Like many Vita games, Ragnarok Odyssey is under a lot of pressure. As the system’s first birthday draws near and the future of the handheld is littered with vague release dates, many early adopters are looking for games that can endure the long-haul. Players and critics alike are bound to ask if Ragnarok Odyssey delivers that “console” experience while taking advantage of the Vita’s capabilities. If given a chance, most will find that Ragnarok Odyssey is a game perfectly tailored to what the PlayStation Vita can offer and is just plain fun.
To put it simply: the world is being invaded by enormous giants (referred to as lummoxes) and it’s up to the player to take them out and save the land. A group of mercenaries gives the player missions which involve exploring new territory and discovering new items. References to Norse mythology are peppered throughout the narrative and should please anyone who recognizes them. Small tidbits of information are given in quest descriptions but aside from some NPC dialogue, it’s up to the player to decide how much to invest in caring about the plot. If a deep story is your RPG bread and butter, then Ragnarok Odyssey is certainly going to be lacking. Being based off the universe from the decade old Korean MMO Ragnarok Online might make the uninitiated player hesitant to dive into a game with such an expansive history. Instead of being bogged down with lengthy cutscenes and pages of text, developer GungHo Online Entertainment opted for a sparse plot benefitted by the game’s pick-up-and-play nature.
When Ragnarok Odyssey boots up, players are greeted with a beautiful CGI intro video that is immediately reminiscent of some of the best Final Fantasy cutscenes. Not only does the intro make for an exciting introduction to the game, it foreshadows the visual fidelity that is to come. Without a doubt, the game is one of the best looking on the Vita to date. Colorful and varied environments coupled with crisp and detailed character and monster models pop on the screen and look simply wonderful.
Players also get a bevy of customization options when it comes to creating their hero. With several options to change hair style, face, and voice (and even adjust the color of some of these aspects) it’s easy to spend a good amount of time creating that perfect character. The game also allows you to change these elements (for a price) by visiting a stylist with an enormous pair of scissors in the hub town. As with many other RPGs, Ragnarok Odyssey does become guilty of swapping out color palettes to distinguish higher level enemies. Unfortunately there are only a handful of pretty looking spells that each class can cast, which means that melee classes are going to spend most of their time swinging a big weapon with little to no flair. Taking all of these minor gripes into consideration still doesn’t make the game less of a beauty to play.
As vibrant as the game looks, the same can’t necessarily be said about the audio. Voice acting is very sparse and mainly relegated to various cheers and sounds a character can emote at the player’s selection. NPCs will grunt and make other noises during certain parts of conversations but not much else. The soundtrack is actually quite well done and can really give the speakers of the Vita a workout. Best of all is that the player can actually select what background music they want to hear from a list and buy additional tracks from the item shop. The only other highlight is during combat when striking an enemy. During lummox fights, certain body parts can be attacked and attacking the creature’s weak point will make a louder sound. As soon as it registers, the sound is instantly satisfying—the same sound occurs when striking weaker enemies. It isn’t a big deal, but certainly worth mentioning that it adds to the overall presentation.
One of the primary reasons Ragnarok Odyssey excels is that the developer understands the Vita and its capabilities. More than anything, the game creates a fine line between what defines a console RPG and a portable one. Often a console RPG requires hours of dedication; simply playing for a few minutes barely advances the character let alone the story. Instead of focusing on enormous chunks of gameplay, Ragnarok Odyssey focuses on small missions with easy goals. First the player goes to the Quest Counter to select a mission to play and from there can stock up on supplies, change equipment, or just start fighting. Missions normally have a time limit of 30 minutes (with some being less) but can be cleared in only a few minutes. Objectives are normally accomplished by killing a certain amount of specified enemies or collecting a certain amount of items.
Because the missions are so easy to begin and end, it can become quite easy to get wrapped up in the game. Here the synergy of the Vita and Ragnarok Odyssey is at its best. A player might pick up the game only planning to spend a few minutes tackling a mission or two and organizing gear; after a while, though, those minutes could have turned into hours, giving the game that console-like depth.
The game features several classes ranging from the powerful Hammersmith, the fast Assassin, the long-range Hunter, and the healing Cleric. At the onset of the game, players will pick one class to start with but are soon able to change classes by purchasing outfits (giving an incentive to save weapons instead of selling them). Instead of the traditional system of gaining experience points and leveling up, Ragnarok Odyssey does things a bit differently. Though small stat boosts are given after the completion of a chapter, the only true way to get better stats is by acquiring cards. Cards are dropped by enemies and have certain qualities linked to them such as increased defense or health, elemental powers, poison resist, or can even offer negative effects. Each card has a point value and only a certain amount of cards can be equipped on a character’s outfit. Upgrading/expanding an outfit allows it to hold more cards. Coming up with the best combination of cards for a situation is always easy but sometimes finding the best ones can take a lot of hunting.
The upgrade system also applies to weapons. Weapons can have different properties as well, and with the right materials can be upgraded to do better damage. A large assortment of hats can be made, including a pair of glasses, a wizard hat, or even a piece of toast that will be stuck in the player’s mouth—but they are only for aesthetic purposes. One complaint can be had with this whole system of cards and upgrades. Many materials and cards required for decent upgrades are only found in certain areas or on certain bosses. Since the game is not very specific on where you can find these items, a lot of guess work is required on the part of the player. One or two chapters might pass before finding that one item needed for an upgrade. Many will probably wish for more transparency when it comes to the loot system.
Another issue that could be lodged at the game is how repetitive it can be. While it will depend on each individual player, Ragnarok Odyssey does require a great deal of trekking through similar environments and killing the same enemies for several missions. Where one player might find joy in going back to previous areas and dominating with their stronger character, another might hate the idea and just want more forward progression.
It should also be noted that the game only uses the Vita’s touchscreen for a few simple tasks such as selecting emotes from a drop-down list or drinking potions with a simple tap in the midst of battle. By not focusing so much on touch controls, the game plays much more tightly considering how action-centric it is. Ragnarok Odyssey also has local (ad-hoc) and online multiplayer. Playing online can have a few issues ranging from bad connections to waiting on the lead player to actually start the mission. Aside from those very small faults, the online portion of the game is incredibly fun. Tackling some of the larger enemies in the game with a group of four shows how great the various classes work with each other.
Instead of looking at Ragnarok Odyssey as another game to “save the Vita,” it should be seen for what it is: an incredibly fun handheld experience that takes full advantage of the platform it was built for. The game is great to look at and great to play in long or short bursts. There is certainly a bit lacking when it comes to character progression but the system in place gets the job done. While it may not be the revolutionary and definitive RPG experience some players are looking for, it fills a large hole in the PlayStation Vita’s library.