Friday, August 22, 2014

Ragnarok Odyssey ACE (PS3, Vita) Review

This Friday brings a new review to SuperPhillip Central. With Monster Hunter on a competing platform, the PlayStation Vita has Ragnarok Odyssey ACE. Does it serve as a suitable substitute?

Brush up on your Norse mythology later,
there's lummoxes to destroy!

Since Monster Hunter pretty much roamed away from Sony platforms and onto Nintendo devices, disappointed PlayStation owners who are also fans of the series have had to look elsewhere for their big beast bashing fix. We've seen lots of new games take inspiration from Capcom's colossal franchise, but none have really met the same amount of critical and commercial success. Originally released in 2012, Ragnarok Odyssey was a title that fell in line with other Monster Hunter wannabes. This year it has seen an expansion of sorts with Ragnarok Odyssey ACE, adding a healthy helping of new content. Is ACE the place for your monster-hunting needs?

The start of Ragnarok Odyssey ACE has you creating your custom character, making his or her appearance with a rather scarce amount of options. It's important to note, though, that the game opens up customization as your progress once headgear, clothing, and armor are introduced and more options are added. You can select between one of six classes that best suits your play style: Sword Warrior, Hammersmith, Mage, Assassin, Hunter, and Cleric. The Sword Warrior makes for the easiest time in single-player while the others are great for a well-balanced team online. Regardless, you're not stuck in the class you choose; all are interchangeable from your personal room at Fort Farthest.

Missing the cap and cape, but other
than that, a dead ringer, I guess.
As not-so-subtly mentioned, Ragnarok Odyssey ACE allows for offline and online play, featuring the same quests in both. Most players will find the early quests elementary in difficulty, thus not really needing online assistance. However, the later quests in the game, particularly battles against the bosses known as lummoxes, are made much easier and let you get by with a little help from your friends (or total strangers). The community is generally helpful regarding new players or those just asking for help on a quest. If you're particular about who joins your room, you can always set up a password, kick those out that aren't welcomed, or make a room private.

I'm the guy who is going to do all
the quests you're all too damn sorry to do.
As for the offline play, you can hire up to two computer-controlled mercenaries to assist you in the various quests (i.e. be damage sponges for you), if need be. The only small downside to this is that your monetary award at the end of a successful quest is lessened. Otherwise, it's nice to have enemies split up their attacks instead of just mauling you and you alone like a mob.

Critical hit!
Quests themselves are classified into two basic types: killing a set number of monsters or collecting a specific amount of a certain item or material. The quests that have you gathering materials and defeating a number of monsters have you roaming around and essentially killing everything that moves. These quests are rather mindless most of the time, especially later ones where you're forced to take down fifty enemies of one kind. It becomes mind-numbing to do and little strategy is required.

This assassin lives by no creed
other than kill or be killed.
The real draws to Ragnarok Odyssey ACE are the boss encounters where you take on a larger-than-normal monster or set of monsters in an expansive arena. Each boss has numerous weak points that can not only be strategically preyed upon, but they can be broken off, giving you a rare material in the process.

What do they feed these birds up here?
It's important to note that Ragnarok Odyssey ACE may seem familiar to Monster Hunter, its obvious inspiration, but it doesn't have anywhere near the same amount of skill or finesse required to succeed. If you use the same tactics that Ragnarok Odyssey ACE requires, simply mashing the attack button and occasionally dodging, running away, and evading attacks, you'll definitely be in for a rude awakening with Monster Hunter. Ragnarok Odyssey ACE by no means requires anywhere near as much timing and patience as Monster Hunter, where the latter forces you to attack smartly when there's an opening. In Ragnarok, openings are all too common, and many times you can stand still and hack away.

Missed me, missed me, now you
Ragnarok Odyssey ACE forgoes a traditional leveling system. Instead, what is used is a card system, where each equipped card gives your character a specific skill. These can be dropped by defeated enemies or purchased at the in-game shop. Cards take up a finite number of clothing slots. You can safely swear on Odin's name that the better the skill, the more slots of clothing the card and accompanying skill needs. Different skills involve raising HP, AP, attack, defense, lessen knockback, add elemental powers to your attacks and armor, and so forth.

Dress up as Lloyd Irving from
Tales of Symphonia? Sure. Why not?
As you progress in the campaign of Ragnarok Odyssey ACE, new outfits are unlocked for purchase at the tailor's shop. Not only do you need enough money to buy these, you also need the required materials, too. Upgrading clothing takes the same requirements, each time having different materials necessary to upgrade your desired piece of clothing. Thus, your clothing piece gains more slots for you to work with and equip helpful cards to.

It's a juggling act of picking the right cards for the right situation. If one set of cards isn't resulting in a successful quest, then perhaps trying a different combination is... *ahem* in the cards. Thankfully, you're able to save an abundant amount of costume and card combinations, so you need not recreate your favorites or go through a hassle each time you wish to experiment.

