I’m going to make a promise: I will not compare Ragnarok Odyssey to Monster Hunter for this review. Based on the free to play MMO Ragnarok Online, Odyssey owes much of its design to Capcom’s Monster Hunter series and--oh, hell.
Okay, so it’s difficult to not compare the two as they both offer the same unusual gameplay experience. However, at the end of the day that comparison may not be such a bad thing for Vita owners who have yet to experience the hours of playability inherent with Monster Hunter’s design. While the game invites scrutiny, Ragnarok Odyssey feels less like a complete ripoff of a pre-existing franchise and more like a caring homage.
Ragnarok Odyssey is a hack and slash role playing game that places a strong emphasis on character customization, fighting monsters and collecting loot. The adventure begins in Fort Farthest where a small garrison is locked into battle with all manner of ferocious beasts. It is here where all of your hero’s needs are met as vendors hawk familiar genre wares including weapons, equipment and potions and other useful supplies. Advancing through the game is done by taking on mission critical contracts that usually task the player with killing a specific number of monsters or collecting loot. Whatever your charge, accepting a contract will lead you to portions of the world filled with a random assortment of creatures to fight through within a given time limit and failing to complete your task before the time runs out will send you back to the hub world. Accomplish your goal and you’ll have a short, twenty second window to collect any remaining loot before being whisked back to Fort Farthest for a post-mission report.
Character advancement is handled differently than most games of the genre in that there are no experience points to horde and character levels to reach. Instead, stat boosting is handled by a rather interesting system involving cards. Cards, be they purchased or picked up as loot, come with a specific set of stats that can be attached to your hero’s armor which dictates how many cards can be equipped (better/upgraded armor equals additional card slots). As helpful as cards can be, they can increase weapon strength, immunity to certain ailments, many of them have negative effects resulting in a dynamic customization experience. Unwanted cards can either be sold for cash or traded to other players using the Vita’s Near feature.
Combat is as easy as chaining together light and heavy attacks into devastating combinations, however these actions are ultimately governed by an AP meter that drains with every swing and dodge. Each creature, whether it be a cutesy Dragon Quest-like slime or a big, hulking wolf, has a particular tell that can be exploited allowing you to dodge out of the way of an incoming attack. This tactic is a bit more difficult with boss monsters, more so if you’re stuck in the middle of a combo move, but is incredibly useful against lesser beings. Stringing light and heavy attacks have the potential to unleash some pretty brutal moves that not only damage your target but also those within your vicinity. Eventually, the game adds a Rage Mode to your repertoire that gives offers a significant - but limited - attack boost making even the most daunting foe a pushover. When defeated, monsters will drop loot, be it cash, weapons, armor, cards or craft ingredients, that can only be used or equipped within the city hub. If killed during a contract, you’ll have two more attempts to get through the task before being sent back home. Interestingly enough, death isn’t too harsh a punishment as you’re allowed to keep any and all loot acquired.
Ragnarok Odyssey can be enjoyed on its own but stepping into the hub world’s tavern will open up the multiplayer lobby. From here, you can team up with other adventurers to complete primary and secondary contracts. There is no voice support in place to communicate with fellow adventurers, but a gesture system will let them know how you feel about the current situation.
Ragnarok Odyssey is a vibrant world filled with splashes of color and modest environmental design. There’s a hefty collection of monsters that are detailed in such way that they can be picked out from a larger crowd and at a distance. As there is great emphasis placed on dressing up and customizing the player character, your avatar’s appearance will constantly change as new weapons and armor are equipped. This, however, this makes the time spent during character creation feel somewhat wasted.
I couldn’t help but feel disappointed that the game so frequently reuses the same play area for each contract. In some cases, a contract will put you at the other end of the map but it wasn’t long before I found myself thinking, “oh right, this path will take me to X and that one will take me to Y.” Each chapter is set within a different part of the world but the repetition and compact arenas make the world feel smaller than it should be.
Until Capcom decides to port Monster Hunter from the 3DS, Ragnarok Odyssey is a worthwhile substitute. With a simple yet engaging design, taking on contracts and upgrading equipment is a fun way to spend the time. I take some issue with how quickly the combo system descends into mindless, rote button mashing because it is easy to stick with a specific combo that works for the remainder of the game. There just isn’t that incentive to mix things up and try something new. Those accustomed to familiar RPG development mechanics might initially be put off balance by the significant differences in Ragnarok’s design as it takes some getting used to.
I enjoyed my time with Ragnarok Odyssey and thought it to be a great fit for the Vita. The “pick up and play” nature of the contract system makes it the perfect game to play while sitting on a train, plane or bus. Those who have already tackled Monster Hunter for the PSP and are looking for more would do well to give this one a gander.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.