With the release of Ragnarok Odyssey in Japan, a popular RPG sub-genre that had been conspicuously absent from the Vita's launch arrived on the system. In a similar vein to Capcom's Monster Hunter and Namco Bandai's God(s) Eater series, players are thrust into timed missions where they must vanquish the world's hostile wildlife. With neither of the previous series yet seeing release on the PlayStation Vita, North American publisher XSEED Games has an excellent chance of capturing the attention of the subgenre's fans in the region.
"Fans of battling against huge monsters should find Ragnarok Odyssey well worth checking out."
While Monster Hunter's story is effectively non-existent, there is an overarching plot in Ragnarok Odyssey's missions. However, it shouldn't be expected to be anywhere near as entrenched into the game as it was in God Eater, seemingly there just as a basic framework for the quests. The game is set in the same universe as the long-running MMO Ragnarok Online, although any connection between the games outside of this is unclear. Unsurprisingly considering the "Ragnarok" in the title, the story is based somewhat off Norse mythology, however, again details on the exact extent are hard to come by.
Players start out Ragnarok Odyssey by creating a fully customised male or female character, selecting from a number of classes (which can be ranged or melee focused) and character voices. Although characters are initially locked to the class choice they can be changed freely after a certain point early on the game, so those who may regret that first class choice, or who wish to test out another, won't need to start again from the beginning. After character creation, players will be quickly taken to the game's hub fortress, where they return to after each mission. Quests and missions are handed out from this hub, which also allows players to purchase new clothing items, upgrade equipment, and store items. Weapons come in many forms including some appropriately huge swords, considering the game's more impressive enemies, that give the ridiculous sizes of some weapons in Gods Eater Burst a run for their money.
Each mission sends players out into different parts of the world, the majority divided into multiple sections, usually with the task of defeating certain enemies or collecting specific items. Some sections of the mission map will lock players in and prevent their advancement until all enemies there have been defeated. Most missions feature plenty of smaller enemies for players to tackle while achieving their quest goal, but a number come in the form of single boss fights, which look to be an impressive challenge that will keep players on their toes. Three lives are granted to the player for each mission, their character being automatically revived when knocked out.
The face buttons are used for dashing, jumping, normal attacks, or power attacks that can send small enemies flying off into the distance. Dodging followed by with combos of the two types of attacks will form a major part of battles, and linking these together will be key to success. There are an impressive number of combos with a wide variety of effects, for example different combos result in a different element of a magic-based class's attack. Enemies can be locked onto, although the lock will automatically change depending on the camera angle and it is easy to attack those additional creatures not locked on to. Ragnarok Odyssey's battle system is very much action-oriented, resulting in engaging, fast-paced combat that will frequently see players zipping around the battlefield as they try to exploit the openings.
Players have two gauges at the top of the screen, green for health and yellow for stamina, which is used by dashing or sprinting. As players cause damage another meter in the top left of the screen fills up, and when this is filled players can activate a brief special mode where they won't be knocked back by enemy assaults. There are a few slots for players to put items, such as potions, that can be quickly used by a simple press of its icon on the touchscreen. Character growth is handled by collecting certain types of crystals dropped by enemies and crates, which level up enchantments carried by the player.
The anime-styling of the graphics are immediately obvious. Creatures, characters and places all appear vibrant, making full use of the entire colour palette, and with a definite sense of cuteness in places. Backgrounds look impressive, even going so far as to simulate cloud movement. Music samples indicate the game has attempted to go heavily down the catchy route, especially in the game's hub areas, although it remains to be seen if they can stay catchy throughout the game and avoid becoming grating after several hours of gameplay. Voice acting in Ragnarok Odyssey is limited, saved mostly for battle cries, with a lot of the conversation instead punctuated with generic reaction sounds and emotes, which can also be used by players to communicate during missions.
RPGamers hoping to play with friends will have that option, with up to four able to cooperatively take part in missions, and those friends may well be needed for Ragnarok Odyssey's tougher fights. It should be noted that the online multiplayer in the original Japanese release was added as DLC and it isn't readily apparent at the time of writing whether XSEED's release will come with it available. Even if it isn't, Ragnarok Odyssey is another encouraging sign of growth for the Vita's RPG library, and one that fans of battling against huge monsters should find well worth checking out. Ragnarok Odyssey does not yet have a firm release date, although it is planned for release during 2012.