Talk about your juggling act...
For those that have played the vanilla release of Ragnarok Odyssey, you might be wondering what are the benefits of upgrading to ACE. Well, not only can you transfer your save date from the original over to the updated ACE, but there's an improved HUD, the inclusion of all of Ragnarok Odyssey's DLC on the game card itself, new skills to use, new enemies to defeat, a special new dungeon in the form of Yggdrasil Tower, and some refinements made to the overall balance of the game. Whether those additions make ACE worth it to you is purely your call.

Sometimes it's best to put your proverbial
tail between your legs and run.
Ragnarok Odyssey ACE isn't the most impressive game visually on the Vita hardware, so it makes sense to say that it doesn't look that great compared to its contemporaries on the PS3. That said, loading times are thankfully short, gameplay typically runs a smooth frame-rate, and the action is overall easy to follow. Nonetheless, where Ragnarok Odyssey ACE truly shines is in its soundtrack. Featuring a majority of music from Kuni Tanioka of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles fame, the music is extremely well done and gets you in the spirit for a grand adventure.

Since Western PlayStation owners can't get their official Monster Hunter fix, Ragnarok Odyssey ACE is a suitable, if not much more accessible, alternative. With tight and responsive controls, an online community that still offers the ability to find rooms rather easily, a fair amount of customization, and plenty of quests and content to partake in, Ragnarok Odyssey ACE is a Monster Hunter clone done pretty well. The lack of really needing to time attacks makes Ragnarok Odyssey ACE an easier game to get into, but it also makes it occasionally tedious to play. Still, you'll feel great acting like Thor's hammer, slamming your way through wave after wave of enemy fodder alone or with players around the world.

[SPC Says: 7.5/10]

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Third-Party Support on Wii U is Dwindling to Nothing? "So What?!" Here's What.

It's been a rough week for Wii U owners on the third-party front. The upcoming third-party releases on the system can be counted on one hand and at the very most a few spare fingers extra. Yes, indie developers are indeed picking up the slack for the lack of major third-party releases and that's great, but that isn't the magic solution that will fix Nintendo's struggling system's problems.

What seems like the most damning of third-party related news lately for the Wii U is that Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare does not seem to be releasing on the system. This is a big deal in the sense that ever since the series started being published on a yearly cycle, Nintendo home consoles have not yet missed an entry. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare didn't release on the original Wii at the same time as the other home console versions, but it eventually did. With Advanced Warfare, this marks the first time that Call of Duty will be skipping a Nintendo home console. 

It doesn't sting so bad until you recall that Call of Duty always seemed like a sure thing for Nintendo platforms. No matter how poorly a home console of Nintendo's failed or was struggling, you could be quite certain that Call of Duty would be releasing on it. At the very least you'd get a delayed announcement near release, but Wii U owners like myself aren't even getting that. Instead, we've received what's pretty much a solid and firm "no" on Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare hitting Wii U. When something that usually releases yearly on a Nintendo system suddenly doesn't, you know you've screwed up somewhere and somehow as a platform holder.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
Unfortunately, the news of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare not reaching the Wii U wasn't met with sadness or regret on some places. No, the most fervent of Nintendo supporters instead went an embarrassing route instead, saying how Call of Duty isn't an important title for the Wii U to have, how Call of Duty is for 12 year-olds who shout racist and bigoted remarks online, and how Call of Duty won't be missed.

This is the same kind of overall sentiment that was being spouted on sites and areas where Nintendo enthusiasts generally congregate when Ubisoft president Yves Guillemot stated that the upcoming Watch Dogs would be the last "mature" title released for Wii U due to poor sales of titles like Assassin's Creed and ZombiU. Let's not be mistaken here-- Assassin's Creed III and IV were not totally awful ports, but they weren't optimized to run on the Wii U hardware. Still, even games finely tuned for the Wii U and made exclusively for the system didn't wow Ubisoft like its launch title ZombiU.

Regardless, the remarks by Ubisoft's president spurred a lot of anger within the more dedicated of Wii U owners, some of the same time of language was used. "We don't need Ubisoft", "Their ports were awful anyway", and "No real loss."

Wii U launch title ZombiU
Sadly, this is the same attitude that makes Nintendo home consoles such a volatile place for third-parties. These preconceived notions and "we didn't need that third-party anyway" attitudes make it so third-parties have a perfect excuse to not deal with Nintendo fans, especially the ones who can talk the talk yet can't walk the walk. Folks say they want third-party support, but the majority of titles from third-parties and heck, even from Nintendo itself, that do come out aren't purchased.

