It's a different style of hunting – an experience that is based on fast speed rather than methodical strategy.

User Rating: 6.5 | Ragnarok Odyssey VITA
There is no doubt that the Monster Hunter games were the killer app for Sony's PSP in Japan. It sold buckets upon buckets of copies, as the Japanese ate every version of the game. By the look of things the Monster Hunter series has now moved its home from Sony's systems to Nintendo's 3DS and Wii U consoles, so with no killer app for the Vita in Japan, what do companies do? The answer is obvious: fill in that missing market by creating a wave of Monster Hunter clones. That is what Game Arts has created, and for the most part it is pretty good.

The Ragnarok franchise is new to me. I have never played any of the entries that covered the massively multiplayer online RPG genre, nor did I touch the single-player DS title that released in America. This does not matter, though, as this title is a spin-off. Nothing in it requires you to have played any other entries in the series, and as mentioned, it moves away from the roots of being a massively multiplayer online RPG and moves into the area of cooperative gameplay. The focus of the story is about giants that are roaming the area and killing citizens from the town. That is about it. There is nothing deep going on when it comes to the plot, but that isn't a negative for the game, as it doesn't need to have a good story – it's all about the action.

From the start, Ragnarok Odyssey throws you straight into the character creation, which features a surprisingly decent amount of customisation. Players can select the sex, what hair colour from a spectrum slider (I had luminous blue), predefined faces, hairstyles, over 10 different voices per gender, and what class you begin as. I was expecting it to be quite barebones, but there is certainly an amount here that lets you create something unique – enough that you won't run into other people who look the same.

Picking a class is not as important as you would think, because players are not locked to that class for the rest of the game. In Monster Hunter, there is no class system featured; instead, you just make the weapons you are interested in, and then equip. Ragnarok Odyssey follows in the same footsteps, but to equip a different style of weapon you need to go and change your class, which can be altered at any point in the game by simply going to your character's room and picking a new class. It seems a little counter-productive for the game to incorporate the class system like this – why not just let players pick whatever weapon and scrap the class system altogether? Thankfully, you can save a set of equipment in your room, so I would advise saving every class to a slot, which you can then access from the online portion of the game without having to go back to your character's room when you feel like changing. I guess it was developed this way so that there was a link between this game and the class names inRagnarok Online.

With six classes, it means you have access to six different style of weaponry. The Swordsman is what I like to call the safety class. It's extremely balanced in all areas and is perfect for new players. The swordsman class comes with a huge two-handed sword – think the great sword from Monster Hunter. Assassin class is based around speed and agility, but their weapons don't hit big numbers. Hammersmith is purely a damage-dealing class, replacing any speed with the power to knock enemies out of the ballpark; the hunter is the Ranger of the game, shooting arrows instead of relying on melee combat; and the Cleric can heal but still do a decent amount of damage due to the use of a mace. The last class, the Mage, is a very interesting class that fans looking for a challenge will want to jump on. Mages have low defence and HP, but can chain melee attacks into devastating area of effect spells that can rain damage on monsters. There's enough here to cover anyone's particular style of play.

After a quick introduction, you are left on your own to progress through the game's missions, which are given by a female guild hall member behind the counter at the inn. Missions start off very easy and are always based around killing a certain amount of enemies, gaining items from enemies or taking down a boss character. This is where the game begins to lack variety, since in Monster Hunter you are given collection objectives such as gaining herbs from plants, stealing eggs from giant birds or carving monsters for a specific material. None of this is inRagnarok Odyssey. Now you might be thinking, "But you just said gaining items from enemies." I did, and that is what you are doing. But because there is no carving, you are basically hammering enemies and are practically guaranteed to always get the loot you need, so you play it no differently than if you were tasked to hunt that monster. The start of the game can become tedious, as you are tasked with killing enemies that do not offer much of a challenge. Thinking about it, I believe I didn't get my first death until Chapter 6 – that's past the half-way point of the game's main story quests (ten chapters in total). The real challenge seems to hang in the extra quests that become available as you make your way through the chapters.

Out in the field is where Ragnarok Odyssey begins to drift away from the quality of Capcom's game. It still includes small sections of the map grouped together to make a bigger environment, which sadly there aren't enough off to keep feeling fresh. The game also has a problem in the beginning by making the player spend way too much time in the same bright, green meadows environment, so prepare yourself to see that quite often. The difference between this game and Monster Hunter is its pacing. Ragnarok Odyssey is very fast-paced and much different from the methodical approach and strategies that Monster Hunter requires from the player. I can certainly see some people liking the faster action, because watching yourself combo an enemy into the air and then continue to slash them with an air combo is a feast on the eyes. But I feel the combat is so hack-and-slash like that, it removes some of the thinking game that comes with this style of gameplay. I often found myself just button mashing, then using the dash to evade and then mashing attack again, making the game a much shallower experience that I would have liked. The fact that there are no trap items and such – you only get to use items that heal or buff you – makes it seem the entire focus of the game was on high-speed combat, monster slaying.

This makes Ragnarok Odyssey feel like a lighter take on the hunting formula. It feels like it was aimed for people who like the concept, but want a much more streamlined and easier time than what you have with Monster Hunter. In this regard, it does that part well. There is zero time wasted with gaining items, as any monster you kill will drop loot that is automatically given to you after its death animation. The same goes for anything players find in the loot-filled crates that scatter the world. It's all about action, action, action, and I wish it was deeper than what is offered, because it could have turned out to be a fantastic experience.

Gaining new gear is obtainable by collecting the loot required and building them at specific stores situated in the market area. As you make your way up the ranks, better gear becomes available, with the best coming from the loot that drops from much tougher enemies. Weapons and other gear can also be upgraded, again using the loot you find and the money you earn from successfully completing missions. While there are plenty of weapons with different statistics, a lot of them look the same, employing a Earth Defence Force 2017 approach with its weapon system.

One thing this game is designed for is multiplayer, which might seem an obvious statement, but the mission structure is the same in both single-player and multiplayer. The game states when you first go online that playing multiplayer offers more rewards, and since the missions are the same and beating them offline or online still progresses them, I see no reason why you would not want to take the title online. Monster Hunter made the single-player rewarding by offering a different order of quests or unique items that were only available offline. There is none of that here. Online holds up great for the most part, even when you are playing with people with lower connection bars. Once it hits one or no bars (out of five), then you begin to get lag, which makes the game crawl at a snail pace, as if you were playing at five frames per second.

Visually, this game is jammed with colour, which shines right off the Vita's screen, and while there are limited vistas, they are all at least pleasing to look at. It's not the best-looking game on the system (it's covered in aliasing), but when you think about how close to the Vita it launched in Japan, it is somewhat expected for a first-generation Vita to be a little rough around the edges. Saying that, the loading is fast, something which bogged the launch titles for the system, so that is a plus.

I have probably come off sounding a little harsh by constantly matching the game to Monster Hunter, but that series is still the pinnacle of that gameplay style, so I feel I have to see how it matches up. It's a different style of hunting – an experience that is based on fast speed rather than methodical strategy – so if that sounds like your cup of tea, then Ragnarok Odyssey will offer hours of fun. Just don't go in expecting a deep experience, as this is the Dynasty Warriors of the monster hunting genre.

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