Though it’s an “enhanced version” of an already released PlayStation Vita title, this is my first foray into Ragnarok Odyssey – so I can’t speak to most of the updates they’ve added or the differences between the original and Ace. That said, I’ve played the other big “boss hunting” games on Vita (Soul Sacrifice, Toukiden) so I’m not ignorant of the genre or formula.
Ace (as I’ll attempt to be calling it henceforth), is built much like Toukiden in operational concept – such that there’s an out-of-play area where you set up your game and equip your character. It’s the same in that to change your equips, you visit a treasure box; to get equipment upgrades, skill upgrades, items, potions, buffs, add AI party members and accept missions you’ll have to talk to the various non-player characters (NPCs) set around the small out-of-play area. You can also go to your “room” and change clothes, or save your game; though in Ace you can also change jobs and accept downloaded DLC (or send out items on near). This system appears so often because it works quite well, being (probably) the next best option to simply having an all-in-one store and mission dealer like a lot of games are using now.
Ace has missions that are set in chapters, with “extra missions” as well which unlock based on overall progress. Chapters consist of between eight and ten missions each and have tasks ranging from collecting items to killing a pre-set number of monsters or bosses. Where it strays from the formula found in other titles is that often as you go through an empty area, you’ll be locked in with a magic fence of sorts and a bunch of monsters will spawn for you to fight. The only way to escape this fenced-in area is to defeat all the monsters – which can continue to spawn until their pre-set number runs out. If there are multiple re-spawns, they will be counted down on-screen as the enemies are replaced. This is a unique feature to this game (among the boss-fighting RPGs on Vita) and seems to be more of a nuisance than something exciting or difficult.
As for the maps you complete your missions on, they’re bland and repetitive; often using the same areas over and over again, simply opening up previously gated-off areas within that map each time you progress to the next mission. There are only around seventeen areas, but there are well over a hundred chapters – so repetition is clearly present here.
The same repetition and bland-ness occurs in the monsters of this game as well, ranging from blob like creatures called poring which are repeated in every colour as “different” monsters, to boss re-skins like Fafnir and Hjahanir. The game just seems lazily designed graphically in that it doesn’t offer much actual differences between most of its designs; a colour change here, a little edit of the model there – that’s a new area/monster right? Not so much. Where other games really try to hide this sort of behavior, in Ace it really sticks out.
The access of multiplayer is done through the out-of-play area’s tavern – offering either ad-hoc, infrastructure or single player entry. The online multiplayer in Ace is hit and miss, for many reasons. Though it’s cross-play with PlayStation 3, it’s still hard to find a game at various times during the day. Connection quality issues are also abound; a single player with a poor connection joins the game and you might as well grab some popcorn – because it’s slideshow time. On the inverse of this, even a perfect quality match can be a bit of a pain, as often the people who join your matches are severely over powered. Looking for a fun battle? That’s too bad, because all these maxed out players have just dummied the boss in forty-five seconds – that’s no fun at all.
If you can find the right balance of good connection and similar players however, the online can be the most fun part of the game. I recommend going through this one with some friends above going it solo by far.
The controls for the game are pretty straight-forward, with the circle and triangle buttons issuing most of the attacks you’ll deliver in the game. Triangle delivers a quicker, weaker attack while circle delivers a heavier attack that’s both slower to execute repetitively and can be used to knock your enemies around. These attack types are complimented by two other attack types; Dainsleif mode and ACE skills.
Dainsleif mode is similar to other “rage” modes found in action video games, in that your attack power goes way up, you have unlimited AP and your health drains as a result. Hit the right trigger and circle when the red gauge fills and starts flashing, and you can use your new-found power to carve yourself some more health however – a special advantage. What I mean is, while in Dainsleif mode, any hit you land on your enemies will restore some of your HP – with kills giving an even bigger boost. You can use this to re-fill your health gauge with some weaker enemies, or you can go after a big boss and deal some real damage – as long as you can avoid their stronger attacks (bosses can knock you out in one hit). It’s a mode that offers a lot of advantages if you’re quick, so use it wisely.
ACE skills are new to this version of the game, and are activated by hitting the left trigger and one of the symbol buttons together. Different ACE skills are available to different classes, and are equipped up to three at a time to a left trigger + symbol combination of your choice. ACE skills consume various amounts of Action Points (AP) on use and take a set time to recharge depending on the skill chosen, but can deliver a more powerful (and possibly more useful if it has an effect) attack that can stun, knock back, or even drain massive HP from your target. Combining these attacks with Dainsleif mode will amplify your attack power greatly and make for quick kills against any foe.
Other than attacks, you’ll be using the touch screen to activate one of three potions you can equip, using the “x” button to jump, using the square button to dash, and moving the character and camera with the analog sticks. It’s pretty easy to get the hang of controlling, but the camera setup still tricks me up sometimes. I do like the jump and dash maneuvers though – they give the game an always-in-action feel.
The graphics in Ragnarok Odyssey Ace are mediocre at best, offering reused textures and bland surroundings in almost all map locales. Monsters are essentially boring in design and a large chunk of the enemy pool is dedicated to jello-like blob creatures of various colours – an unintentional metaphor for this entire game. The other monsters often do not look like they fit their surroundings (or even like monsters), and the only things which seem to offer half-decent graphic modeling are the character designs and boss characters. The game looks like it was made for the PSP, not the PlayStation Vita.
The sound in Ace is pretty generic in content, but very clear in quality. Though generic, the sound effects and actions are of enough combinations that they don’t get annoying or bothersome – so that’s a plus, I suppose. That said, this is the kind of sound effect and audio track you expect to find in every medium-quality game of this type and though I’m a fan of the genre, I could honestly go for something new (or some metal) right now as opposed to this very played out soundtrack.
Ace offers a hell of a lot of playable content however, especially if you’re playing offline (online missions can sometimes be over in under five minutes due to over-powered players) – and the Tower of Yggdrasil, which unlocks after you beat the main game, will give you hours upon hours of play just by itself. This game can take dozens of hours of your life if you let it (it’s got 50+ of mine), but with other great options to choose from… you might want to keep this one ’til last.
With repetitive gameplay, many occasions where you have to grind, a not-so-balanced difficulty curve and less than stellar graphics, Ragnarok Odyssey Ace is definitely not a stand out in the monster-and-boss-hunting RPG genre. That said, it still may offer a bit of fun to the hardcore enthusiast, or those with a lot of time on their hands.