down the entire experience. By squandering its opportunity for renewal there has been very little added to the ACE release to entice many players to return except for the chosen few that have a lot of diligence to play through the exact same main story and missions again just for the sparse new content. It may have a decent core combat system and production values, but overall Ragnarok Odyssey ACE feels like it tries to serve multiple masters without really satisfying either, so it continues to leave this release mostly indistinguishable and muddled even among titles in its own subgenre.
+ Decent core combat mechanics with varied playable character classes
+ Very clean overall presentation with stylized visuals
+ Tower of Yggdrasil mode brings a welcome attempt at variety to the standard mission routine
- Limiting character progression for most of the game
-Mission design is very repetitive with a bunch of recycled enemy types throughout
- Multiplayer isn't balanced in a way to actively encourage it
-Save transfer functionality is woefully short for returning players
- General combat lacks a sense of finesse
Overall Score: 5.5 (out of 10)
Beyond a template for a decent combat system, most will struggle to find too much staying power in this release because of the very few enhancements that are introduced in Ragnarok Odyssey Ace.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher