Ragnarok Odyssey ACE Review (PS3/Vita): “Not the Improvement You’re Looking For”

Ragnarok Odyssey ACE Wallpaper

Ragnarok Odyssey ACE is an expansion off of the already released Ragnarok Odyssey, a high flying, cartoon-ish hunting game. It takes the original gameplay and story, adds a few new tricks and improvements, as well as some rather menacing looking monsters and throws it back in your hands for another chance to save the kingdom. Does ACE fill the gaps that the last one left behind? Or do its changes add a new layer of complexity too confusing to stand on its own?

Story: 2/5

Ace’s story is the same as the past title, Ragnarok Odyssey. Basically, you’re a new knight recruit who’s stationed at the rear defense of a kingdom – a very important location. Your sole job is to make sure the front lines don’t need to worry about their backs. How do you do this? Kill everything. When it’s that simple, there really isn’t a huge need for a story, but Ragnarok Odyssey tries one anyway. You’ll find yourself being presented with a quasi-mystery as to why certain monsters are attacking, where they’re coming from, and how to stop them. A bombardment of caddy jokes, humungous text and a plethora of seemingly unnecessary dialogue help fill the downtime between quests; but to be completely honest, none of it serves any further purpose than a time filler. All you need to know are the basics: something is attacking, we need to kill it. Sadly, that’s about as in-depth as the game even reasons with the events that take place. While I did appreciate some of the categorizing of the enemies the story did, which made it seem like we really were fighting a war against an organized army of monsters, as well as the locations which tied nicely into how the story progressed, there wasn’t much for me to really grab a hold of. In the end, I wanted nothing more than to skip all the dialogue and just get back to killing things.

Ragnarok Odyssey ACE Gameplay 1

Gameplay: 3/5

Thankfully for the story’s sake, the gameplay is where the true enjoyment of the game lies. ACE progresses with a nicely paced tutorial that gives you freedom to figure things out on your own, but holds enough of the new expansion content to deliver out in doses. If you’ve played Ragnarok Odyssey before, you’ll be instantly familiar with how the game works. You have 6 classes to choose from, each with a specific weapon and abilities. Attacks are initiated in a 2-button combo manner, one button initiates a normal attack pattern and another will deviate that pattern to an alternate path to execute a special attack. Ragnarok Odyssey takes it a step further and adds vertical plane attacks to the mix, allowing you to jump into the air to carry out a full combo however you choose. However, if you’ve played Ragnarok Odyssey before, you’ll also notice a few attacks are missing from each class. That’s because certain abilities or attacks got removed to accommodate the new ACE skills. These are essentially MMO-like abilities mapped to a button combination or touch screen location. While progressing through the story, you will unlock different skills for each class that you can purchase, equip (up to 4) and use at the cost of some stamina. It’s a small disappointment that certain abilities had to be cut out from the normal attack patterns to make room for the skills, but the extra unlockable skills are definitely strong and fun enough to make the process worth it. This also creates a larger presence of the class system, forcing you to really pay attention to what role you want to play when going out on a hunt… if only there were more than 2 roles. Unless you play as a cleric, you’re going to be strictly on the offensive. While the skills for each class appear to create more of a specialized teamwork effect, they’re really just creating more ways to deal damage, something that is great but could really use some attention in a game focused on 4 player co-op. You’ll also need to be careful about these ACE skills as they consume a lot of stamina – something very valuable in the ever moving play style of Ragnarok Odyssey. Accidentally hit a button combination for an ACE skill and you’ll be stuck initiating an unrecoverable attack while draining your stamina. While there are a few button layout presets, none of them removed the combinations to activate ACE skills, even if the touch screen function works twice as well. In fact, the button layout that once was smooth with Ragnarok Odyssey has since been overloaded in ACE, requiring multiple “claw” configurations, as well as an inefficient and poorly executed lock-on feature. Word to the wise: using lock-on will mess with your camera angles and it should be avoided all together.

Ragnarok Odyssey ACE Gameplay 3

Although performing a few actions can feel a little “chunky” or out-of-place, the gameplay is enjoyable for the most part. While strategy gets lost almost completely as minions and boss enemies can juggle you like a circus act gone wrong, there is a handy berserk mode that allows you to dish out all the suffering that’s resulted from your frustration of the enemy’s clear advantage over your slow recoveries and easily flinch-able demeanor. This is mostly rectified by playing online, allowing the monsters to focus on someone else while you frantically try to recover, but for single player, this constant focus can be quite the challenge. Luckily in ACE, there’s a solution! For a nominal fee, you can hire AI controlled sand bags to act as allies in your hunts offline! They never really do anything other than die repeatedly (which doesn’t count against you), but they make great distractions.

Hunting games are all about the monsters. Defeating a monster, taking its parts to build something amazing to destroy the next, and repeating the process until you have a whole room of armor and weapons strung on the walls like trophies…unless you’ve taken a hunting game and turned it into a roulette easter egg hunt. One of the main things that bothered me about Ragnarok Odyssey was that you never really needed to farm a monster for its parts. Armor and weapon creation were easily done and really unnecessary as the weapons paled in comparison to what you could find off of enemies and armor simply did nothing for you. Most of that hasn’t changed in ACE, as armor merely adds slots for cards (I’ll get to that in a minute) and weapons you can craft always seem to be a chapter behind. It’s almost like the developers knew this as they attempted to implement a new weapon system into the game. “Halomonas” weapons are a new system that basically render every other weapon pointless. You can build up and evolve them by completing certain tasks, resulting in the weapon acquiring a new skill. Perform enough tasks and the weapon will evolve to a new weapon along its tree. Sadly, skills learned from completed tasks delete the old skill, but at least they’re insanely strong. You get your first Halomonas weapon for free towards the beginning of the story, and in all honesty, you can use that weapon and your first armor to complete the game no problem – that’s what I did.

Ragnarok Odyssey ACE Gameplay 2

Let’s get back to those cards for a minute though. While armors do nothing more than provide a cool look (seriously, some are awesome looking!), they do have one important role: holding cards. You can socket armors with different cards you acquire randomly by defeating monsters. These cards have a plethora of different skills that they contain, from stat boosts to skill-altering capabilities. This is where the true planning comes into play, as cards can make or break a battle. Many cards have a “give and take” effect where there may be consequences for the boost you gain. This really adds a highly appreciated level of strategy to how you prepare for a battle as you need to weigh the pros and cons of your loadout. Then again you could just farm a monster for a better card that doesn’t have any negatives.

In the end I found that monster farming was nearly pointless once I had a decent loadout. Without needing drops for weapons or armor, the game quickly lost its replayability. The sheer lack of variety in monsters also made me feel like I was just doing the exact same quests over and over again. Re-skins and extremely similar attack patterns across different monsters creates a very repetitive experience for the player, even with the new monster(s) loaded into the expansion. Thankfully though, there are plenty of quests to embark on if you’re a “completionist”, including both offline and online quests (with cross-platform online play with the PS3 version)! Teaming up with a group of four is definitely the way to play the game and immediately increases the amount you’ll enjoy the game. It’s a shame that the skills weren’t more expanded to accommodate better teamwork as it seemed to at the start of the game.

Ragnarok Odyssey ACE Gameplay 4

Graphics: 4/5

While many games try to create a darker image when living the life of a mercenary, Ragnarok Odyssey creates a vivid, near cartoonish experience. Colors pop and draw you into small details, while attack effects glow and shine rapidly to create a feeling of pure mysticism and fantasy. Armors and weapons are beautifully rendered and detailed, even in the middle of battle. The variation in locations ensures you won’t tire of seeing the same scenery, which is a definite must-have for large questing games. However, enter a room online with a full party and you’ll find all of those effects and details create a major issue with the frame rate. Even offline playing solo, certain boss attacks would quickly deplete the game’s power resulting in a choppy experience and usually my character being attacked (then juggled and killed).

Ragnarok Odyssey ACE Gameplay 5

Sound: 4/5

Like most fantasy games, the music is uplifting and enticing, creating a positive atmosphere for a productive day of slaughtering monsters. Weapon attacks have a real weight to them when backed by such impactful sound effects, really adding to the fights. Ragnarok Odyssey also does a very bold move and allows you to choose your own background music. Purchasable at the item shop in the town, you can select from a large number of tracks to play in the background as you hunt. Even online, the host is allowed to select the music for everyone to hear, which can really create some powerful and unique experiences! While some effects are reused across completely different monsters, the rest of the game is a pure delight to play with a pair of nice headphones, really giving homage to the vast array of music at your disposal.

Ragnarok Odyssey ACE Gameplay 6

Overall Score: 13/20 = 6.5 out of 10

Ragnarok Odyssey ACE takes a hunting game previously set in its ways and attempts to uproot it to be something else. The entire time, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this should be made into an MMO. The new skills and Halomonas weapon system gave insight to something that really holds potential and even though different armors proved are mostly pointless, they are awesome looking! A few small, but drastic improvements such as item recycling and the ability to change loadouts, upgrade weapons and armors all within the online hall were welcomed with open arms; but in the end, the game still has the same issues it has had in the previous installment: too few different monsters and a system almost entirely based on random luck for improvement (weapon and card drops). The drops almost seemed more infrequent than the past entry and the inability to improve your character how you see fit (with the partial exception to Halomonas weapons) is a major replay killer. With strategy severely lacking, there isn’t much holding this game together from a gameplay perspective, but if you can tough it out, you’ll be rewarded with a wonderful soundtrack and some gorgeous visuals to treat that fantasy addiction.

Pros:

+ Nice visual details

+ Selecting your own background music creates the right mood

+ Card system has plenty of options for character improvement

Cons:

– Lack of different monsters, weapons and armors

– New skill & weapon system were a major disappointment (but has great potential)

– Any size enemy can juggle you

– Small strategy involved in a co-op themed game

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Ragnarok Odyssey ACE! Copy reviewed on PS Vita.

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Ys: Memories of Celceta Review (PS Vita) – “Fond Memories”

memories_of_celceta

I first caught a glimpse of Ys: Memories of Celceta at New York Comic Con 2013, the upcoming game’s vibrant intro cinematic playing on loop on a giant screen overhead. While it didn’t give much indication of the gameplay to be experienced, it certainly showed off the artistic talent Namco-Bandai had brought on board for Ys. Given the Ys series’ long-running success in the Action RPG genre, it stood to reason that Ys: Memories of Celceta was a highly-anticipated title. Nearly a year after my first encounter with Ys: MoC, it’s made its way to the Vita. So after spending some time with it, the question to answer is: is it a memorable adventure, or better left forgotten?

Story: 3/5

Ys: Memory of Celceta is actually a modernized re-imagining of Ys IV. The central elelement to its story is a core JPG trope: Adol Christin, the series’ central protagonist, is suffering from Amnesia and finds himself wandering the city streets while the game uses nearby NPCs to fill the player in on some general background information about the city, its nearby mine, and the escalating disparity between the government and its citizens. A chance encounter with an old acquaintance helps to begin jogging Adol’s memory, and when trouble begins to rear its head, Adol feels compelled to act. A couple of heroic exploits later, Adol finds recognition with the city’s lordship and is granted the task of charting the mysterious forest regions around the city, where explorers are said to enter but never return.

This forms the core of Ys’s story, leading Adol and his companions to new locations and challenges to overcome. This fits in well with Adol’s personality in earlier installments of the Ys series: a young man with a thirst for adventure and exploration, and he begins to come into his own as the game progresses. A colorful cast of characters waits to be met throughout the story, with some of them willing to join your party. This leads a large part of Ys: MoC’s experience to dialogs between Adol and other characters; from a story-telling standpoint, it’s a thorough method to keep the player up to date with the game’s story, though has a slightly adverse effect on the gameplay experience; see below for more. When it comes down to it, Ys: MoC’s story supports the gameplay, not the other way around; its characters are where the game’s colorful writing shines through, but otherwise the story elements of the game aren’t anything special. Players also have the opportunity to choose dialog options at times, but these don’t really do much to offer branching story paths or shaping character decisions, they just spice up the dialog a bit.

Overall Ys: Memories of Celceta’s story isn’t anything memorable, but it’ll provide the contrast needed between the game’s exciting action sequences.

Gameplay: 4/5

Speaking of action, this has always been the story’s hallmark, and it’s certainly the focal point of Memories of Celceta. The game’s combat is open a free-flow, not instanced or turn-based. Enemies simply present themselves in the game’s environment, just waiting to be battled. In order to carry out said combat, Adol and his party have a couple of means of attack. The central combat mechanic is a sort of push-and-pull between using special attacks to exhaust your special meter, then chaining together basic strikes to fill it back up. Indeed, only one of the Vita’s four face buttons are dedicated to single strikes; the other three can be allocated to a character’s special moves. There’s a large variety to choose from, and you’ll be able to expand your list of specials as your characters gain experience. You can also dodge enemy attacks to keep your health high.

Each of Adol’s party members have their own strengths and tactics that they lean on in combat; while Adol is skilled with a blade and has many special attacks to make use of it, your earliest companion prefers to jump in and pummel enemies with his fists. You only control one character at a time, but can switch between party members at any time. While you’re controlling one character, the game’s AI does a fairly decent job of managing the rest of your party – they’ll attack enemies while you focus is elsewhere, but one area where this AI falls short is in dodging attacks. At the game’s first major boss fight, my companion seemed to content to face-tank the boss’s hardest-hitting special moves while I dodged out of the way. At times like this, it’s good to have healing items on hand to recover your party’s strength.

Overall, the combat system is simplistic and accessible to new players, but rewards practice and is extremely satisfying. The wide range of party members available means you’ll be able to build a party to your specifications, and even choose a character whose fighting style you enjoy using yourself. Don’t be afraid to delegate Adol to the AI if swords aren’t your thing. You’ll be itching to find enemies to fight, unlike turn-based RPGs where random encounters can be tedious and avoided whenever possible.

The high-octane action of the game’s combat sequences is intensely juxtaposed against the much slower, duller pace set by the game’s dialog sequences, however. It can be a bit jarring to come off of a set of intense combat, only to be exposition-dumped by an NPC for minutes on end, followed by even more intense combat right after. This is understandable, as frequent dialog is a central hallmark of JRPGs in general, but it doesn’t work in Ys: Memories of Celceta’s favor. You might find yourself trudging through dialog sequences, anxiously mashing on the X button to get past it and move on to the game’s next fight sequence.

