So I recently had a review
posted for Grim Grimoire which I thought was an excellent little RTS-wannabe that was fun and original. The second title to recently come out from developer Vanillaware was handled by Atlus, and it is called Odin Sphere. You might have heard of it and you might not have until now. Either way this is a game that you should add to your collection immediately. Odin Sphere goes down with God of War 2, Final Fantasy XII, and a few other games as the titles that have proved to me that Next-Gen isn’t necessarily the way to go yet. And like Grim Grimoire it’ll probably be one of those games that hold a strong market value well after the life of the PS2 comes to an end.
Odin Sphere’s biggest draw is as everyone else has said; its strong graphical presentation. Easily the best looking 2-D game I have ever had the joy to lay eyes upon. And it’s funny because they use some truly archaic techniques in this game. How many of you readers out there know what parallax scrolling is these days? This truly brings me back to the glory days of the SNES, when every brawler out there aspired to be Final Fight and Streets of Rage. Character sprites are huge and detailed, and it looks like they are animated at the joints, a la Rumble Fish (Japanese fighter that will sadly never see the light of day in the US), which results in fluid movements. The only downside to this powerful display is the slowdown that comes with it. At first I didn’t think that it was going to be that big an issue, but then I realized before the game came out, that Atlus was being awful selective of their choice in footage to show of the game and now I see why.
This game has a number of frame-rate issues. A lot of them come during specific points in the game. They are usually triggered by ridiculously huge sprites or by simply having too many things on screen. As someone who has gamed in eras past I know how common it is to have slowdown in a game, and in this day in age, it’s almost a grave sin to commit. However, I have also found a lot of times where the slowdown only heightens a moment, where you’re about to get thrashed and you pull out a move that sends everyone flying. I do wish the game ran a little better because there are just some boss fights where it is nothing but slowdown and those moments are where this is truly unacceptable. The most grave offender are fights against Odette, Queen of the Dead, once you reach those fights it’s a struggle to get through, especially if you are prone to dying because that just makes the fight take ages to complete.
Audio for this game is also very strong. Hitoshi Sakimoto has come up with a stellar soundtrack that fits this game to a T. He is also responsible for some of the other great soundtracks in games. His biggest accomplishments come in the form of Final Fantasy Tactics, and Final Fantasy XII. His efforts here in Odin Sphere are nothing short of spectacular. His theme song for the game, “The Fate you have Accepted” is a great piece that really captures how epic this story is. Couple the strong efforts from Sakimoto with the surprisingly good voice acting and you have a one-two punch of audio bliss. And for those who need to get your Japanese fix in for a game like this, Odin Sphere lets you change the language on the fly (well almost, there is a short load time). But honestly the English cast is so good that there isn’t that much of a need to switch to Japanese. I only wish Atlus would get this strong a cast for every game that they do.
I must say I don’t understand what the developers were going for with the story in Odin Sphere. You have five characters who are rushing to stop the end of the world, and each of these takes place in a different book (read by the adorable Alice in what has to be one of the coolest menus ever). What throws me off is how events conflict, the stories don’t always match up, and considering that this is supposed to be a persistent world where all the characters exist I was kind of disappointed. But aside from that the story is excellent, each of the characters have a great deal of personality and growth that they experience. The Shakespearian style of writing also is a strength to this game as it is particularly well done. Especially when you read a line and say to yourself, “that sounds all kinds of wrong,” but then you realize it makes sense and was just written in a very intricate manner.
So I’ll be honest, I never played Princess Crown, and I shouldn’t have expected myself to since it was kind of before my time of imports, so I had no idea what I was getting in to with Odin Sphere. After playing it, the best way I can describe it is a cross between an old Final Fight rip off, mixed with the style of a game like Guilty Gear, with an old Capcom arcade brawler’s leveling up aspects mixed in for good measure. This game really is nothing more than a very glorified beat-em-up that takes place on circular maps, hence the Sphere in Odin Sphere. This is a double edged sword for the game, because on one hand it is very easy to pick up and play, but on the other hand in large doses this game can get tiresome. And when you’re fighting a boss you’ve fought with a previous character it tends to get old, especially when the game takes around forty hours to complete. A few of the recycled bosses the game really could have done without. So the short of it is, a whole lot of mashing the square button and make stuff die. You’ll also be absorbing the souls (Phozons) of the dead to power the Psypher that each character holds. As you level up the Psypher you’ll increase its power and learn new abilities. Though all of the characters learn the same abilities, except for Mercedes whose ability is slightly different due to her attack style, instead of her learning how to fire a cyclone she just fires a very strong bolt of energy.
Thankfully this isn’t the only thing to do in the game. You’ve also got a fairly expansive alchemy and cooking system that is used to augment your powers. Throughout the game you’ll find base materials, and by mixing them with items, be it food, seeds, or equipment you can create new alchemic mixes that have a myriad of effects. Though a lot of your focus early on should be on the Painkiller, it will halve the damage you take and make it harder to knock your character down. Your abilities with alchemy are truly put to the test in Heroic mode as you’re constantly trying to balance out the consumption of food between using it for Alchemy or increasing your hit points. Though a little tip, shoot for the level ninety alchemy mixes as they will spit out the most Phozons after creating a new mixture.
The cooking and food system is a fairly fun little diversion that I found myself dedicating quite a lot of time to. Eating food is the primary way hit points are increased for each of the characters, as food gives the hit points a set value of experience points. Food can be grown out on the battlefield with Phozons going in to seeds planted in the ground. This will mostly yield fruit, which you can consume on the spot for a little bit of experience, or you can wait for a village restaurant and café to open up, and when you go there you can pay some money to have the food prepared in a way that will give you a much higher amount of experience.
One of the other problems with Odin Sphere is replayability. That’s not to say that there isn’t any it’s just that there is a bit of a hassle involved near the final chapters of the game. Basically once a chapter is complete you can revisit it, however you must start from the very beginning. This wound up being especially frustrating because I had all the materials I needed, all I had to do was get to the café and make some food and I would be ready to go. Instead I have to play through the four chapters I already had done before, granted I rolled through them because I was powered up. But not being able to specify what chapters I wanted to replay is a bit of a downer, especially at the end when you need to go back and prepare specific alchemy mixes so that the final boss battles are a little bit more manageable.
This game is also mercilessly hard. As you’re trying to figure out the nuances of alchemy and food growing, monsters can and will kick your ass. Some of the enemy patterns are also maddeningly frustrating. For instance there are magicians who will take one hit and disappear, though if you can turn their swords against them, then they will be vulnerable to attacks. Waiting for this pattern can be very difficult while trying to fight off other enemies running around. Fortunately the game doesn’t punish you for dying. You’ll just restart that particular stage with all your items and such restored. And as you complete the level you are given a grade based on the time taken and how much damage was suffered. This in turn will reward you with powerful items and new recipes for food and alchemy.
Odin Sphere has managed to grab my attention quite a bit over the past two months. I had an absolute blast playing it despite its little nagging issues. I wish the stories were more consistent with the crossovers that occur. I wish I didn’t have to put up with the slowdown that this game suffers from. And I wish I could start a chapter for a character from any point once I have beaten that characters scenario. I also wish this game kept going, because I had a lot of fun with it. I’ll probably play through it again on heroic mode just to test my mettle. I give Odin Sphere the score it has based on how much this game captivated me. I was able to look past some of its shortcomings and still find that this game is a technical marvel and is so wonderfully produced. You can see that this game is a labor of love, which these days feels all too rare.