Monday, August 14, 2017

Ragnarok Odyssey Ace (Vita)

Ragnarok Odyssey Ace is a hunting game (along the lines of Monster Hunter and Freedom Wars), inspired by Norse mythology and set in the universe of the MMO Ragnarok Online.  Ace is an expansion of the original game, tweaking some aspects of the combat system.  However, the most significant additions are new story quests, dungeons and monsters after the nine chapters from the original game.  Released for the PS3 and PlayStation Vita, the game does not feature Cross-Buy but does have Cross-Play (i.e. you can play online with PS3 and Vita players together).  There are six different classes to choose from, which you can freely swap at any time after the first chapter, encouraging different playstyles.

The available classes are Sword Warrior (most rounded in terms of stats), Hammersmith (strong but slow), Assassin (speedy but low defence), Mage (magical ranged attacks), Cleric (ability to heal and high HP) and Hunter (ranged attacks).  Ragnarok Odyssey Ace features a combo-based system.  There is a Normal attack and a Strong attack.  Mixing the order of these will create various different moves including spinning attacks, summoning fireballs and heavy slashes.  In addition to the HP bar, there is an AP bar, which is depleted when you jump, dash or block an attack.  Aerial attacks form a huge part of the game, since a lot of the time, you will be jumping into the air to slash at gigantic enemies.

Lastly, there is the SP bar, which when full, you can activate Dainsleif mode which prevents your character from staggering and temporary boosts your attack power.  However, the downside is that your HP bar will deplete.  Landing successful hits will restore some HP to restore the decrements, so it is a dangerous move but also life-saving in the right circumstances.  You can select from a variety of button layouts for your attacks to better suit what you're used to.   The graphics are fairly average but the bright colorful environments help make the game prettier.  The camera is controlled via the right stick but it is no good for aerial battles.  In most of the battles, you're forced to fight in the air, which means it is harder to position yourself to where you need to hit the weak area of a boss.

It doesn't help the camera issues when bosses are constantly moving around so the camera swings wildly and always settle at an awkward angle.  Locking-on doesn't help since you're more susceptible to being blindsided, and for some reason, the lock-on likes to swap targets randomly.  The story is weak and almost non-existent.  You begin the game as the newbie in a band of mercenaries.  Hired by the kingdom, you and your comrades are defending the last fort against giants.  You will explore areas trying to find out more about the giants, and to actually gather enough information to launch a counterattack.  The story structure revolves around selecting quests, slay monsters or bosses, return to the base for some quick throwaway dialogue and then repeat.

The environments are segregated into several smaller areas, each separated by a very brief loading screen.  During quests, not all areas will be accessible.  These environments are varied, including mountains, plains, deserts and palaces.  That said, by the end of the game, you will be so burnt out on these areas that they are super boring.  There are various monsters in each smaller area, which, depending on the quest, can respawn when you exit and reenter the area.  There are often surprise attacks where the area seems empty until a bunch suddenly appears.  These surprise attacks locks you into the area until you defeat all the enemies.

Status ailments include your standard such as poison, burn and stun.  Annoyingly, the game loves to throw enemies that spams attacks with status ailments.  The worse of all is when you're surrounded by 5+ enemies spamming their paralysis attack in a tight area all at the same time.  You're constantly paralyzed and unable to move, which makes it all the more infuriating.  While the basic battle system remains largely unchanged, the other supplementary features serve to improve upon the original.  One of the best changes is the ability to bring two AI partners with you on every quest.  While these reduce the monetary reward, it makes the quests much easier to handle and makes soloing the game more plausible.  This is because while their AI is still poor and they keep dying, the bosses turn their attention to them and in turn, is easier for you to pile on the damage.

Ragnarok Odyssey Ace lacks a traditional levelling system.  Instead, there are stat boosts after every chapter but the main source of improvements lies in your equipment.  There are Cards which you equip to your outfit to provide passive skills such as increased attacks or resistance towards certain ailments.  These Cards are randomly dropped by enemies through so what works for one player may not work for you.  Lastly, there are Ace abilities which are special moves used by pressing the shoulder button and a face button at the same time.  These are Class specific and have cooldowns before you can use them again.  The biggest draw in these types of games is that you obtain drops from monsters, which are then used to upgrade your equipment.

Once you gain better equipment, you can defeat monsters more efficiently, to drop even rarer items and the cycle continues.  However, the drop rates of rare items are very offputting, especially when you've already defeated a boss so many times and now you have to fight them even more to get one measly item to upgrade your equipment.  Worse are the super rare drops where even with all the help and bonuses you can get, it still doesn't drop time and time again.  The big thing of the game would be the boss battles, and they are truly epic... at least in the beginning.  Fighting a boss relies on recognizing their attack patterns, and then dodging or retreating when necessary in order to avoid heavy damage or death.

Most of the bosses have various parts which can be targeted and destroyed to weaken them before doing real damage.  Unfortunately, a lot of the bosses are cheap with one-hit KO moves and immense HP.  This is where your build and passive abilities from your Cards become really important.  You'll be wailing at them for 10+ minutes and they will still refuse to die.  Even with your AI partners diverting the boss's attentions, it can still be difficult at times.  It is hard to imagine what it would have been like in the original Ragnarok Odyssey when you were forced to fight them alone, it would have been a nightmare.

The quests in the final ninth chapter are obnoxious, repetitive and piles of rubbish.  You're tasked with defeating 100 annoying enemies you've already defeated hundreds of times before.  Sure thing, now repeat it twice more, and then fight the same bosses again.  It feels extremely lazy on the developer's part, especially since monster variety is already so low.  You're faced with recolors and reskins soon after they first appear, even bosses appear in different colors or just outright repeated.  After you finish the original nine chapters, you get to the additional Ace content.  These include four additional chapters of more mundane quests, as well as 400 floors of the Tower of Yggdrasil.  Half of this content ends up reusing the same or reskinned version of the enemies and bosses.  The amount of recycled content is disgusting, making it very tedious to play through.

The Ace quests gets worse as you progress because in addition to fighting against the same bosses, you now have to run through a whole level defeating normal monsters before you even get to them.  You might have to fight four of the exact same boss in a row within the same quest, or fight two different ones at the same time.  However, the most obnoxious and disgusting version would be protecting the fort while a boss is trying to destroy it, BUT, you must defeat 40 annoying enemies that have extreme knockback and staggering abilities before the boss appears, damaging the fort already to 80%.

If, somehow, you are still not tired of fighting the same bosses 20 times already, then finishing the Ace portion of the story will unlock Prison of the Gods, which is a boss rush.  The aim is to get rare items of course.  It takes around 20 hours to finish the first nine chapters, plus another 15 hours to finish the Ace content.  Overall, while Ragnarok Odyssey Ace has its bursts of fun, it's better to avoid the game as it is just too tedious, cheap, repetitive and frustrating in its design.  Solo play is severly disadvantaged towards the end of the game, but online is effectively dead by now (and the online community never lasted long anyway).  It's still very much doable playing alone, but honestly, you can only really defeat the same enemies and the same bosses so many times before you curse the developers for being so lazy.


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