By Tyler Lubben / April 16th, 2014
Of all the monster-hunting games I’ve played, Odyssey ACE definitely has the most, shall we say, “cutesy” graphics. Early enemies, like the jelly-like Porings, living mushrooms and other woodland creatures, look decidedly non-threatening. Even Orcs, who would normally look pretty mean, are quite colorful, and have prominent features that make them look more cartoony than anything. Actually, not just the monsters, but just about everything in the game, while gorgeous, looks more “family-friendly” than the art of similar games. They obviously went with a more anime-inspired style, but, considering the source material, this isn’t really a surprise. It should come as no surprise that the music, then, would match this motif. The music that plays for the early forest area is light-hearted, though it also does well at matching the darker tones of Thor’s Volcano and the grand themes of Odin’s Sky Temple. However, I see that this could be a turnoff to some gamers. Don’t let the timid-looking monsters fool you, though. Odyssey ACE has a greater emphasis on fighting weaker monsters in greater numbers than I’ve seen in similar games. They may look cute, but you can quickly become overwhelmed by their superior numbers if you don’t keep moving (God help you if you get trapped by a group of enemies with no means of escape). Not only that, but some of the non-boss enemies can be pretty big in their own right, and have powerful attacks that can easily take down players who get lazy around them. The graphics really belie some surprisingly challenging gameplay for players who underestimate it. Fortunately, there are a few new features in Odyssey ACE to help you out against the hordes.
There wouldn’t be much point in releasing an updated version of a game if it didn’t include a buttload of new features to attract fans new and old. These include a list of AI-controlled teammates who can be hired to assist you in single player mode, a special “Billionaire Pot” in the quest lobby where you can recycle your unwanted items, and a new randomized post-game quest area called the “Tower of Yggdrasil.” The Tower contains 400 floors to explore, which are changed every time you go there. It also contains new enemies and items to discover — it’s just a shame you have to finish the 20-hour story before you can access it. The AI teammates, while helpful at times, ended up being nearly useless in a fight, no matter the job, so I ended up settling on two Clerics who could heal me between periods of being KO’d. At the least, they served as nice distractions when fighting bosses. Maybe it’s because I’ve played so many other monster-hunters, but I’m a bit of a hoarder, so I didn’t use the Billionaire Pot much. However, just to try it out, I did toss in a few weapons from different classes, which yielded Weapon Skill Tickets, allowing me to upgrade the skills of my equipped weapons. While helpful, I still preferred simply selling unneeded weapons. There was also talk of a new area called Niflheimr that I was looking forward to exploring. Unfortunately, I just can’t seem to figure out how to access it. Or it could be that it has yet to be implemented at this time. Either way, it was disappointing to be unable to reach those new quests and enemies.
Probably the most notable inclusion to Odyssey ACE, however, is a collection of new abilities for each class known as “ACE Skills.” These are fantastically powerful attacks that charge up over time. Most of them are devastating AoE attacks that can easily clear out groups of weaker enemies, or deal massive amounts of damage to bosses. Some can also heal characters or bestow other beneficial properties. I actually found myself relying on these skills a lot during fights. Fighting lots of enemies? Just get them clumped together and wipe them all out at once with a well-placed ACE Skill. As a Hammersmith, ACE Skills were also a fantastic way to increase my damage output. Using Dainsleif Mode in tandum with an ACE Skill allowed me to do catastrophic amounts of damage, while also quickly refilling my health. The trade-off here is that using an ACE Skill eats up a massive amount of your AP gauge, so you’ll be left wide open for a short time afterwards without the ability to run or dodge while the bar fills up again. Also, considering that some stronger monsters will be able to hit you while trying to perform the attack, thereby cancelling its effects, means you’ll want to carefully pick the moment to let loose. Though, honestly, as long as you aren’t trying to go head-on into an attack, you’ll usually be fine. After talking to Steve about his experiences with the original game, I came to the conclusion that many of the features they added for Odyssey ACE, ironically, made the game almost too easy.
Unfortunately, at least on the Vita, the online play leaves a lot to be desired. It could just be my own connection speed, but, whereas other games will hide lag issues by delaying monsters’ movements, connection problems seem to be placed on the shoulders of individual players in Odyssey ACE. In the cases where I gave online a shot, gameplay was extremely stuttery, and my movements were somewhat delayed. Naturally, this made it difficult to even move in a way that I would like, let alone attack monsters and bosses in reliable a reliable way. I found this rather surprising; having spent massive amounts of time online in Monster Hunter and Toukiden, I had grown used to the wonderfully smooth gameplay they offered. However, the slow and unreliable speeds in Odyssey ACE drove me away fairly quickly. Which is a shame, because I feel like I certainly could have used a little help in the game’s final moments.
For much of the game, I was pretty disappointed with the game’s bosses. I had been told before starting that the bosses could be pretty challenging, but, after fighting the first handful of them, I didn’t think this would be the case. Truly, it wasn’t until about the 3/4 mark of Odyssey ACE’s story mode that there was a massive difficulty spike starting with a monster known as Hrungnir. And, boy, was he a handful. I’ve fought giant enemies in monster-hunters before, but this guy could give Jhen Mohran a run for his money. For certain fights, you’re given a special ability to jump multiple times in the air, but this is usually only needed to reach flying bosses hovering in the air. Against Hrungnir, you need to jump five or six times to finally reach his head and shoulders where you’d be able to do any meaningful amount of damage. Even then, his repertoire, while easy to read, was extremely painful with huge swipes, homing attacks and a shield to reflect damage. And, as it turns out, this was only the beginning. It seems that the game was saving all of the difficulty for the final chapter of the story, where every mission was, even at the simplest, frustratingly difficult. From fighting teams of bosses with tricky and sometimes unfair tactics, to exterminating massive amounts of powerful monsters with very little time to work with, the last story chapter was a real ordeal. Even with my AI teammates and ACE Skills, I usually only barely completed these quests by the skin of my teeth. If this is how it was in the original game, I can only imagine they were bordering on impossible.
I can’t help but feel that Ragnarok Odyssey ACE should have stuck with its role-playing roots and been designed as an action RPG more along the vein of Phantasy Star Online instead of a monster-hunter. With a heavier emphasis put on fighting hordes of small enemies and finding random drops, and less about accumulating materials to make cool equipment, they would have done better to put the focus on character development instead of cluttered inventories of materials and weapons. With almost no incentive to replay quests to gather more materials, along with quests that fluctuate from annoyingly easy to mind-numbingly difficult, paired with unreliable online gameplay, it can be hard to extract much enjoyment out of the game. However, what Odyssey ACE does differently, it does wonderfully. In no other monster-hunting game have I been so free in my character movement. Jumping, running and dashing (on the ground and in the air) all feel great, giving me freedom to control the battlefield and attack my foes in ways that that I couldn’t come close to doing in similar games. Plus, I could have seen myself getting bored of the game’s combat quickly, but the inclusion of ACE Skills, which can be performed at any time during a combo, makes for a great deal of variety in how you take on enemies. It’s an uneven package, to be sure, but, for gamers who want to ease into the monster-hunting genre with a more simplistic approach, there are certainly worse ways to spend $40.
Game supplied by the publisher for review purposes.
Ragnarok Odyssey ACE is available on Amazon:
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