Ys: MoC doesn’t just offer up a linear story – bounty boards present around the game world allow you to undertake sidequests for extra rewards, or just to blow off some steam between story segments. While it’s a nice feature in theory, the quests are often insultingly simple, or offer dull fetch quests that really take a back-seat to the idea of going to a new location and fighting new baddies. Still, much like the story, the sidequest system of Ys: MoC is a vehicle for the game’s excellent combat and exploration opportunities.

Adol and Duren’s expressions sum up the side-quests pretty well.

Graphics: 4/5

Graphics are yet another mixed bag with Ys; as previously-mentioned concerning the game’s intro movie, the hand-drawn art, including the menu and character sprites, are absolutely gorgeous, boasting incredible levels of detail. Given that the Ys series has had several animated movies created for it, it’d be a fair comparison to say that the in-game sprites are on the level of an animated motion picture. However, when making the shift to 3D, Ys: MoC stumbles quite a bit. While character and creature models boast a decent amount of polygons, textures on models and the environment are quite blurry for a Vita game. Special effects during combat are competent, but nothing special. Character animations during dialog tend to be somewhat limited as well, with Adol visualizing his dialog responses with stiff head nods and other simplistic actions. If the game’s 3D graphics had been bumped up to the same standard as the hand-drawn art in the game, Ys: MoC would have easily gotten a perfect score. The game’s downright last-gen graphics keep it just shy of perfection, however.

Even up-close, the 3D graphics lack polish, especially when juxtaposed against the game’s beautiful 2D images.

Sound: 4/5

Ys: Memories of Celceta boasts an aboslutely astounding soundtrack, with engaging tunes that play at just the right time during gameplay. I consistently found myself re-playing some songs in the game in my head, and that’s a hallmark of an excellent game soundtrack. Combat audio effects are decent, and are certainly functional for keeping you aware of when you land hits or take your lumps yourself. The area in the audio department where Ys: MoC falls flat, however, is the voice acting. While the talent is there, and all characters are voiced competently for a JRPG, you simply don’t hear enough of it. Most character speech in dialog consist of grunts or one-word responses, and you’ll find that not much chatter goes down in combat either. For a game with such a vibrant cast of characters, it really takes away from their personality to have them speak so infrequently. Not unlike the game’s graphics, the audio is of an excellent grade, but is flawed in some small but significant way to keep it just shy of perfection.

Overall Score: 15/20 = 7.5 out of 10

Ys: Memories of Celceta stands as an excellent example of beautifully-crafted gameplay. The game’s combat systems are simple and accessible, yet fun and challenging to explore and master. The multitude of characters you’ll meet and join forces with in the story are vibrant and colorful, and each of them brings their own unique twist to battle, ensuring there’s a character for just about every playstyle. The hand-drawn art and soundtrack are absolutely gorgeous too. While a couple of caveats keep the game’s overall quality from reaching stellar heights, Ys: MoC is a great addition to the Vita’s game library and a good buy for any owner looking for an action RPG on the go.

PROs

+ Combat is tight and fun

+ Gorgeous hand-drawn artwork

+ Memorable soundtrack

CONs

– Story merely drives the gameplay

– Side-quest system is tedious

– 3D graphics look last-gen

– Voice acting is light

A special thank you to XSEED Games for providing us with a review copy of “Ys: Memories of Celceta”!

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Pandora’s Tower Coming to North America This Spring

The long-awaited Pandora’s Tower is finally coming to North America in Spring 2013, as announced by publisher Xseed this morning. Long thought out of reach by Western fans, players will now be able to experience the game’s gripping story. Below is Xseed’s summary:

A tale of unfortunate circumstances, Pandora’s Tower opens in the Kingdom of Elyria, where an unassuming singer named Elena succumbs to a wretched curse during a festival performance. Bearing an arcane mark on her back, she starts transforming into a savage monster, causing the town guards to attempt to kill her in order to prevent it. A young ex-mercenary named Aeron, whose heart has forever been pledged to Elena, whisks her away in the nick of time – and with the help of a mysterious witch named Mavda, he learns what must be done to avert her wretched fate. He must descend into The Scar, a massive chasm tied down by twelve chains connected to a floating island in its center, atop which sit thirteen interconnected towers. There, he must use his sword and a sacred chain to battle his way through each tower and extract the flesh of the boss “masters” that dwell within, which Elena must consume in order to reverse her ongoing transformation. But the clock is ticking! The longer Aeron takes to vanquish each beast, the less human Elena becomes, affecting her character and the game’s final outcome in a profound manner. Time is of the essence…