Is this entirely the fault of Wii U owners? I wouldn't say so. It's not even the total fault of the aforementioned "we didn't those games anyway" Wii U crowd. No, this is mostly on Nintendo's shoulders. Nintendo has botched the messaging and the release of the Wii U so badly that the repercussions of its failings will echo and last throughout this entire generation and most likely the next. When your install base is so small, it makes it quite challenging to have games sell well. Add in the fact that the Wii U is rather difficult to develop for compared to other platforms, and you have a recipe for third-party disaster. 

This is a well thought out comment, for sure,
that doesn't in any way come off as juvenile or
have any kind of sense of irony at all.
This isn't meant to be another article from yet another source stating the many reasons why Nintendo and the Wii U are not doing well and hammering that point home yet again. No, it's to say that the reasons specified make for a hard sell for third-parties. If you don't have a big install base to sell games to, especially on a Nintendo system, where historically third-party games are tough sells, then there's obvious reasons why you wouldn't want to spend money to develop on that platform. It's not because of bad blood with Nintendo, it's not that third-parties are conspiring against Nintendo-- it's just that it doesn't make financial sense. 

This isn't like the Wii where third-parties had an opportunity to do well on the system yet completely ignored the core audience that was once there (early in the Wii's life) and completely failed to do anything with it until it was much too late. This is a case where we have a platform that is selling at historically low levels, has a low attach ratio (despite all of the awesome Nintendo and even third-party games that are out there for present owners to enjoy), and one that isn't even making money for its manufacturer. Sure, it doesn't help that we have segments of the Nintendo fan base that view third-parties as the enemy, but the main issue is that developing for the Wii U just isn't lucrative of an idea at all. 

The thing that worries me and should worry Nintendo and its fans is the future. What possible reason should third-parties have to jump on Nintendo's hardware next generation? Let the record show that more third-parties do less than satisfactory on Nintendo home consoles than those that do well. How does Nintendo lure trepidation-ridden third-parties back? It feels like the West is a total lost cause unless Nintendo starts tailoring their user base to buy the games that the West tends to buy by the truckloads. Do we even want Nintendo to start making gory FPS games and sports titles? I don't necessarily, but Nintendo has to adapt to the times somehow (whether that's a new software strategy, new outlook on hardware, etc.) to stay as relevant as possible. 

All I know is that a home console landscape without Nintendo is not one that I want to be a part of. Here's hoping Nintendo makes the correct steps to strengthen its weak ties with third-parties and that certain Nintendo fans become more open to what is being released.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - A Sane Oasis in the Desert of Crazy Edition

I find it hard to care about writing about games when there's something much more infuriating happening about 15-20 miles away from my present location. I find it even harder to care about stupid little "outrages" like Ubisoft not pledging any more "mature-rated" content to Nintendo systems or how Samus Aran is wearing too skimpy of an outfit when there's far more important crap happening nearby. When you have an incident like the one in Ferguson occurring so close to you, it really puts the trivial garbage into perspective.

That said, I don't want to completely get consumed by what's happening near my location, 'else I'll lose what little is left of my mind. Therefore, here's SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs, bringing you and most importantly me, some video game tunes, something always sane in this always crazy world. This week's edition features music from Wild Arms, Nier, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.

v686. Wild Arms (PS1) - Into the Wilderness

This plays during the pre-title cutscene in the original Wild Arms for the PlayStation. Of all the RPG franchises that have since laid dormant for a good while, one of the top series that I'd love to see make a return to a PlayStation home console is Wild Arms.

v687. Nier (PS3, 360) - Song of the Ancients Devola

To those who have played Nier, one of the most interesting and memorable parts of the game is the soundtrack, which is sensational. A lot of themes have a rustic feel to it or are supported by vocals. Coincidentally enough, both Nier themes represented on SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs have vocals of the female variety.

v688. Ragnarok Odyssey (PS3, Vita) - The Shining Plains

Ragnarok Odyssey's soundtrack was composed by Kumi Tanioka, who assisted in creating one of my favorite soundtracks, the original Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles soundtrack for the Nintendo GameCube. Ragnarok Odyssey is a more beginner-friendly Monster Hunter clone that received an expansion version in the form of Ragnarok Odyssey ACE. The latter will be the subject of a review later this week.

v689. Beyond Good and Evil (PS2, GCN, XBX) - Home Sweet Home

We're in an industry where old gameplay is masked as new IPs all the time. Big publishers release new franchises, yet these new franchises feel exactly like the old crap being released in the first place. Beyond Good and Evil was released at a time where budgets weren't as wild, creativity wasn't limited to mostly indies (whom hardly even existed back then), and new IPs were all about new gameplay and not just new characters and settings.

v690. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS) - Lorule Castle

I did not expect to be as blown away with The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds as I was. The amount of freedom was rare for a modern-day Zelda game, the world was familiar yet fresh enough to feel great to explore, and the wall merge mechanic was absolutely awesome. And oh, my Hylia, the music! This theme, Lorule Castle, builds layer upon layer as each segment of the final dungeon is completed.