Odin Sphere review
Five Journeys - One Epic Adventure
For a long time it seems that 2D has not been the cool thing to do. Unless you're on a handheld with more limiting potential then it seemed strange for a developer to create a product that didn't push polygons around the screen outside of retro game compilations. Odin Sphere isn't just a title that shuns 3D worlds but a game that shows how 2D can be done well.
Before all that there is something that hits you, and that is the stunning visuals the game comes with. This isn't just that they are good (although there is that too) but rather the style of hand-drawn that works so well. The whole premise of Odin Sphere is that of a set of books retelling fairytales, and the imagery gives off the impressive picture book look that compliments the concept.
The graphics are amazing to look at. Each area of the game world is awash with vibrant watercolours that bestows a sense of richness befitting a fantasy tale of this type. Despite being in 2D each area also possesses a sense of depth as scenes present some excellent use of backgrounds scenery. When travelling through a forest it really does feel like a huge expanse of trees stretching far out. The scenery does get repeated a bit though as there is little variance in actual structure of the stages but it is always nice to look at.
The characters themselves really stand out too. Aside from the technical success the designs have been worked to perfection. The main stars are outfitted with some wonderful costumes and their bodies crafted well, but this also extends to the antagonists and even the bit part players. Be in awe of dragons and giants that are almost as big as the viewing area. The animation of these characters seems to have been handled well too, with fluid movement and actions working nicely with the good looks presented.
There is one issue though, and that is the presence of slowdown at certain times. It's not excessive or anything too disruptive but it's a shame that a game so good looking should suffer framerate dives at all.
Soundwise Odin Sphere hits upon another success. The music alone is outstanding. The musical score is set up based upon the circumstances involved, so most story scenes are moved on by melancholic melodies that reflect the fairly saddening nature of the tale, while battles are given a more high tempo musical score that is designed to keep the adrenaline pumping. Sound effects aren't quite as prevalent but they work quite nicely with slashing, absorption and munching, amongst other things.
Then there is the voice acting. Every character you can speak to has a voice to speak with. The script is quite excellent and Atlus have done a great job of bringing in the talented voice actors to lend their talents to the characters of the game. If by chance you have a natural aversion to English dialogue in products originating from Japan then you may be pleased to hear that the original Japanese vocal tracks are stored on the disc as well. Subtitle options are also available if you want them.
A beastly enemy many times your own size.
The overall story of Odin Sphere revolves around a war between the valkyries and fairies over a mystical cauldron that is said to possess a lot of power. That alone wouldn't mean much, but it is all the smaller side-stories that make up the meat of all this. A warrior seeking her father's approval only to find herself in conflict with her own nation or a prince that fights back from the Netherworld only to realise he has nowhere to go. Even better is how the game handles this. With five character you get to see the story from five sides, which helps flesh out the tale into one large engaging story.
As the player you are made to really feel for the characters and you will come to care about the fates of these warriors as they fight for the goals they believe in. The dialogue goes some way to making this possible but it's really the actions they take and the expressions they make that seal the deal.
OK, so let's move onto the gameplay. Odin Sphere is pretty much a 2D Hack-and-Slash RPG hybrid. The combat is kept relatively simple. is used to launch attacks, and repeatedly tapping the button will unleash impressive combos. Aerial combos can also be used and a downward strong strike for knocking enemies back in one hit. Sometimes you'll randomly do critical damage too. Holding the button allows you to guard against attacks, although it is often more useful to simply dodge past them. is used to jump and double jump, which is useful for bouncing past obstacles or hazards. That is the main component of your combat.
The real joy is knowing how to make use of these functions. Rushing headlong into an enemy mob mashing the attack buttons is likely to get you tossed back around beaten to within an inch of your life. Odin Sphere rewards clever fighting, so it is more important to watch carefully and seize attack opportunities whenever they arise. Typically you will work on learning attack patterns so that you can dodge and counterattack. Funny thing is that it is even possible to attack enemy projectiles and even knock some of them back. Not much more satisfying than knocking a goblin's poisoned dagger back at him. Movement and attacking feel fairly fluid and free, and the openness of the stages makes combat interesting.
This is complimented by the POW gauge. Whenever you attack or guard this meter is drained, while standing or running restores it. If this gauges empties completely then you are left helpless until it refills completely. This forces a carefully balance between offence and defence as you can't just attack endlessly without consequence, although I think having guarding drain it is not such a great idea.
