Reviewed: June 14, 2007
Released: March 20, 2007
With the PlayStation 2 era drawing to a close, many of the new games coming out on the PlayStation 3 and other next generation consoles are overshadowing the last generation's releases. Fortunately, there are still great titles coming out on the older systems, and Atlus does a fine job once again of providing quality games to those of us who still can't find it in us, even with our love of videogame nerd-dom, to fork over the hundreds of dollars it takes to get our hands on the next gen gaming systems.
This time, Atlus presents us with Odin Sphere, an action game with distinct RPG elements set in a warring fantasy world. With five main character stories to play through, the overarching story is a tightly woven together epic that easily justifies still holding onto those old consoles without making a dent in your wallet.
As an action game, Odin Sphere offers gamers an interesting and in depth battle system that's a lot of fun to play. As an RPG, Odin sphere also offers gamers a good story filled with interesting and complex characters. The game takes place in a world called Erion with several different kingdoms, who have an unsteady alliance that eventually erupts into war when one of the kingdoms is mysteriously destroyed by a cauldron that grants an immense amount of power to its possessor, and inevitably becomes the object that other nations want to get a hold of themselves with the belief that they can control and harness its power, or use for dark purposes. An ancient prophecy that could lead to the end of the world entwines these kingdoms, and the story unfolds via five different playable characters, all with their own histories and purposes.
The characters are Gwendolyn, a fierce valkyrie princess whose father is Odin; Cornelius, a prince who has had a curse placed on him, turning him into a beast (or, a cute rabbit, to be more accurate); Velvet, a princess who has escaped from the kingdom decimated by the cauldron; Mercedes, a fairy princess; and Oswald, a knight whose power is used to carry out the tasks of those who seek to use him for political gains. Each character's story is connected together to tell the overall story of Odin Sphere, and is done so in an impressive way. Although a bit melodramatic and clichéd--as are most fantasies--Odin Sphere's story is a whimsical and interesting one that is paced well and above all, is fun to play through.
If you're more concerned about the action element in Odin Sphere, rest assured, it's anything but cliché and is a ton of fun as well. A two-dimensional, side-scroller, Odin Sphere's gameplay takes place at various different locations in the game's world. Each level is designed with a series of stages that allows the player to move freely across the map, fighting or skipping bosses as he or she pleases.
The main objective of the levels are to defeat all the enemies that show up, and while that sounds rather simplistic and dull, each level presents gamers with a surprising variety of techniques and strategies to beat it. Each character fights differently from the others and gains various different special moves that can be executed via things called Phozons. Phozons are small, floating bits of soul essentially that are released from defeated enemies. When you take the Phozons into your weapon, your Psypher gauge fills. The Psypher gauge allows powerful special moves to be executed. Collecting Phozons with weapons also levels the weapon up, making it more powerful and able to do more special moves.
Phozons also play an important role for growing collected or bought seeds. These seeds grow into plants that yield fruit for your character's consumption. While the fruit replenishes hit points, it also yields experience for your character, allowing hit points to level as food is consumed. Food is very important in Odin Sphere, as it's the only way for characters to gain experience. Besides using seeds to grow fruit, there are also a huge variety of foods that can be cooked at a cafe and restaurant in one village, that allow the character to level more quickly off of the battle field.
Certain levels offer text scrolls for recipes as rewards that can be taken to the cafe and restaurant, adding to the menu of foods that can be cooked for a fee (provided a character also has all the key ingredients). You can even grow plants with Phozons that yield sheep (yes, you read that right--sheep growing on trees) that can be captured and killed, instantly turning into a savory lamb chop for use either in recipes or regenerating hit points in a pinch.
Perhaps slightly less ridiculous, but still silly, are chicken eggs that hatch when placed on the ground, releasing a baby chick hungry for seeds from your inventory, which are placed on the ground in front of it. Once the chick eats three seeds, poof! You've got a full grown chicken who will pop out more eggs each time you feed it a seed. When you've got all the eggs you want, the poor chicken meets the same fate as the lamb and can be killed to turn into chicken meat.
Other ingredients include semi-sentient vegetables that squeak when you run over the ground that they are in. Jump on where the squeak took place, and a terrified vegetable will pop out and run from you until you attack it and kill it. It's an odd system, but is a ton of fun anyway, and one of the more creative leveling systems that I've seen utilized in videogames.
Another interesting system that shakes things up a bit in the gameplay is the game’s use of alchemy. With the use of special items called Materials--objects that can be bought from vendors or rewarded for beating a stage--various potions can be made from combinations with the vegetables that you find in the ground. Other objects such as seeds, food, and the leftover cores of fruit or bones from consumed meat, can be combined with Material, changing its properties. By adding vegetables to the proper type of Material, healing potions, toxins, napalm (which releases an explosive line of fire along to ground towards enemies), antidotes to cure poison and other interesting effects can be made to make a surprising variety of gameplay options.
Getting a hold of these items and money takes diligence however, and the game gives serious incentive for completing the stages instead of whizzing through to the final boss. Each stage that is completed offers different rewards, and how you play is graded once the stage is complete. If you finish the stage quickly and take minimal damage, you are graded higher and rewarded with more items.
And if you think that Odin Sphere is a simple button masher, guess again. Each character has a power meter that gradually depletes as you attack, and when that meter is in the red, your character gets dizzy and immobile for several seconds, vulnerable to enemies. This system allows players to gain some skill at fighting without just pushing a bunch of buttons, as well as thinking and planning strategies to get through the stages efficiently.
