Review by ShyningFade

"What's Odin afraid of? Let's find out!"

As the years pass by, I find myself becoming quite the "old gaming fogey". Like many others in a dwindling clique, we still see and appreciate the importance of classic gaming mechanics and vision in games today. When Odin Sphere was first shown, I was quickly drawn to the absolutely stunning 2D graphics that I was presented with. Not only was it pretty, but it seemed to be bringing back the classic feel of games long past along with an rpg twist. In a way, it succeeded, but Odin Sphere sadly misses the mark of becoming a timeless classic.

Game Play:
Odin Sphere is "old school" in every sense of the phrase. Which is what makes it so enjoyable and disappointing at the same time.

In standard side-scrolling fashion, Odin Sphere allows players to traverse many lands while avoiding obstacles and fighting enemies. And as the title suggests, the world of Odin Sphere is in fact a sphere. Run far enough in one direction, and you're find yourself where you started. While this makes understanding the game simple enough, it makes enjoying it that much harder.

Because of it's design, there is no platforming or puzzles to be had. Players quite simply run around in circles defeating a certain amount of enemies before an exit leading to the next part of the stage opens. It's definitely unique on paper, but in practice it takes away any sense of true exploration and discovery. While there are different paths to take from one area to the next, there is no exploration beyond entering a new sphere.

As for combat, it is yet another simple affair. Pressing the square button repeatedly allows characters to use their combo attacks which vary in length and animation per character, and holding the button allows players to block. In an attempt to keep the player more immersed in combat, Odin Sphere adds a stamina meter, which will tire your character out if depleted and leave them vulnerable until their stamina recovers. While this feature caused a lot of aggravation to fellow players, I found myself enjoying it as it added a little bit of depth and strategy to an already thin palette of game play features.

And you can't have a true rpg without magic, can you? In an Onimusha-like fashion, players can absorb the souls of the defeated with their own unique Psypher, a gem-tipped weapon that grows stronger the more it's fed. After acquiring enough souls, players earn both experience for the weapon and the ability to cast spells. By simply opening the magic menu, time pauses as you select your spells. Some vary from useless to game-breaking, and the variety is damn near insulting. Each of the characters share a majority of the same spells, so those expecting to have a wide variety of magic are sure to be disappointed. So despite playing as different characters as the game goes on, the experience feels the same. Which brings me to the biggest problem with Odin Sphere. The repetition.

Odin Sphere's cast consist of five characters, each varying in their weapons and attacks. But because of the limited magic and exploration systems, each character ends up playing the same. To make matters worse, players retrace their steps through previously cleared areas with slight changes to accommodate the progression of the story. Plagued with an overwhelming sense of been there, done that, Odin Sphere's game play quickly becomes a chore rather than being a fun experience.

The last feature that Odin Sphere gives us is the seed system. By finding and planting various seeds, players can opt to use their souls to raise plants that give the user a variety of fruits that can not only heal the player, but provide precious experience to their health. Unlike standard rpgs, Health and character growth are handled independently, and relies heavily on the seed system. And later on, the cooking system which utilizes the fruits grown from the said seeds. Once again, despite being unique, it quickly becomes redundant retracing your steps just so you can harvest a few more fruits so that you can raise your health level.

But at it's core, it's a simple hack-and-slash experience that still manages to be entertaining at the same time despite the fact that it feels like you're running in around in circles like the title suggests. It definitely isn't groundbreaking, but it's still fun to play. Speaking of groundbreaking...

Graphics:
All one has to do is take a single look at Odin Sphere to realize why people are still fond of 2D sprites in this modern age of high-definition polygonal juggernauts like Crysis and Project Gotham 4.

The sprites are absolutely breath-taking, flooding the screen with vivid colors and an amazing attention to detail. The animation are astounding as well, with the developers taking the time to animate even the tiniest of animations to perfection.

You can definitely see the progress from the old days where shifting from a standing to crouching position took place instantly without any transition whatsoever, compared to the complete flow that we're given with Odin Sphere. Seriously, spend some time crouching and looking up to see what I mean. It's those simple things that make this title a graphical powerhouse, despite the fact that it's not pushing a single polygon.

Odin Sphere, along with the Guilty Gear series and the upcoming Street Fighter HD Remix, prove that 2D graphics are far from dead in this day and age and can look as good as any 3D title out there, if not better, and is easily the selling point for this title.

Story:
Much like the game play of Odin Sphere, the story is another hit-or-miss kind of ordeal. Personally, I found the story to be very charming with it's fairy tale like appeal and kept me entertained throughout . Those expecting an in depth story are sure to be disappointed but allow me to stress that this is a very light hearted tale. If you enjoy fairy tales and folk tales, the content is sure to please. And since all of the character's fates are intertwined, it's interesting to act out the scenes you're watching from the other character's perspective, and as a result becomes the second most enjoyable aspect of this game.

Sound and Music:
Odin Sphere's music is very well made and fits each of the levels perfectly. Despite playing through the same levels over and over again, I never found the music to be annoying in any way and is very pleasing to the ears.

The voice acting is another high point of Odin Sphere as well, giving players the option of using both the English and the original Japanese voice tracks. (thank god that it's becoming standard nowadays!) While I almost always select the Japanese voice acting, I was quickly swayed by the quality of the English voice overs. That, and the fact that I couldn't stand how the Japanese VAs kept pronouncing Odin as O-dyne. Drove me nuts!

Closing Thoughts:
While Odin Sphere manages to the rekindle the love I have for classic 2D games, it's repetitive nature ultimately ends up keeping this title from becoming the timeless classic it was supposed to be. While it's been done before, a leveling system akin to the Castlevania games would have been the better choice in a game like this. Then again, as annoying as it might be, it's what makes Odin Sphere unique.

So, in closing, I would recommend Odin Sphere for the experience alone. For a game I bought for the chance to enjoy some 2D gaming goodness, I ended up keeping it for it's 2D graphical goodness and charm.

Pros:
*2D sprites are some of the best to date
*Excellent use of soundtrack, dual language tracks are nice addition

Cons:
*Extremely repetitive
*No platforming elements whatsoever
*Characters end up playing too similarly


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 07/18/07


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