In addition to your standard combat moves you can press to bring up your psypher skills. As your psypher gauge increase more become unlocked, and they range from attack skills to protection or restoration.
Never mess with a fairy wielding a crossbow.
The button is used to access your item menu, and this has both its good and bad sides. On the plus side the system offers a lot of depth. From the basics you can already get and make use of foods, seeds, potions, accessories and more. There's also an ingenious alchemy system where you can combine material potions with other items to create new items. This is often the only way to get hold of certain items, especially in earlier parts, although mixtures can only be made when you've acquired the relevant mixture scroll.
On the down side we have the clumsy management of items. Items are displayed in item wheels which don't always stand out all that well against certain backgrounds, but you also have to switch between bags with the shoulder buttons. Bad enough when you start out, but later on when you have more bags to switch between it becomes a massive hassle. Ironically there is another item screen used to rearrange items that actually displays the contents of every single bag you have. Why didn't they use this screen to use items?
Limited storage is generally another issue. Odin sphere has a tendency to drop 4+ items on you per stage, which causes your bags to fill very quickly and it can become hard to decide what to keep and what to drop. Extra bags are expensive, but even then you'll likely fill the new bags very quickly anyway.
Experience in Odin Sphere is handled in a rather peculiar manner. When enemies are defeated they release orbs of light called Phozons. Absorbing these will increase your phozon experience, and levelling these increases your attack power and sometimes offers new psypher skills. HP exp is earned by eating food, and food is most often gained by planting seeds which require phozons to ripen. Therefore there is a balance to be kept between levelling HP and attack, or you can purposely favour one over the other. It's a more unique way of handling it and it works well.
Every level of the game is split into a smaller set of stages. Every stages is connected in a way that causes the map to resemble a spider web. Many stages have more than one exit too, which helps to remove any sense of linearity from gameplay. You can effectively choose your own route to the boss. More than that, you can choose to either go straight for the boss or to explore each area of the level for experience and items, which is nice to have.
Most of the stages in a level consists of standard enemy spots, where you face a set number of enemy waves based upon the difficulty of the current stage (marked on the map and ranked by 5 stars). The stages themselves are practically all the same, consisting of mostly flatland that are connected either side, so you can run in one direction and simply circle around the stage endlessly. Some spots change things up by presenting a (sub)boss challenge or shops to purchase items from.
Between levels you can to rest in a safe spot. Here you can speak to NPCs to learn more of the events, as well as shop for items. Shops are also scattered throughout the different levels. You can buy and sell items to help you. There is also a cafe and restaurant to buy food from which increases max HP and HP exp, although unlocking and buying food generally involves meeting a lot of criteria. It's a decent setup but there are some odd issues.
She doesn't look too enthusiastic about her food.
For one the money you get form selling items is very low - much lower than the buying price. Also the game has a complicated currency system where you can specify which coins to give to the shopkeeper. For normal shopping this is a totally unnecessary concept. For HP increasing food you need to hand over a specific type of coin, which in addition to having to gather the recipe and ingredients makes it too complicated for its own good.
Difficulty is set up well too. Odin Sphere is hard, so button mashers be aware that some thought to your approach is required. The game quite happily throws mobs of enemies at you and even the bosses are joined by generics. There are methods to making life a little easier, such as stocking up on napalms to unleash on tough bosses. There's also an adjustment difficulty setting in the options, but I didn't really notice much difference in the settings offered.
Repetition is something that crops up too. With most of the mini-stages in any given level being similar in all but enemy numbers things can get a bit samey. This also extends to the overall lifespan. The game gives you five sections to play through, and each section hands you a different playable character. This works well to flesh out the story, but the game simply ends up recycling most of the previous content with each section; only adding in a few minor new elements each time. It doesn't help that some of the characters play too similar to each other. Mercedes requires quite a different approach, but the likes of Gwen and Cornelius don't have any notable major differences aside from the loss of gliding when moving to Cornelius. That said, it wasn't until I hit Cornelius' section that I started to get a little bored, and considering it took me about 10 hours to clear Gwen's section then it's not too bad at all.
Odin Sphere is a great action title that should appeal well. Its presentation is outstanding and while the gameplay does suffer from some repetitiveness and clumsiness the action is intense and interesting, and it does possess a healthy lifespan before tedium creeps in. With some cool traits built in too Odin Sphere is well worth the investment.
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