Ragnarok Odyssey is the best action RPG to come around in a long time; in a year with major ones like The Last Story and Xenoblade Chronicles, that’s fairly high praise. RO gets a lot of things right that those games got wrong; it’s a visually stunning game with a lot of depth, but it isn’t hard to learn. Battles are not only fun, but easy to start right from the beginning. It’s a user-friendly game on the whole and that’s something I appreciate. I went into it expecting something like those games mixed with Phantasy Star Online and Monster Hunter, and found it to be far more fun than any of them for many reasons.
Like PSO, you accept a bunch of quests that all involve destroying a whole bunch of monsters and/or giants to get an item or object of some sort. You’re also able to create your own character, but have a lot more classes to choose from here. The creation tools are fairly extensive for an RPG, allowing for zany touches like silly spiky anime hair of any color and unique outfits. Later, you’ll be able to dye outfits more colors than first available, while choosing from new ones as well. Short-range players looking to hack and slash their foes to bits, like myself, will want to choose a sword warrior (it also doesn’t hurt that his bulky sword is reminiscent Cloud Strife’s). Those who want to get closer to enemies than the reach a sword provides may be more at home with a fast assassin. A cleric may to the liking of those who are more a lover than a fighter, while long-range players will prefer a mage’s spells or the hunter’s bow and arrow. The latter talent is especially useful when battling large boss monsters. Of course, no rundown of the classes would be complete without bringing up the Hammersmith – who can CRUSH ENEMIES WITH A SPIKED HAMMER.
Of course, having a bunch of character classes wouldn’t do much good if the battle system sucked. Thankfully, the system here is awesome. It flows better than any other action RPG I’ve played and has some little features I like along with some major things I love. Being able to dash around to both catch up to fast enemies and evade the attacks of larger ones is great and feels seamless. X jumps while O and Triangle are your attack buttons. Combining each attack type allows you to take out numerous foes at once, while the jump allows you to do air juggle combos to anything — including GROUPS OF BEARS. The mid-air combat is a blast and reminds me a bit of Dragon Ball Z, only without taking nine hours to land a blow. There’s a fast pace to everything, but it never feels like too much is going on even against groups of enemies. Part of that is due to the excellent targeting system, which is essentially the same one Zelda: OoT and its successors have had, just with the L button. It may not be new, but many games do it poorly, and this is one of the best non-Zelda uses of it yet. The entire control setup is very user-friendly, and a welcome change of pace to action RPGs that require page after page of explanation just for combat.
Here, the most complicated thing on the battlefield is trying to fight while using emoticons and giving orders, and even that isn’t all that hard given that you can use one hand for attacks and the other to quickly cycle through the on-screen menus. Beyond that, the touch screen is used to select items on menus or in mid-battle, take potions and use other items on the fly without having to press the Select button. All menu functionality can be done with the d-pad as well, so you never HAVE to use the touch screen, although it does provide last-second life saving due to potions being more accesible. You’re also able to use either the touch screen or back touch panel to adjust the camera, although the right stick works just fine on its own. The Vita’s hardware is used quite well and thankfully, Game Arts didn’t make using the screen for things mandatory, and making it optional increases the user-friendliness of the game.
Outside of fighting, there’s a whole hub world to explore. Your fort area includes not only the tavern for harder offline quests and online gaming (that we unfortunately couldn’t cover with our pre-release copy), but has a weapon forger who can refine your weapons to make them more deadly as long as you’re able to get him the materials he needs during your quests. Luckily for you, boxes and regular barrels (not red-ringed ones that mean certain death) usually have what you need to satisfy him. The clothing experts will be happy too since raw materials can be used for new clothing options. These options play a part in combat since each one has their attributes. There’s also an in-game card system that gives you +1 or +2 if you’re lucky for certain things, and you have to mix and match up some of their many combinations to find a blend that allows you to have a lot of perks with as few negatives as possible, while not exceeding the total point limit for your cards. Despite the complexity, it’s easy to learn thanks to the game’s explanations and gigantic red Xs that let you know when you’ve hit your limit. It would be nice if banks had a similar feature, as it would prevent you from buying something and spare you an angry call from your accountant.
Visually, Ragnarok Odyssey looks great on the whole despite some minor issues. The environments have obvious 2D elements in the trees and some textures look muddy, but for the most part, they look great. Most of them provide some stunning sights due to lighting effects and things like waterfalls flowing behind you that make the battles seem even more epic. There’s also a lot of variety in the environments, and they all manage to feel different. Even though you’ll still be facing half a dozen foes at once, it feels more terrifying to do so in a dimly-lit cave than a bright outdoor area, and that counts for something. The character models look crisp and clean — are they the most detailed on the system? No, but they look solid, have enough details on them to where you can see everything, and as a nice bonus, you can see every attire change you make on your character. They’ve got some hilarious animations too in the form of all the little things you can have your avatar do in the game. If you want him to appear angry, there’s an animation icon for that, and he’ll start stomping on the ground wildly. You can also have him do the crane pose from Karate Kid or give another player a high five. You could try that with one of the giant bosses, but I doubt it would work very well. If you tire of making your character do silly tricks, but still want to laugh at his/her expense, you can do so by making him don a silly hat. There’s nothing quite like trying to take down a giant while wearing a giant witch hat.
The visceral battle cries are great and the character creation tool allows selection from a wide variety of voices for either genre. The exclamatory voice work from NPCs (like “HEY” and “HI”) are done well. The soundtrack is shockingly forgettable for an RPG, however. Normally, at least the main title theme is something you can’t get out of your head, but here, everything kind of bleeds together. It’s not bad by any stretch, but it all sounds like background music in a medieval fair. On the upside though, if you like the music, you can listen to it in the game with the highest of high tech gear — a phonograph. Luckily, the funny voice work and awesome sound effects for weapons make up for that. They vary depending on the type of attack done, and have an additional whoosh to them if used in mid-air combat. Each enemy has their own unique death sound too, so killing a smiling little squishy blob thing carries with it a different sense of satisfaction than offing a bear. It also brings with it a lot of guilt — those squishy devils are ADORABLE. It’s hard to kill them until they dash into you, do 20 points of damage, and then you realize that it’s on and THEY MUST PERISH.
Ragnarok Odyssey rules; it’s just that simple. It’s an action RPG for folks who not only love the genre, but have been burned by them in the past. The pace is quick and the game is complex, but not hard to learn. It appears that Game Arts made this to appeal to more than just a niche audience, and the game is much better for it. RO is the first action RPG with mid-air bear juggling, and that alone is reason to try it out. The visuals have their flaws, but remain a highlight that adds both lush views of the world and comedic animations to the list of reasons the game is worth buying. Sadly, the soundtrack isn’t one of them unless you’re a huge fan of medieval tunes. If you like action RPGs in the vein of PSO and Monster Hunter, you’ll love Ragnarok Odyssey.
Platform: PS Vita