Review by Red Lobstar
"A fairy-tale themed beat 'em up"
Meet the Cast
Borrowing from mythology and classical literature, Odin Sphere re-works age old themes to craft a fairy-tale for the modern age. The plot is revealed through a series of five story books, each focusing on the quest of a different central character. While any one book could be a stand-alone story, the narratives are highly interrelated. Characters from one book often make appearances in another individual's story, allowing the player to see them in a new context. This results in a very non-linear method of storytelling whereby the player must piece together events in the various characters' lives to bring the overarching plot into focus. While this may lead to some confusion on your first playthrough, thankfully all scenes can be viewed again at your leisure. To better aide the player the developers even outlined in which order events occur chronologically so you can watch the clips sequentially, essentially being able to experience the story as a movie. It should be noted that cutscenes, while prevalent, are not long and can always be skipped.
Odin Spheres interesting approach to storytelling helps it to create a narrative which stands out amongst its role-playing brethren. One is reminded of Shakespearean theatre as characters are seen delivering soliloquies, dealing with internal conflict over moral dilemmas, and trying to cope with a tragic loss. The troupe is reminiscent of archetypes found in classic children's stories: the prince who is cursed by a magical spell, the fairy princess, and among others, a girl whose appearance is strikingly similar to Red Riding Hood. While one's initial instinct may be to assume the characters have been plagiarized from European folklore, the truth is each has been given a unique personality, and the interactions between them are quite engaging. The story is far from whimsical, as it deals with grave circumstances, but is not without its lighthearted moments. Odin Sphere's tale is likely to appeal to everyone on some level, as it calls to mind stories told to us in our childhood and invites us to re-live more carefree days.
The Clash of Steel
Although the game may bill itself as an action RPG, it is for all intents and purposes a two dimensional side-scrolling fighter. Each character's book is divided into six chapters (i.e., worlds), which in turn are further split into numerous stages wherein the combat takes place. Each stage is comprised of a 2D plane similar to Namco's Tales of series and the player is given free reign to move about as he pleases while enemies attack from both the side and above. Interestingly, each arena is set up like a ring, making it possible to run in one direction and double back on one's foes to mount a rear attack. After a victory the player can often choose which exit he wishes to take since each stage is connected to another. There is a map you can consult to plan a route toward the chapter's boss, though you may want to take detours to visit a shop, avoid a mid-boss, or return to a previously completed stage to level up and farm more items.
Each of the five playable characters possesses a unique weapon, such as a traditional sword, a crossbow, and an interesting whip-like chain. Because of this, each individual handles differently in battle and is given his or her own set of exclusive moves. For instance, Cornelius is able to perform a spinning jump attack using his sword, while Gwendolyn can glide and charge at enemies from the air. Outside of these personalized skills all characters can execute a 4-chain combo, and it is more often than not that this will be the preferred method for dispatching foes. To add an air of strategy to combat, each swipe of one's weapon slightly depletes the character's stamina bar. When this meter is exhausted the warrior becomes momentarily dazed, during which time he is vulnerable until his strength recovers.
While the controls are responsive and combat is intense, the primary downfall of the battle system is that there is no method by which a character can add new moves to his or her repertoire aside from a handful of magic skills (most of which are shared by all the characters anyway). As weapon levels increase you will not gain new or longer combos, meaning none of the characters will develop as a physical fighter throughout the course of their story; basically what you see is what you get. After a few chapters the tedium will set in as you arrive at the realization that you have seen all that combat has to offer. This really hampers enjoyment of this title since by the second book it is easy to notice how repetitive the stages have become. Several settings are recycled from one story to the next, but even more annoyingly the bosses have likewise been copied. The game's first boss, the dragon Belial, is notorious for his frequent appearances which will begin to grate on the player's nerves. Furthermore, the player is given few options in how to mold his characters. At most you can decide which accessory to equip, of which there are few to choose from and only one may be used at a time. Given Odin Sphere's hack and slash style of gameplay a greater variety of moves and customization options would have been greatly appreciated.
Dispatching enemies rewards the player with floating luminescent orbs called phozons, requiring the player to make a choice regarding how to spend these treasures. Absorbing them is the primary method for gaining levels in Odin Sphere. Each consumed phozon strengthens three factors simultaneously. First, it gives experience to the player's weapon. Eventually the weapon itself will gain a level and attack power will be increased. Next, it gives experience directly to the character, who gains more health upon the next level up. Lastly, it allows the character to use his or her Psypher Skill gauge, which is how the magic point system is handled in this game. Characters learn new magic skills periodically as they gain levels, and each ability consumes a certain amount of the PS gauge, which is subsequently replenished by the phozons.
However, there is another important role the orbs play, which is to act as fertilizer. Characters can regain health by eating, and throughout the game seeds to various fruit species can be acquired and planted during battle. Any unclaimed phozons will be drawn to the soil, which in turn will quickly sprout a bush blossoming with berries. These delectables can be harvested and stored for later use. While this can be a cost effective way to restore supplies, a better use for some foods may be to use them in specialized dishes. If the proper ingredients are brought to the restaurant the chefs will prepare a gourmet meal which can instantly confer vast experience in addition to a permanent health increase. Quite a tasty alternative to grinding through legions of monsters. The cooking system is essentially just a small part of a larger alchemy system in which you can mix components to form more powerful healing and offensive potions.
How Long Until Intermission?
One might expect to dedicate upwards of 30 hours toward Odin Sphere. Each of the story books took me an average of five hours, cutscenes included. After a book's completion the player can either proceed to the next character's book or replay the story he just finished. The latter option functions as a New Game+ in that all items and statistics are retained but the player begins the book from the first chapter. Should you just wish to level up or find a missed item from halfway through the story, you will have to play through old territory until arriving at the desired location. An option to select which chapter you want to replay would have been a more advantageous, and time saving, feature.
The Closing Curtain
While overall a very good game, I would be hard-pressed to classify this as an RPG. The lack of customization is a severe drawback since characters cannot acquire new weapons, armor, or attacks. Odin Sphere seems more apt to fit into the side-scrolling brawler genre, although to declare it as such would lead to some degree of disappointment. The melee action, while enjoyable, could have had so much more depth if new attacks could be learned or commands executed in ways other than repeatedly hitting the square button. Taken as a whole, the game is adequate as either an RPG or beat em up, but lacks the complexity more specialized games of either genre possess. However, the beautiful presentation in both the story and atmosphere help to alleviate this concern, making the game a pleasure to experience at least once.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 06/07/07, Updated 01/11/10
Game Release: Odin Sphere (US, 05/22/07)
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