Fans of the Monster Hunter series and the PlayStation Vita have sought a Monster Hunter installment on Sony’s handheld, but nothing has been officially claimed. Fortunately, Game Art is looking to fill that void with Ragnarok Odyssey, featuring many similar concepts found in the cult series. A game such as that is a daunting comparison, but the PS Vita needs a make it instead of break it title, and an engaging experience like what Ragnarok Odyssey hopes to achieve could just about do it.
The game starts off in the isolated enclave called The Forgotten Lands, and the created player character is the newest recruit in the defense force. The plot is, for the lack of a better word, sprinkled in between quests rather than delivered as new areas open up, and you'll embark on quests through caverns, snowy peaks, and even an upside-down tower. This Norse-inspired title hides little mentions for those who are interested, so the limited plot has some content for those willing to look a bit. Outside of that, the premise of the game lays simply in accepting quests, killing monsters, and tweaking equipment, and it's all for the sake of taking on new and more challenging content--which is in no small supply.
Character creation doesn't end at the beginning. Ragnarok Odyssey allows for character customization throughout the entire game, and many of the style inspirations stem from Eastern influences like cat ears and a piece of toast in its mouth, and, of course, Norse influences like horned helms and shoulder pads. To go even further, RO includes an emote system, where players can reflect their feelings, or just act silly, with cheers, charges, or shocks; players can even use these emotes to play Paper, Rock, Scissors mid-game, if they so choose. Even further than that, you can change hair color and style, facial expressions, armor and weapons. The game even allows equipment that starts specific to each class to be used by all classes fairly early on in the game, so customization is high, especially for a portable game. Oh, and don't even worry about picking your class; you can change that whenever you want after you finish the first chapter.
All core equipment, which includes weapons and armor, has card slots, and those cards are used to better character stats. Materials are collected from enemies and, with the combination of in-game cash, can be turned into said attire and weaponry. All equipment also has stats, but equipping cards to your character allows you to really build your character how you want. The only limitation to this is that stats needed by each class aren't exactly clear, but they're not exactly as important as they may seem either. Having stat boosts is all well and good, and they certainly make some difference, but they don't hold the kind of importance that many gamers--specifically those who know how important numerical stats are in MMOs, for example--tend to expect. If a character wants to compensate extra health for damage, that's easy to do, and stacking defensive numbers works just as well to stay alive. What this ultimately means is that any player can play this game as he or she so wishes and iron out a character to personal standards. With that being said, it's only slightly unfortunate that the numbers themselves couldn't hold a bit more significance. All core character stats--such as attack, health, energy, and defense--increase after each chapter, so maintaining gear is only important when bosses appear in the quest lineup; it's a major catch-22, because so many kill quests require only button mashing and navigating to complete, where bosses are far more complicated, hit much harder, and hit more often.
Boss fights have their own levels of intrigue, but the inconsistencies between those fights and the monotonously repetitive kill quests seems to counter the efforts that Game Art has put into those boss fights. What would normally be celebrated are looked down upon, only because the difficulty of the fights appears out of nowhere and becomes almost a roadblock while the player takes the time to practice and fine tune combos and dodging. Players can either master their techniques by farming out easy quests or wasting in-game money constantly getting manhandled by the bosses. To be perfectly honest, this game is really, really fun, but it would be that much better if the challenge from boss fights carried over into the rest of the game. Hell, Dark Souls has made a killing out of frustrating determined gamers.
One positive note to the quest system is the ability for all players to play with friends either via ad-hoc or online connections. I wasn’t able to test out the ad-hoc functionality, but, if it’s anything like the online aspect, it’s fast and smooth. Connecting into matches takes seconds, and finding matches is as easy as running up to the Tavern and pressing X. The game allows you to set search stipulations according to the amount of quests you’ve completed, but you can literally select a quick search and get entered into a group immediately.
The sounds in the game are a bit generic. Every possible movement and interaction has its own sound, but nothing really comes across as bombastic when it should. The soundtrack is limited to a few customizable songs in The Forgotten Lands, boss fights and monster ambushes. Visually, the game moves perfectly and lag-free. Some character animations are a bit lacking in luster, but others more than make up for that. Where a mage’s fireball will look plain, an assassin’s aerial attack will entertain each time. Up close, most characters and some landscape textures aren’t too vivid, but having a screen full of monsters makes for quite an impressive scene—and an equally entertaining means of mashing buttons.
Ragnarok Odyssey has done something wonderful with the combat system: it’s allowed players to pick it up and use it, and it’s also allowed motivated players the ability to master it. When I started playing, I was able to simply mash triangle and kill anything in my path, and it was initially quite entertaining. Once I confronted the first boss—or rather, what I thought was the first boss—I was forced to further explore the combat system, implement more organized combos, and use square to evade attacks. Since the combat is so fast-paced, similar reactions are required, and the bosses have been known to bash players across the map from time to time. Luckily, for these moments of weakness, players have three lives in each quests, and the only consequence to dying a time or two is a reduced reward of money. In other words, players won’t lose materials taken from monsters while on a quest, as long as the quest is completed.
Ragnarok Odyssey is fun in its own right, but it definitely has room to improve. A hack-and-slash combat system like it has would feel more at home embedded in a deep leveling system, where grinding out monsters and missions had more worth than simply collecting materials and money. The influences of Monster Hunter are prominent here, and it’s taken some of the best things from the acclaimed title and made them more accessible. The Monster Hunter series has a strong, dedicated following, but the gameplay and execution of things within it are quite distant for new players, and Ragnarok Odyssey brings players into its system with open arms. However, MH gives players a reason to struggle through the more strategic gameplay by making the experience much more engrossing, where RO gives players an energetic system that doesn’t yield much.
Ultimately, the monotony of RO may deter MH fans from jumping onboard, but Sony could benefit greatly by teaming up with Game Art to develop another exclusive, more improved sequel to RO on the PS Vita. Again, RO is pretty entertaining, but it’s not the reason to own a PS Vita; at least, not yet, anyway. There aren’t many games that would benefit from sequelitis, but Ragnarok Odyssey is a title that can only get better.
-The Final Word-
Game Art seeks to create a title that'll give Monster Hunter a run for its money. Though it's not quite there, it's a very solid first attempt to an exclusive title that should continue to grace the PlayStation Vita.