I have always considered myself a fan of the Monster Hunter(MH) series. Granted, it took me some time to really get into the game, due to its extremely high learning curve, but it always intrigued me from the first time I laid eyes on the series. After years of playing what is basically the same game over, and over, and over with different names, I have always wondered when someone would step up and create something comparable to the MH experience and make an effort to take it somewhat further than Capcom had done. It looks like GungHo Online has finally done just that with the Vita exclusive Ragnarok Odyssey (RO).
On the surface, RO comes across as a blatant copy of MH. It really feels like the same game at first. You control a nameless warrior who lives in a bustling village and partakes in frequent quests to take down a variety of hulking beasts. Players head to a hub, select a mission, complete it and collect their reward (along with a variety of dropped items found along the way), and then rinse and repeat. It sounds simple and it really is, but it is also extremely addicting. You do this both online and off, and the missions never really change in either mode. There is a multi-chapter story presented with numerous missions in each. Once you really dig into the game and explore everything that it has to offer, you will find that this experience is truly one that stands on its own.
While there is a story that sets the background for your adventure, it never really takes center stage. The Kingdom of Midgard has found itself oppressed by a barrage of invading giants. These monstrosities have been terrorizing the kingdom endlessly and a band of warriors has been formed to fend off the constant attacks. You are one of those such warriors. You meet a variety of characters along the way but you will never grow attached to anyone aside from your created warrior. The story isn’t the focus here, its the gameplay and that is exactly what will keep you coming back for more time and time again.
Just like MH, this isn’t your standard RPG experience. You won’t be earning experience to further your skills and characters like you do in something like Final Fantasy or the Elder Scrolls. Instead, the power that your character(s) possesses stems from your skill in battle and in your selected job(character class), the cards you collect throughout the adventure, and the tools you obtain along the way. You do receive occasional star boosts upon the completion of the game’s chapters, but these are miniscule compared to the advancement you gain by properly managing your equipment and knowledge of the combat arts.
When you first create your character, you will be given a list of jobs to choose from; these represent the “class” of your character (as most RPG games refer to it) as well as which weapons you will be able to use. Don’t fret about making the “wrong" decision in the beginning because eventually you will earn the ability to switch classes between missions later in the game. The jobs available represent the standard fair or RPG character types: sword warrior (standard sword wielding knight), hammersmith (two-handed, heavy-hitting, large weapons), assassin (agile), mage (long range, offensive magic), cleric (support), and hunter (long range). Each one has a distinct role on the battlefield and that becomes especially apparent when playing online with others. Knowing and sticking to the role of your class is key to survival in this world. A mage who attempts to get up close and personal with the enemy will find themselves back at the inn restarting a mission time and time again.
The combat system itself is relatively straightforward regardless of you class of choice. All that you have to work with are two attack buttons and the ability to jump and dash. While they are all relatively similar, each weapon class has different, branching strings of combinations that can be strung together using these buttons. This is an action game above all else, so don’t expect turn based, slow combat here. You are swinging your sword or hammer from the very moment you step into a mission to the last second when it is cleared. RO doesn’t send you on herb gathering missions and sightseeing adventures like the other series; any and every task that you are given stems around one common goal: destroying monsters.
Variety isn’t exactly the spice of life when it comes to these monsters however. The game re-uses a lot of enemy types frequently throughout the adventure. You’ll battle the same mushrooms, bears, wolves, scorpions, and knights throughout the varying missions, they’ll just be colored differently and blessed with different elemental associations. For some reason however, I haven’t found myself growing tired of slaying wolves and scorpions yet after close to 50 hours in the game, whether they were spewing ice, fire, or poison at me.
The environments are a bit more varied compared to the monsters. Early on, I found myself growing tired of running mission on the same mountain paths and caverns, but before long the chapters opened up to volcanic ruins and mystic palaces. The variation of these levels came along at just the right time; it seems that whenever a level was beginning to feel monotonous, I would find myself venturing off to a new locale.
This leads me to the game’s biggest downfall: there is a certain level of repetitiveness to the game that gamers are either going to love or hate. You should know that going into this experience. You aren’t doing the EXACT same thing over and over, but there is definitely a monotonous aspect to the game. For example, I loved the original Tony Hawk games; I enjoyed going back and replaying the same levels with all of the different characters just to max out their stats. There was something about the challenge of adjusting my game to playing as a skater who focused more on grinding than air tricks that I liked. This game is just like that. Each weapon class has a different feel to it and requires different tactics. I liked the challenge of learning to utilize each class in the different missions, even if I was doing the same thing 6 times over.
Up until now, this sounds a lot like Monster Hunter, which I warned you about early on. It is when you begin exploring the game’s expansive card system that you will see what sets it apart. Unlike most other role playing games, your outfits (equipment) by themselves lack any sort of statistics. There is no defense stat or power boost earned by wearing a certain set of armor. Instead, what sets them apart from one another is their capacity for equipping collectible cards found throughout Midgard.
Cards are obtained by both defeating monsters and frequenting the various shops located in your town. Each card is has specific traits and abilities tied to it that transfer to your character when they are equipped. Depending on the outfit your character is wearing, you can equip different amounts of cards based on their “card cost” (which is explained thoroughly in the game). Basically, each armor item has a set limit regarding its card capacity; you can increase this over time by improving your armor through the in-game shops. The high level you raise it, the more cards you can equip simultaneously.
The benefits that you receive from the cards varies greatly; some may award you with more energy for magic or additional life points, while others may increase either your attack or defensive power or perhaps add elemental traits to your weapons. There are tons of cards scattered throughout the game, and they vary in power and rarity. The amount of combinations that exist as a result are endless; mixing and matching them helps players design unique and original characters tailored specifically to their style of play. Better yet, there is a card trading and sharing mechanic included in the game which encourages you to venture online and trade cards with other players around the world. This adds a unique social aspect to the game that goes beyond just hooking up with players online and completing random quests.
As I have mentioned a couple of times, RO features full online support. You can join up with up to 3 other players and take on any mission in the game. It is a lot of fun to complete many of the game’s more intense and larger scale battles with other players. Unfortunately however, there aren’t any missions that cater specifically to the multiplayer aspect of the game. Regardless of whether you are playing online or off, you will still be doing the exact same quests over and over. It would have been really nice to see quests implemented specifically for the multiplayer aspect of the game. The game does support downloadable content so perhaps that is something that may be coming down the line from the developer but as of now, it is a sorely missed feature.
Despite the my criticisms of the game in a few places, I cannot deny how addicted I am to RO. Sure, its repetitive and there are lots of room for improvement, but I can’t help but find myself playing it over and over and over again. The combat system is tight and responsive and the collectible card game aspect tickles a certain fancy that I have; it begs you to keep coming back and I do so with pleasure. As long as you know what you are getting into heading into the experience, it should be easy to judge whether or not you will enjoy the game. I know this experience isn’t for everybody but for those of us who enjoy this style of game, RO is a breath of fresh air to the genre. I love this game and have really high hopes for the series in the future!