Short Version: I’ve said before that there is no such thing as a perfect game, but this game comes pretty damn close. If you’ve never played Odin Sphere before, do yourselves a favor and pick up this newer version that already comes packed in with the original anyway. The music, visuals, story, voice acting, gameplay mechanics and lore are all incredibly well made. An unforgettable experience that tempts me to say that this might be one of the greatest games this year, possibly of all time.
Long Version: I never thought that I could love this game more than when I did back when it was only out on PS2. Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir might seem like just a simple HD port on the outside, but no. It is a completely different game from the original and improves on what it had in almost every single way imaginable, similar to how Persona 4 Golden improves upon the original Persona 4 on PS2. The simple fact Vanillaware was capable of making an already beautiful game into something even better, on both technical and artistic grounds, makes me wonder why they aren’t praised more often. Of course, even though I sing the praises now, the game doesn’t get away with a couple shortcomings here and there, but we’ll get to that soon enough.
As a small introduction to the uninitiated, Odin Sphere was a PS2 action RPG that was released close to the end of the PS2’s lifetime. The game begins with a little girl named Alice who begins to read some books, which contain the story of the world of Erion, where the game takes place. You can actually read five different books that represent the five characters you will be playing as throughout the game, all with different and unique perspectives on the story at large. Some of the characters come into direct contact, while some only briefly bump into each other. However, that doesn’t mean that all five of them are stuck in their own bubble. In some way, shape or form, these characters, what they do and what happens to them will eventually tie together into the greater plot where everything starts to make sense, which is an awesome feeling when it inevitably happens.
Surrounding these characters, is an incredibly colorful world, fill to the brim with creatures, different races of people and distinct environments, all of them incredibly well drawn and animated in a way that truly makes you feel like you are watching a storybook come to life. On top of the visuals, the audio is pretty great as well, with a fitting soundtrack and a splendid voice cast to bring even more life to these characters. Whether you are hearing the voices in Japanese or in English, you’ll have a great time, since both languages do more than a solid job at portraying their roles, however large or small they may be. What I love about this game and its voice work is that there were absolutely no cut corners involved. Everyone, from the shopkeepers to NPCs are fully voiced. It’s not like in other games where smaller stuff like going to an inn or doing a side-quest isn’t voiced at all. Here, everything is voiced. Everything. I think that’s awesome and shows a certain amount of dedication that you don’t even see in the AAA titles of today.
Old or New, Still Beautiful
Seeing these images that would usually be a good painting or a desktop background suddenly have motion and sound makes for a breath-taking sight to behold, especially now that Leifthrasir improves on the technical side that the original lacked. In the original Odin Sphere, there were many complains about the frame rate dropping during huge boss battles, making the game practically run at half the speed. Boasting a nice 1080p resolution and 60 frames per second, Leifrathsir completely does away with that problem like it’s nothing, making all the battles much more enjoyable. Many of these changes, including new animations, a 16:9 aspect ratio, revamped inventory organization, redone alchemy system and cooking makes Leifthrasir seem like it is an entirely different thing from the original, while still feeling like Odin Sphere.
If you would ever want to compare and contrast to verify if anything of this is actually true or not, then the game has you covered, since it comes with a “Classic Mode” that allows you to play Odin Sphere in its original form, with the old mechanics, menus, items effects and even being able to play in 4:3 aspect ratio if you so choose. They even have the original boot up animation where the Atlus logo shows up and everything. This is exactly the kind of attention to detail that makes me adore everyone involved in the making of what is essentially an interactive work of art. This mode also contains a slew of game options that allow you to manipulate many aspects of the combat to your liking, almost as if the original game is being used as some sort of Free Play Mode where you can make the game as easy or tough as possible. So essentially, you get two games in one, since both play completely different from each other, minus the HD graphics that stay the same for both versions.
