One of the most irritating aspects of life is missed opportunities. They come around so rarely that missing them seems criminal and yet publishers and developers continue to create brilliant, one of a kind ideas. Then spoil it with poorly implemented game mechanics. Ragnarok Odyssey unfortunately falls foul to this procedure.
On the face of it Ragnarok Odyssey should be a huge hit on the PS Vita. The Vita’s lack of an in-depth third person, action adventure RPG game that allows you to take on different classes, loot the entire game world, learn unique movesets and customise a character should have given Ragnarok Odyssey a great opportunity to cement itself as one the biggest PS Vita hits. Unfortunately Ragnarok Odyssey takes the typical ideas and look from a traditional RPG to rope you in and then delivers very little.
Set in world where humans and giants are constantly at loggerheads due to the death of the world’s ancient gods, the game allows you to create your own character and take it through numerous areas as you take down the behemoths and save the world. If the description of the story is reasonably shallow it is because the game does its very best to not tell you what is going on. The narration and voice acting is poor and the game’s HUD might as well be non-existent as it’s about as much help as stopping and asking for directions from a drunk man in London. You’ll wander endlessly and hope that you get to where you want to be.
However before you can embark on your blind quest you’ll need to create a character. And in the traditional spirit of RPGs you can for the most part create what you like. Pick between a number of classes, these are Sword Warrior, Hammersmith, Mage, Assassin, Hunter and Cleric. Each have their unique advantages and disadvantages as you would expect. You’re then able to customise your name, skin, hair colours, clothes, much like you would imagine. While it’s not as varied as Skyrim or Fallout the chances are you’ll look different to the next player you meet online.
Once created this is where Ragnarok Odyssey displays its true colours. Unlike most RPGs where you’re dropped in the middle of nowhere and free to go where ever you like, Ragnarok Odyssey uses a mission like structure. Take on one mission, complete it and start another. You’ll receive these missions from a central hub if you will and return each time. Unfortunately these missions will see you explore the same game world over and over again, until you’re bored out of your head.
Choosing different classes doesn’t really change the combat found here though, for the first couple of hours you’ll have fun hacking and slashing at enemies. The game allows you to combine moves and the more combos you’re able to build will see you deal massive damage and see even the toughest enemies fly across the screen. However combos soon become stale and the enjoyment quickly dwindles. Hacking and slashing soon becomes a button mashing chore and you’ll soon realise that every mission you take on requires you to do the same thing time and time again. Explore the same maps for different items that the HUD doesn't really explain, kill the same enemies and fail to level up.
Yes that’s right you don't actually level up your character in Ragnarok Odyssey by killing enemies and discovering new locations and moves. Instead you’ll use a card system. Different cards can be equipped to your clothing and armor and each one will provide different statistic boosts and class-specific abilities. As you progress through the game you’ll pick up different clothing which can have an increased card capacity and hence will allow you to improve your vitals. These cards are found in shops or dropped by defeated enemies. The only time your vitals go up naturally is after the completion of each chapter. So killing enemies doesn't actually benefit you at all, you’ll gain nothing for defeating enemies and that more worryingly makes most missions pointless as the majority will require you to find something that doesn't require a kill to acquire.
If however you do decide to take on every single enemy on the screen, you’ll soon notice the brutal difficulty changes. As you don’t actually level up or increase statistics until the end of a chapter you’ll face the boss of each with the statistics you started with minus any card changes. Meaning that for example at the end of chapter one you’re facing a guy with over 40,000 HP with your entry level statistics. It’s brutal but unlike Final Fantasy XIII where brutal difficulty spikes made you feel like leveling up and conquering you’ll seldom bother here. And if the difficulty spikes weren't bad enough you’ll constantly find yourself battling against a very temperamental camera. Find yourself pinned down in a corner and you’ll soon find yourself poisoned, out of energy and near death all because you’re unable able to keep a good idea of what’s around you.
Although it’s not all bad news, the game is visually stunning, its CGI animations are the best seen on the Vita and the in-game visuals are clean polished and colourful. Ragnarok Odyssey for all its flaws is actually a pleasant place to spend a few hours. While not as striking as WipEout 2048 or Uncharted Golden Abyss they certainly look good on the Vita’s five inch OLED touch screen and they certainly help you forget about the bland game mechanics. The sound is also pretty bearable, the voice acting is awful but the soundtrack is soft and blends very accurately with the visuals. While the game mechanics are a mess the other areas of Ragnarok Odyssey feel reasonably polished.
Ragnarok Odyssey also features a co-op mode which surprisingly increases the enjoyment of the game, but only marginally. You're able to connect with players either through ad-hoc or online connections and for the most part is seamless; you can jump into a quick game or set your own search parameters to find the right player. Playing online among other things helps reduce the brutal difficulty spikes and makes the somewhat tedious missions more accessible. Although the most annoying part of the multiplayer mode is if you’re teamed with a player who hasn't progressed as far in the game you’ll only be able to play through their missions. For example if you've completed chapter five or six and you join with a player on chapter two you’ll only be able to play the missions from the first two chapters. Multiplayer also has a tendency to kick you out of games and is notoriously buggy. Nevertheless the online modes here shouldn't be ignored. The main benefit to playing online is the additional loot you’ll receive. Playing missions with friends or complete strangers even if they’re a few chapters behind will reward you with better loot. A lot like the Borderlands series if you wish. These help you progress in your story should you choose to take the game offline again. Along with extra loot playing online allows you to continue your story, meaning if you wanted, you could play from start to finish completely online, and why wouldn't you as it’s far more enjoyable that way. Although it must be said that an annoying issue online is the game’s starting hub or lobby. Like in single player you’ll be able to change and upgrade equipment, take on missions and buy new potions or spells. Unfortunately there isn't any time limit here, meaning if you've finished before your partner you can spend ages waiting at the exit door for them to finish. That waiting for partner screen soon burns into the back of your retina if you’re not careful.
It’s easy to see why Ragnarok Odyssey could attract plenty of fans. On the face of it it seems like the monster hunting answer that the Vita has been craving. But unwrap the brilliant marketing tools and you’ll find a very bland game at best. There is very little point to playing this game as rewards are anything but prominent and for the most part you’ll wonder what the point of the game actually is. The story is poorly narrated and the HUD is poorly executed leaving you with a shallow and monotonous button masher that will ask you to kill the same enemies, explore the same locations and complete wave after wave of monotonous missions. Ragnarok Odyssey is a perfect case of brilliant ideas that have been poorly executed.
Does this promising RPG deliver the RPG experience the PS Vita needs?