Ragnarok Odyssey couldn’t have come at a better time. Fresh from finishing other JRPGs like Eternal Sonata and The World Ends With You, I was hungry for something else. Something different. I was headed on a trip to downtown Chicago for a few days and looked between my 3DS XL and PS Vita trying to decide which to bring between meetings. Then a review code popped into my email for Ragnarok Odyssey, a game I’d been looking forward to since it was released, not just because the Vita is in dire need of more RPGs, but because the game looked like it would bring me yet another unique JRPG experience to add to the other games I’ve been playing recently.
But after playing the game? I should have brought my 3DS.
Ragnarok Odyssey comes from the folks at GungHo Online Entertainment, the folks responsible for creating the ridiculously popular Ragnarok Online in other countries. So it’s only appropriate that this new game takes place in that same world. It’s an odd mix of traditional Asian game stereotypes (massive and unconventional weaponry, people with crazy hair colors and styles, overly intricate designs, etc.) and combines it with Nordic mythology to make the strangest hybrid since Reese’s.
Odyssey is specifically designed as an action RPG. All the combat happens in real time and players are rewarded for racking up big hit combos. Upon beginning the game, players are given several archetypal classes to choose from; your normal soldier, heavy soldier, mage, healer, rogue, etc. Don’t worry too hard about which one you pick; you can change classes after the first chapter of the game.
You’re not given much in the way of story, unfortunately. After the amazing opening cinematic you’re simply dropped in a little room that looks like a post office, and you’re talking to a few people who are apparently a part of some kind of warrior guild. Seems that giants are going to be attacking the village soon and you’re now a part of the preparations in order to make sure the giants don’t get away with it.
When you get past the first really long discussion you’ll probably think “Oh cool. Time to go exploring for giants. Shouldn’t be too hard to find…”
Well….no, they wouldn’t be. However, you’re not really going anywhere. Although everything released for the game seems to have suggested that this might be an open-world game, you’re actually very restricted to your hub world filled with various shops and NPCs, and whatever level is attached to the quests you select.
That “mail room” I mentioned has the quest desk, where you’ll accept quests from various patrons. You go through a list of quests that you can partake in, all of which are boiled down to simply collecting so many of a certain item or slaying so many of a certain enemy. This is where things start to get a bit disappointing.
The first quest or so you handle seem okay. The combat is fairly simple, relying on all sorts of attacks and moves like launching your enemy in the air in order to dispatch the baddies quickly. You’ll automatically be transported back to your fortress once you’ve fulfilled the conditions of your quest, where you’ll re-stock on items, equip any cool loot you might have picked up from enemies, maybe talk to an NPC or two to squeeze any kind of narrative relevance you can, pick a new quest and be on your way.
It’ll be about the third quest that you’ll realize that you’ve played through three quests and all of them have been on the same exact level. In the first dozen or so levels I played in the entire game, I only saw three different levels. Some of the enemies and breakable crates were in different spots, but for the most part it was just me pacing back and forth between each section of the level slaying enemies until I had found enough.
Eventually you’ll get to a boss fight to end a chapter. Better hope you’ve gotten the hang of strategizing though, because there’s no grinding if you can’t beat the boss. That only leads to more frustration.
During the first boss battle against the evil Orc King, I had managed to fall a few times. Normally I’d simply go back to easier levels and grind a bit in order to give my stats a boost. Ragnarok Odyssey has one major design flaw that prevents that: there’s no experience system. During the first several levels I had made absolute sure to do as many optional things as possible, from quests that had no story relevance to making sure each level was completely devoid of enemies, but it was all a complete waste of time. This doesn’t strengthen you, all it does is give you a chance to drop loot and components. The loot, during my experience of the game at least, could be sorted into either weapons that are somehow less powerful than the sword I started with, or components to weapons and armor that aren’t helpful whatsoever. You can use these components to refine and give a slight strength boost to the weapons you have, or you can make attire for your character. Unfortunately, most of the apparel don’t seem to do anything past adding another little thing onto your digital avatar.
The only way your character gets stronger is by completing a chapter. Which means that if you’re stuck on a chapter boss, you either give up or somehow force yourself to fight the same guy over and over again until you get lucky. That, my friends, is maddening.
Once you realize the pattern, you’ll run past tons of enemies just because they become more inconveniences and less of something that actually helps you grow. We’ve gone through entire console generation after console generation knowing that we’re not supposed to run from enemies in games unless the story demands it, or we’ve accidentally wandered into an area we shouldn’t be in yet. The fact that 90 percent of enemies on any given level is literally a waste of time is an insult to the player, and aims to just create an air of frustration and impatience.
This seems especially odd given that the source material for Ragnarok Odyssey is an MMO, which almost seems to guarantee grinding of some sort. But it’s useless here.
If nothing else, the game has an impressive amount of customization options once you get far enough to start seeing variety in gear, although there are far too many palette swaps with weapons.
And as mentioned before, I really wish there was more effect from different gear. As it stands, your clothes do literally nothing except a perk towards using a certain class. No defense or anything. Your weapons will have different skills and stats, but likely nothing within the same chapter to make you choose one or another over something different. Strengthening your weapons seems to have very little effect on anything.
One thing that DOES help a bit is the card system. Each set of clothes comes with so much room in order to equip cards you buy at a store or find on slain enemies. These have simple skills like having a wider “claim” radius for dropped items or simple stat boosts. These don’t do anything overly dramatic either, but at least they appear to do something.
Although finding what individual loot drops do is a challenge in itself. Going through menus is a hassle and only seems to keep the player from learning information that they actually need. Want to find out what materials you’ll need in order to make your sword stronger? Hit the Triangle button a full FOUR TIMES in order to see what you need. Those other three screens? Unnecessary explanations of the weapons that have no relevance to anything a player would be interested in, and other redundant information. The comparison between the weapon you have equipped and the one you’re thinking of making make sense, but there’s absolutely no reason I should have to dig through countless menus to learn something that shouldn’t even be on a different screen to begin with.
Also, I don’t care who you are or how challenging you’re trying to make your game, you should never, EVER have to hit another button after hitting “Start” in order to pause your game. There were more than a few times where I was slain by a dumb little monster simply because I hadn’t realized I need to hit “Start” and THEN select “pause” in order to actually pause the game.
That’s really the extent of the game. It’s pretty neat to get to some of the bigger boss battles which give off a sort of Monster Hunter vibe to them, but these don’t always have any strategy to them either besides picking your spots to attack and being incredibly patient. Bigger bosses have individual health stats for limbs and their core, but you won’t know how much health is left since there’s no health bar either. Your only indicator is how red the lock-on indicator is when targeting a specific body part. Even that doesn’t seem a whole lot of help given that the ring just comes right back bright white once you’ve reached the limit.
I can’t begin to describe how disappointed I am with Ragnarok Odyssey. The saying goes that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” That saying very much describes this game, given that there are a load of odd design choices that seem to hinder the player from actually enjoying the game. There’s a great game buried underneath all the unnecessary dialogue and the convoluted menu system. Just add a pinch of variety and it could be much better. Unfortunately, if you’ve been looking for that game to quench your RPG thirst on the Vita, you’re going to have to look elsewhere.
This review is based on a PS Vita copy of the game provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.