An ace in the hole.
In what must be the most baffling and counter intuitive development of all time, with Monster Hunter jumping ship to the 3DS, the Vita has somehow become the home to the Monster Hiunter-clone genre. Games like Sony’s internally funded Soul Sacrifice or Tecmo Koei’s excellent Toukiden: Age of Demons have all found a home on Sony’s newest portable, ensuring that players never run out of supplies of monsters to kill and harvest in all their various forms.
Ragnarok Odyssey ACE is yet another addition to the long list of monster hunters on the Vita. Actually, that’s probably being a little unfair to the game, as that makes it sound like the game hopped on to the bandwagon late, whereas in fact, Ragnarok Odyssey created the bandwagon for monster hunting games on the PlayStation Vita. The original title (which was based on the long running Asian MMORPG) was a launch title for the Vita, and ACE, in tradition of enhanced re-releases that all Monster Hunting games must see (see also: Soul Sacrifice Delta, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate), is just a revisit to the original game with enhanced and expanded content.
It’s that retreading of past ground, alongside the fact that ACE sticks so closely to its genre’s conventions, that causes the game to feel so familiar, often to its detriment. Make no mistake, Ragnarok Odyssey ACE is a great game, especially if you are a fan of the genre. Its slew of additions to how the genre plays out, and some of its bold mechanical experiments, all pay off well, especially to the patient player willing to learn the ropes of the game’s nuances. But the game, like all other monster hunting games, comes with a set of caveats that are as applicable to it as they are to any other game of this type- the almost never ending grind, the lack of narrative focus, the sheer amount of time that it requires to be invested, and the repetition that inevitably sets in.
" Stop me if you've heard this before- you're a newcomer to a village that is plagued by demons/monsters/something of that sort, and you join a guild/milita/defense force that protects the village from this threat."
Stop me if you’ve heard this before- you’re a newcomer to a village that is plagued by demons/monsters/something of that sort, and you join a guild/milita/defense force that protects the village from this threat. You talk with the charmingly Japanese villagers (who all evoke a lovely feudal rural Japanese air), and learn more about the surrounding area. You venture out with members of your group, who teach you the ropes of your new job, and you take down some monsters, that you can mine for resources that can be taken back to the village where they can be used to power up your gear and weapons.
That’s basically how the genre unfolds. Ragnarok Odyssey ACE does not mess with that convention much. You’ll join a band of mercenaries trying to protect their village from invading beasts that feed on humans, and eventually you’ll be taking on gargantuan baddies all by yourself. In terms of structure, ACE is almost word for word a carbon copy of Monster Hunter.
Thankfully, the game is more daring in terms of how it plays; unlike Monster Hunter (or even Toukiden), which are marked by having slower, plodding action, Ragnarok Odyssey ACE moves FAST. You blaze through combat, stringing together combos in increasingly flashy and visually impressive moves, both physical (which are based on your sword attacks) and special, which are devastating moves that often clear entire fields in one go, but come with hefty cooldown penalties. Ragnarok Odyssey ACE feels fast and it feels fluid.
"Thankfully, the game is more daring in terms of how it plays; unlike Monster Hunter (or even Toukiden), which are marked by having slower, plodding action, Ragnarok Odyssey ACE moves FAST."
The trade-off, and an unfortunate one, especially for a game as long and inevitably grindy as this one, is the loss of depth. The slower combat in other monster hunting games is a design choice- it forces the player to identify the enemy’s weak points, movement and attack patterns, and so on, instead of just rushing in and swinging their weapon wildly (which almost certainly gets you killed). Here, that strategic and tactical depth has been foregone in favor of a faster moving game.
To its credit, ACE tries to make up for that with a slew of other trimmings that it adds to the package- for example, the game has RPG trappings, which means players are defined by their player classes. This is, of course, a cosmetic change from how the genre usually handles this (most monster hunting games don’t have player classes per se, but they do have different kinds of weapons, one of which you must choose as your primary, all of which offer different benefits, drawbacks, and playstyles), at least initially. However, the powers that you get later on, for example, are all linked to your character class, meaning that as time goes by, your playstyle becomes increasingly distinct than that of the other classes.
This, in conjunction with the game’s unique take on experience and leveling (which returns almost unscathed from the original Ragnarok Odyssey), does sort of compensate for the lack of depth that the combat otherwise poses. However, both, special powers and leveling, tend to get repetitive after a while. Leveling, especially, devolves into a grind after a few hours. Leveling itself is dependent on ability cards that you attach to your gear and equipment, which sounds fun and sensible, until you realize that you will often spend hours looking for the card you want, to get the build you want.
" Leveling itself is dependent on ability cards that you attach to your gear and equipment, which sounds fun and sensible, until you realize that you will often spend hours looking for the card you want, to get the build you want."
While repetition certainly creeps in and affects the game’s back end more than it does for other similar games, Ragnarok Odyssey benefits from its multiplayer mode. It’s nothing particularly special, and is in fact fairly standard in terms of what it offers and entails, but it’s refreshing to be able to co-operate with your fellow mercenaries to take the monsters down- especially since, in the absence of the slower, strategic combat in other similar games, co-ordination becomes an entirely different ballgame.
Most players might never see the single player campaign through to the end (especially in the absence of a compelling story pushing them forward, like in Toukiden), but as a multiplayer game, Ragnarok Odyssey ACE shines, especially with its distinct mechanics, and is heartily recommended to all Vita owners.
Ultimately, what are you to make of this title? It’s a recommended game to all fans of the genre, even if you already bought the original back in 2012; its way of doing things is different, which warrants a look from all fans of this kind of game. Said fans, however, would do well to realize that this distinct way of doing things adds even more caveats to what was already an experience that hinged greatly on players being forgiving of a lot of quirks. Ragnarok Odyssey ACE is not the best monster hunting game, and certainly could stand to be improved a lot with future iterations- but for players who are fans of the genre, but crave something just a little different, it’s highly recommended.
This game was reviewed on PlayStation Vita.
Faster, more fluid combat system; character classes, special powers, and unique way of leveling all add greatly to the game's mechanical depth; long game, with oodles of content
Repetition sets in in the back half of the game; gets fairly grindy, especially considering the leveling mechanics; combat lacks depth; is structurally too similar to other games in the genre
For players who are fans of the monster hunting genre, but crave something just a little different, Ragnarok Odyssey ACE is highly recommended.