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EGM Review: Ragnarok Odyssey ACE

Posted on April 7, 2014 AT 12:39pm

Shuffle, repeat

Are racing thoughts keeping you up at night? Do you find yourself tossing and turning, unable to sink into restful sleep? Is every morning a lethargic struggle, making it difficult to live the life you want?

Ask your doctor about Ragnarok Odyssey ACE.

Developed by a team of expert Game Arts scientists as a refinement of last year’s formula, ACE might just be the world’s most successful, least intrusive sleep aid. No pills to take, no nasty liquid to swallow, no needles to brave—just hours upon hours of soporific action-RPG combat to lull you off to slumber. And, best of all, it really works! I routinely struggled to stay awake while playing, even in a well-lit office at two in the afternoon following a full night’s sleep.

Of course, if you’re not in the market for an interactive sedative, you’re probably going to be a little disappointed, because ACE isn’t a noteworthy game by any other standard. I never had a chance to play the original, Vita-exclusive Ragnarok Odyssey, but I’m well aware that the general consensus wasn’t positive, with repetition, opaque mechanics, and simplistic combat the most common complaints. At its core, this is the same game, only stuffed with a few new features intended to address those criticisms directly. While I can’t speak to any direct comparison, I can tell you that, post-facelift, ACE suffers from a great deal of repetition, opaque mechanics, and simplistic combat.

I don’t mean to make light of the gameplay additions. They’re undoubtedly a step in the right direction, and I can’t even begin to fathom how tedious the game must have been without them. At the same time, they feel a bit like putting a Band-Aid over a gunshot wound. Yes, the special “ACE” abilities for each class mean you now have more than the two basic attacks, but combat’s still dragged down by awkward, momentumless swings, an atrocious camera, and a unnecessarily byzantine control scheme. Yes, being able to hire NPC allies to help out on missions makes it easier to solo through some of the game’s tougher segments, but they’re so rarely competent that I’m not sure they were worth the cash I had to sacrifice to bring them along. Nothing quite like a Cleric who heals you five seconds after you’ve used your expensive health potion.

And nothing tangible has been done to address the single biggest problem with Ragnarok Odyssey’s design: Every single quest feels exactly the same. With the exception of the occasional boss fight (and the randomized Tower of Yggdrasil dungeon that’s been tacked onto the end of the game), all you do is walk through a series of superficially decorated corridors and kill all the monsters you come across. Sometimes your objective is to kill a certain type of monster. Sometimes it’s to pick up a certain object dropped when you kill a certain type of monster. It doesn’t matter. I honestly stopped paying attention to what I was being asked to do, because that knowledge couldn’t possibly do anything to change my approach, short of ignoring a few non-essential enemies here and there.

Like the world’s most joyless merry-go-round, you keep cycling through the same few levels, fighting the same handful of enemies (and their elemental palette-swap versions! That’s real variety!). In terms of unique content, there’s probably enough here to justify 10 quests and three hours of gameplay. Getting to the end of Ragnarok Odyssey ACE will take you between 10 to 20 times that long. It’s like the entire game is made out of filler content from another, much more interesting action-RPG. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn the team just wrote an algorithm to build all the quests by randomly picking a setting, monster lineup, and nonsensical name, then threw the first hundred it vomited out into the game and called it a day. That’s how artless, how soulless everything feels.

It’s not even entirely fair to call it a grind, because the game lacks any meaningful progression system. Rather than earning XP for killing enemies, all of your stats are defined by your progress through the story and a selection of cards you equip to your outfit that give various bonuses. It’s an interesting idea—perhaps a great way to augment a fleshed-out levelling mechanic—but it’s so insubstantial on its own. Valuable card drops are few and far between, and the selections available for purchase are all worthless, so you spend most of your time just spinning your wheels.

The same goes for the weapon system. You’re likely to find one decent weapon and spend half the game stuck with it, simply because there’s so little variation in the loot. You can get regular boosts to your damage by upgrading it with the various crafting materials you find, but it’s a straight-line progression that demands a specific set of items at each level. Fairly regularly, you’ll need a material that’s only dropped by a single boss or enemy type. If you’ve already beaten the section of the game they appear in and spent the item upgrading another weapon, you have to replay a section of the game you’ve already beaten. That’s assuming you can even figure out who drops it, since the game gives absolutely no indication of where you can get anything unless it’s already in your inventory.

If there’s any redemption to be found in ACE, it’s that the sheer simplicity and repetition of it all occasionally takes on the drooling Zen of gaming’s most basic offerings. Taken in small doses, there’s the same familiar comfort you’ll find in a match-three game or a round of solitaire, that relaxation that comes with knowing nothing unexpected is lying around the next corner. You can tune out and get lost in the button-mashing, moving from kill to kill with your brain in a hypnotic, low-power state. Then, if you squint and unfocus your eyes, you can almost make out the better game Ragnarok Odyssey ACE might so easily be—not a good game, but a better one.

Just make sure to wait a few hours before you drive or operate heavy machinery.

Developer: Game Arts • Publisher: XSEED Games • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 4.1.2014

Ragnarok Odyssey ACE tries its best to salvage last year’s disappointing Vita-only action-RPG with a few new gameplay mechanics and expanded content, but the minor fixes can’t come close to patching the fundamentally boring core.

The Good If you love doing the same thing 8,000 times in a row, you won’t be disappointed.
The Bad Like me, you probably don’t love doing the same thing 8,000 times in a row.
The Ugly This game on PS3, thanks to a port that uses the Vita’s low-poly models and muddy textures.
Ragnarok Odyssey ACE is available on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita. Primary version reviewed was for PS3. Review code was provided by XSEED Games for the benefit of this review.
Josh Harmon, Associate Editor
Josh Harmon picked up a controller when he was 3 years old—and he hasn't looked back since. This has made him particularly vulnerable to attacks from behind. He joined EGM as an intern following a brief-but-storied career on a number of small gaming blogs across the Internet. Follow him on Twitter @jorshy. Meet the rest of the crew.

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