Vita owners have been longing for a new entry in the Monster Hunter series to hit Sony’s handheld since its release. The good news for them is that there may just be a scratch for that itch available for their handheld of choice now that Ragnarok Odyssey has been localized and released in the US. This mash-up of fast-paced action and Monster Hunter style provides the Vita with a fantastic experience marred only by some technical issues and uneven design choices. Fans of both MH and Phantasy Star Online who go in with the right expectations will have a blast mowing their way through enemy after enemy, farming for necessary equipment.
I mention expectations because if you go purely by screenshots, it would be easy to start RO with the assumption that it is your standard action RPG with experience points, leveling, and spiky haired heroes waxing poetic about the rise of an ancient evil. At the most fundamental level, this game is Monster Hunter. No experience points and very little traditional “loot” means you’ll be forced to find your fun and motivation elsewhere. Like the MH series, that drive comes from farming base level materials by grinding enemy types, using those materials to upgrade your weaponry and equipment, and then tackling bigger and badder missions. If you are the type of gamer that needs levels and loot to make the experience worth your while, you’ll want to look elsewhere. With the proper expectations (there’s that word, again), though, you’ll find that the depth here is incredible.
Because the drive to push through the game mostly falls on the shoulders of the player there is also very little attention paid to the story. The story in RO revolves around giants, mountains and killing. That’s really about all you need to know. If you’re looking for drawn-out exposition and high-quality voice acting, you’ll want to look elsewhere. If you’re looking for a story that throws out a sweet freaking opening cinematic and then gets the heck out of the way of all the killing, this is your daisy. The narrative here is mostly communicated through NPC dialogue between missions. Because of this, you’re free to explore or ignore as much of it as you would like before jumping back into the action.
Your journey through Ragnarok Odyssey starts with creating your hero. You’ll have the option to customize your character’s appearance before making the all-important class choice. There are six available classes to use in dominating countless helpless creatures. The Swordsman is a very well-balanced class, perfect for newcomers. The Hammersmith is all about high damage output at the cost of mobility (Great Sword players from MH will feel right at home with this class). The Assassin is the high DPS option with a ton of speed. The Cleric is the high defense healer class that is the perfect complement to the Hammersmith but also has enough offensive might to be a viable solo class. The Mage plays differently from any other class and requires a high degree of skill to master. The Hunter class functions as the game’s Ranger and, while fun, might be the most challenging class to start with.
The good news is, if you don’t like the class you begin with, you won’t be forced to start over. After the first series of missions, you’ll be given the opportunity to switch classes at any point between missions. This really opens up the gameplay and allows you to tailor your play style, not just to your personal preference, but also to each individual mission.
The actual structure of the gameplay consists of gearing up, selecting your mission, then deploying to the actual quest area. Quest areas are repeated multiple times with different objectives and even enemy types populating them depending on the mission that sent you there. These objectives vary from killing a certain number of enemies of the same type to collecting the specific loot that they drop. You’ll also undertake special missions as you go through the various chapters to take out larger enemies. These are, in my opinion, the highlight of the game. You’ll need to make sure that you are well prepared and well versed in combat to take down these behemoths.
This combat has more in common with high speed action RPGs than it does the slower methodical strategy of a game like Monster Hunter. Combos are a key component of successfully murderizing entire fields of creatures, as are air juggles and dashes. This mix works perfectly and really takes a lot of the sting out of grinding for equipment. This is really the area where RO shines most. Mixing and matching attack types and adjusting your technique based on enemy type is a blast and, coupled with the short mission structure, makes this game the perfect option for the quick burst gaming for which handhelds were made.
Between missions, you’ll want to make sure you’re geared up and ready to go for the next one. This involves everything from stocking up on potions to enhancing your gear. Each weapon and clothing set has specific materials that need to be used to raise their level. These materials are earned by killing the specific enemy type or types that drop them, which means you’ll spend a decent chunk of time repeating missions so you can stock up on specific ones. This, coupled with the repetitive environments, can create some tedium after a while. If you’re the type of gamer that doesn’t treat their handheld like a “sometimes” machine and instead plays it for hours and hours on end you’ll want to make sure you also don’t get burned out easily. For those of you that require more variety I would still recommend RO, but I would also recommend you tackle it in shorter more manageable play periods rather than attempting to grind.
Ragnarok has a ton going for it visually and it might be my favorite looking Vita game to date. Tons of vibrant colors pop off the Vita’s incredible OLED screen. The character designs are fun without being cheesy. While repetitive, the environments are well designed and often genuinely beautiful. Unfortunately, this comes at the cost of occasional slowdown that brings the action to a screeching halt. Oddly enough, this slowdown seems to happen at unpredictable times, not just when there is a ton of stuff going on.
If you are a fan of MH, PSO, or any of the similar games in that genre you need to purchase RO immediately. The combination of exhilarating gameplay and strategic gear management makes for an experience completely unlike anything else on the Vita currently. Make sure you are prepared, however, as you won’t find any handholding here. I would definitely recommend reading the digital manual cover to cover before booting the game up for the first time. If you haven’t played this type of game before there is apparently a demo on its way so you’ll get your chance to pick it up. I do think that, in the end, Ragnarok Odyssey should appeal to a wide range of gamers. With the relative drought of great Vita games lately it’s probably a safe bet for anyone looking to expand their library.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.