Of course, I would encourage you to play the Leifthrasir version of this game first, since it streamlines most of the combat and completely overhauls how new information is presented to you, with most of it looking like pages ripped from a book or posters that one would have in the walls of this world. Everything is also written and spoken in a more medieval type of speak, which can immerse you even more. It’s awesome how even the documents can be written, “in-character,” but still provide useful information regarding its purpose from a video game stand point, because before you even realize it, you’ll see that items you find have multiple purposes that can only be discovered by either experimenting or searching every nook and cranny for new documents.
Speaking or experimentation, there are also a slew of brand new skills that can be learned for your characters, made even more powerful by collecting phozons and leveling up. These skills have their own beautifully rendered menu and branches to follow. Unfortunately, a lot of these skills will end up being identical between all five characters, but it is still fun to see how they are executed in the battlefield through their own character-specific traits. Not only that, but you are also able to create shortcut commands for these skills. Some button inputs are already provided for you, but you have the choice to assign many different kinds of combinations to your skills, even prompts like Street Fighter-style quarter circles and half circles. Eventually, the combat felt more like a 2D fighting game than an action RPG, which I thought was incredibly awesome, especially knowing that I was the one that made the decision to make that happen.
Deja Vu: Leifthrasir
Now that we are knee-deep in combat, I wanted to point out some of the shortcomings that the game has, which in the grander scheme of things, are pretty minimal problems, but I still feel that they need to be addressed. For starters, I realized that this is absolutely not a game that you should play in large increments, because it is pretty much guaranteed that you will be sick of playing it after more than 2 continuous hours. As much as I like the environments and the characters, all five stories pretty much feel like exactly the same thing, but done in a different order and come with different cutscenes. The level progression, along with the type of skills you gain and the enemies you fight feel identical from one story to the other, which make me wonder why they couldn’t just have one linear story that switches from one character to the other, rather than having to retread the same territory over, and over again. This is made even more apparent knowing that all character have a total of seven chapters to go through, with many of them feeling like they could’ve been better if they were shorter. Many of the stories really feel like they drag on for way too long, just for the sake of giving all the characters an equal amount of levels to play; fighting against the same enemies and bosses you already fought ages ago.
Story aside, the combat never feels all that different between all five characters, even though they all have their own unique little trait that sets them apart. However, at the end of the day, most people will end up just button-mashing their way through most of the fights without taking advantage of the overwhelming amount of skills, potions, abilities and items at your disposal. You can try increasing the difficulty level, but that just serves to waste your time, since that basically increases the amount of hits it will take for the enemy to finally fall over. In this case, I would tell you all to play the original game, since those mechanics create a better, more challenging environment for item management and strategy, rather than Leifthrasir that seems to be very much in the business of making you feel overpowered no matter what.
A Real Page-Turner
One other small problem I have with the game would be that, even back when the original came out, the story, at least during it’s first half, felt incredibly predictable and even a bit boring. Since most of the narrative is focused on a series of romance stories, it was frustrating to see various characters go down a path that one could already see happen from miles away. There are many base line things that make the stories feel a bit generic, like Mercedes’ story, that involves her meeting with a frog that wants a kiss in order to become human again. Even a child would be able to figure out what happens next.
Fortunately, there are enough characters and turns involved that eventually the story starts to come into it’s own a little bit more, creating a more original thing, though it can still be held back by generic undertones that feel very forced and seem like they don’t belong. This, at times, can be very frustrating to me, but are relatively minor issues when thinking about the entire game as a whole, which is a wonderful experience.
Overall, I had a blast playing this game, even more so then when I first played the original. If I had to recommend a platform for you to play this on, it would definitely be PS Vita. The visuals are equally as impressive there as it is in consoles, and since the gameplay can get incredibly repetitive after a while, I believe that the Vita’s portability and ease of use will be perfect for playing a couple of levels, then putting it down and continuing later on in the day. Regardless of where you play it though, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is still an incredibly good game that is very fun to play and even more enjoyable to get immersed into. The great production value, along with the outstanding art design and animations make for a must-own, no matter what. There are a couple of things that bother me about the game, but that doesn’t even hold a candle to the amount of enjoyment I had with this game. Seriously, this game is a beautiful piece of art. I highly, HIGHLY recommend this game.