The first thing to strike me in Ragnarok Odyssey ACE wasn't the snaking tentacle of some screen-consuming monster, but an overwhelming sense of deja vu. Not because the game's an expanded and enhanced rerelease of a 2012 action role-playing game, itself spawned from a decade-plus old Korean massively multiplayer game. No, the familiarity stemmed from the fact that ACE's opening played out almost identically to one I'd experienced just a few weeks prior in Toukiden: The Age of Demons.
As in that Monster Hunter-wannabe's early moments, ACE begins by placing you in the boots of a fresh-faced recruit who has joined a seasoned band of mercenaries to help protect their village from beasts hell-bent on turning humanity into an all-you-can-eat buffet. As you customize your character, chat up a few village non-player characters, and accept your first creature-carving quest, the unmistakable sense that you've done this all before only strengthens.
But while ACE's story and setup sadly follow an all-too-familiar genre template, many of its other elements--most notably its combat--manage to keep your thumbs engaged for the entirety of the game's lengthy quest. More of a do-over than a director's cut, ACE feels like the game its predecessor should have been. On top of adding oodles of fresh content to the original Ragnarok Odyssey, it tweaks its gameplay in a number of ways that bring both nuance and depth to the already satisfying monster-pummeling proceedings.
Like the original, ACE encourages you to equip a blade that makes Cloud Strife's signature sword look like a butter knife before setting out to loot, level, and lay waste to baddies that would like to break you like peanut brittle. The core "action RPG meets Monster Hunter" formula remains intact, but significant additions--such as new class-specific abilities and the option to hire AI mercenaries--make it a much better game. ACE further separates itself from the beast-battling pack by forgoing strategy-focused fighting in favor of fast, fluid, arcade-flavored combat. Thanks to intuitive mechanics and responsive controls, even unseasoned slayers can easily string together impressive combos, juggle enemies in the air, and generally unleash the sort of battlefield-scarring hell usually reserved for dedicated action game protagonists like Kratos and Dante.
The trade-off, at least in the original release, was a noticeable lack of depth, but the addition of ACE skills--job-based, screen-clearing attacks that run off a cooldown meter--address this issue without robbing the experience of its accessible, lightning-quick appeal. Managing and monitoring these skills alongside your more twitch-based arsenal is a blast, especially when they're used in a complementary fashion with another character class; downing a dozen or so minions in one fell swoop is fun, but knowing your sword warrior can wade into danger without worry because the cleric's healing ACE skill has got your back is all the more rewarding.
Of course, pairing these or any of the other four classes (hunter, hammersmith, mage, or assassin) in the original Ragnarok Odyssey required live players to cooperatively team up. The addition of hirable mercenaries in ACE, however, means even solo adventurers can put an appropriately menacing party together. These computer-controlled companions aren't nearly as reliable as real players, but their inclusion goes a long way toward turning what was previously a co-op-focused game into a satisfying solo experience.
Thanks to intuitive mechanics and responsive controls, even unseasoned slayers can easily string together impressive combos, juggle enemies in the air, and generally unleash the sort of battlefield-scarring hell usually reserved for dedicated action game protagonists like Kratos and Dante.
While Ragnarok Odyssey's combat benefits from ACE's fresh features, its leveling system, for better or worse, remains the same. Players put off by the original's lack of a traditional experience system may again find themselves frustrated by having to customize characters with looted cards. These collectibles, which provide a variety of passive perks, are slotted into your armor, not unlike runes encrusted into weapons. Balancing these character-shaping cards before battle requires performing a fun little minigame, but some genre fans will understandably yearn for the more familiar gratification that comes from attributing skill points, especially given the random nature of receiving the cards.
Returning fans will find a number of other fresh and familiar features to dive into back at home base or while putting the hurt on towering beasts in the field; completing side objectives to upgrade new halomonas weapons offers an alternative to simply refining your more traditional death dealers, while returning activities, such as tweaking armor, purchasing potions, and receiving makeovers, keep you busy at base camp. While not nearly as game changing as some of the other new inclusions, one of my favorite additions is the billionaire pot, which is a pot that turns unwanted loot into fresh goods.
ACE's many enhancements are further complemented by the Tower of Yggdrasil, a 400-floor, randomly generated dungeon that opens up after the main campaign concludes. This massive content update doubles the original game's size, but adds little to the already lacking story. It also outstays its welcome a bit; as satisfying as ACE's combat can be, it's not immune to repetition, and nothing drives that point home like a few hundred dungeon floors filled with familiar baddies. ACE also brings Ragnarok Odyssey's action-fueled brand of monster slaying to the PlayStation 3 for the first time. While the cross-play functionality is a nice bonus, both the bite-size nature of the missions and the built-for-Vita visuals feel more at home on the portable.
Given its cookie-cutter narrative, polarizing leveling system, and late-game repetition, ACE doesn't address all the issues that plagued players the first time around. If it didn't satisfy your monster-fighting fix back in 2012, there's probably not enough here to draw you back to the battlefield. However, if you're a Ragnarok vet ready for more, or a new recruit looking to hunt some big game of the not-of-this-realm variety, then you'll want to start sharpening that oversize sword.