I’ve never been one to fault a game for fiddle-faddling with minutia–in fact, I often enjoy it. Though I’d certainly prefer developers put the bulk of their time toward core game mechanics or play systems when possible, a dose of extra effort tenderly applied to character outfits, alternate game modes, or fresh-cooked minigames can go a long way in creating the charm and magnetism that the most skillful games so effortlessly seem to manage.
I would know, too; I spent far more hours than ought to be allowed pimping my battle costumes in Lightning Returns, and if you saw the number of in-game contests I’ve logged in Pokemon Sapphire, it’d likely turn your stomach. Unfortunately for Ragnarok Odyssey Ace, extra frills and collectibles–no matter how lovingly crafted–can’t make a great game on their own, and despite the respectable number of nearly-memorable moments I’ve had playing it, I simply refuse to be bribed by virtual adornments any longer. Yes, that includes the strap-on bunny ears too, Game Arts. You can put those away now.
Ragnarok Odyssey Ace has a rather lengthy list of issues, though considering the game’s point of origin makes many of them a bit less difficult to swallow. Ace is an update to a 2012 PlayStation Vita game… which was a spin-off to a series of Japanese MMORPGs. As a result, it brings with it many of the tropes that historically have plagued that genre, and without compelling massively multiplayer interactions to distract you, they become quite difficult to tune out.
Perhaps the first thing you’ll notice is Ragnarok’s lack of a traditional leveling system, and I considered this to be a good thing–at least at first. Instead, a card system has been put in place, and by collecting cards you’ll be able to unlock various abilities (some specific to your unique, chosen character class) that will ultimately make your avatar more powerful. There is a twist, namely that card capacity differs between clothing items, which means you’ll be cycling through garb regularly. Superior or upgraded clothes will be able to accept more or higher-cost cards, thus making them valuable to you. It’s a good idea, but in-lieu of an actual leveling system, it places way too much emphasis on clothing collection as a crucial facet of your character’s progression. It leads right in to my biggest beef with the game, too; before long, I simply stopped caring about new items and gear.
This is a huge problem, because items and gear are the only way you’re going to be rewarded for anything you decide to pursue in Ragnarok Odyssey Ace. The game is divvied into 16 total areas, with around 10 missions per story chapter, and though the whole experience claims to be somehow tied to a predictably uninspired “extinction of humanity” global scare (mostly at the hands of monsters), I never truly felt that my actions were directly impacting said events. To make matters worse, many missions revisit the same areas, and though the objectives are slightly varied, the same foes still spawn in the exact same places, with little to no variety. As a result, I found myself simply trying to avoid visiting the same area twice, rather than thinking on any kind of story or reward-driven terms. As mentioned, you’re never rewarded with anything beyond the baddest new “l33t gear,” and before long I found my motivation reserves running frustratingly dry.
One thing I did like about Ace is its overarching play structure. It’s quite Monster Hunter-esque, with a main hub area where missions and supplies are gathered, and if there’s anything in the game that lends a sense of realism or otherworldly immersion, this is it. Stocking up for the next trial is a fun strategic endeavor in most games where it’s required, and that holds true for Ragnarok Odyssey Ace. You can score that as a plus, albeit a pretty easy-to-find one.
Visually, the game isn’t exactly pushing the PS3 to its limits (given its PS Vita roots), but it looks nice enough thanks to its art style and cartoony charm, which helps mask some of the rough edges. I didn’t find the character animations all that impressive, but at the end of the day the game is colorful, fluid, and about as nice to look at as you might expect from a handheld port. I was neither blown away nor disappointed–simply appeased. The same can be said of the soundtrack that, while containing a welcome number of upbeat toe-tappers, does a generally serviceable job of translating the serviceable visuals into serviceable sounds. You’ll probably whistle a few tracks in the shower, which is noteworthy.
All said and done, Ragnarok Odyssey Ace feels a lot like playing an MMO solo, and I don’t just mean “trolling Azeroth sans a party or guild” solo either. I mean “devoid of compelling rewards or tangible reasons to continue playing” solo. The multiplayer option does help temper this a bit, and though the few sessions I played with other humans helped me forget the game’s nagging shortcomings, it also raised the real question I’d been moving toward since I booted it up: why don’t I just play the MMO instead? I still haven’t found an answer.
If you’re a Ragnarok junkie or simply enjoy the pseudo-mindless hallmarks of older MMOs transposed to an offline medium, then Ace may make a nice pastime for you. Additionally, it has all of the DLC of the first game built in from the start, and is available on both Vita and PS3 this time around. I’ve heard the original looked lovely on the Vita’s screen, and I don’t doubt that remains true here as well. If any of that made your ears perk then you might consider giving this a try, but otherwise, I don’t expect Ragnarok Odyssey Ace will win many new fans who didn’t already know about it.
This review is based on the PS3 version of the game, which was provided to us.