All in all, Odin Sphere's battle and level systems are quite unique, but more importantly, they also work well. As complicated as some of this stuff may sound, it's easy to get a grasp on Odin Sphere's gaming mechanisms, and it doesn't leave you scratching your head or furiously looking for strategy guides to figure out what to do next. It's well balanced and easy to get into and of course, is a lot of fun to play. I found myself really being able to get lost in this game, interested in its story and having a blast even just carefully looking for ingredients for recipes and potions and trying them out.
The only drawback here is that the story is rather rigid, and while you can go back to defeated areas and get more items, money and experience, Odin Sphere is a completely linear game. While that's more of a matter of taste that varies from gamer to gamer, some may find that Odin Sphere isn't open ended enough.
Whether you're a fan of uber realistic graphics or old school pixels, any style of animation is subject to personal taste, and while Odin Sphere has a distinct old school pixel look, it's quite a beautiful look no matter what your tastes. Odin Sphere is a two dimensional side-scroller using pixels for character and object designs. Character designs are done in a somewhat chibi anime style, using bright colors, and a rich sense of fantasy that make the game look quite a bit like a real anime. Colors and lines are crisp and smooth, and without a hint of fuzziness or fragmentation. Characters move smoothly and easily; watching Gwendolyn fly and dart through the air or Cornelius spin through the air with his sword blade out as he bounces off enemies like a pinball is really cool.
The problem with the graphics is that they probably could have benefited from cel shading instead of simple pixels without losing their overall look and style. At certain points throughout Odin Sphere, whenever there is a lot going on on the screen, the game slows to a crawl, which is not only really frustrating and distracting, but can completely cripple the gameplay until you trudge through it. The battles where this problem occurs are usually big ones too, involving bosses and other monster reinforcements.
Occasionally it takes a few more tries than it should to get through the fight, simply because things are moving so slowly on screen, you end up getting confused and performing moves that you don't intend to because it takes several seconds for the game to catch up to the command. Other two dimensional side-scrollers such as Viewtiful Joe, which uses a cel shading technique, came out a few years ago and don't have this problem, despite the visual overload on the screen. At the end of the PS2 era, Odin Sphere is a last generation game, and this problem shouldn't happen.
Despite the frame rate dilemma, Odin Sphere is still a beautiful game to look at. Stage designs are pretty simple, but have wonderful looks nonetheless. From a frozen mountainside with a larger than life dragon at its peak, to an enchanted forest inhabited by fairies, the world of Odin Sphere is a treat to look at for any fantasy fan who appreciates a distinct anime style with luscious colors and fun, sometimes downright cute character designs. If cute isn't your thing (and I'm with you there), rest assured that Odin Sphere still looks very cool and the cute factor remains charming without making you feel nauseous.
One of the many things that I appreciate about Atlus, is that many of their major releases offer an option for a Japanese voice track rather than an English one. It's not that I'm one of those hopeless "it's only good if it's completely in Japanese" otakus; it's just that even grade-A voice acting, with such melodramatic overtones in the dialog, and lines being voiced by pixilated, cartoony characters, often come off sounding a bit silly. Such is the case with Odin Sphere.
There's nothing really wrong with the English voice acting-it's just that the dialog is somewhat fruity, and the voice acting reflects that. The Japanese voice acting may be too, but to my American ears, it sounds less so, simply because I can't understand it without the dialog boxes on the screen. In any case, the addition of the Japanese voice track to Odin Sphere is a nice fan service, as there certainly are going to be some "it's only good it it's completely in Japanese" otakus playing it (you know who you are).
The music in Odin Sphere is absolutely excellent. Each level and stage has a soundtrack that not only adequately reflects what's going on in the story, the atmosphere, the mood and tone, but even enhances it. When something ominous is on the screen, the soundtrack accommodates it. When the characters stop to reflect, the soundtrack does a great job of carrying the mood. When a large and dangerous battle takes place, the music intensifies and makes the battle sequence feel alive. When you stop by the Pooka Village cafe and restaurant, (inhabited by rabbit people) the music becomes appropriately lighthearted and whimsical. Not a note is out of place.
Odin Sphere's soundtrack is the type of soundtrack that gamers love and actually shell out extra cash to get a hold of for more reasons than that it reminds them of their beloved game; the music is just really great to pop into the stereo and relax to. Much like the music of Final Fantasy, Odin Sphere's is well crafted, memorable and any RPG fan will appreciate it.
With five character stories to play through, each one taking several hours, the ability to go back to previous stages to level-up and gain items, a huge alchemy and recipe list, and a tightly woven story that takes its time to unfold, Odin Sphere has a lot to offer to its gamers. Since the battle system is so unique and such a blast to play, even level and item grinding is fun, leaving gamers with a lot on their plate.
You could easily get forty to fifty hours of play out of this game, and anytime you're feeling the urge to watch the story again, every scene is selectable for viewing once it's been played through. Odin Sphere has nearly endless replay value, and if you're looking for a challenge, the game offers three different difficulty levels.
Odin Sphere is probably one of the last great PS2 games to come out and is definitely worth picking up and playing. With a unique and deep battle and level system, a good storyline, interesting characters, well balanced gameplay and plenty of eye and ear candy, Odin Sphere is an awesome game that will most likely go on any action and RPG fan's list of favorites. I know that it's going on mine.