Review by darkknight109
"The most stylistic and artistic game of its generation"
I have always been a man who stands by the mantra that it is gameplay that makes or breaks a game, not needless shiny bits like graphics or soundtracks. Sure great graphics, a wonderful story and a good soundtrack is nice, but if the gameplay is lacking, they will not make up for it and produce a good game. However, occasionally a game like Odin Sphere comes along that really makes me question those values and wonder if a game really CAN get along based solely on the merits of its graphics, soundtrack, storyline and artistic value.
Let me qualify by saying that the gameplay of Odin Sphere is by no means bad, but it is unquestionably the game's weakest point. Despite that, the game is still an incredible experience to play and a lot of fun to boot.
I'm a sucker for retro stories, and Odin Sphere does not disappoint in that department. The game centers around a young girl named Alice who reads books with her cat, Socrates, in an old, dusty attic. With each book, you play a different character and work your way through their story.
The stories are pretty run-of-the-mill and contain no truly epic plot twists, but that actually adds to their charm. The simplicity of the story drives home the image of a girl reading fairy tales to herself to pass the time. The stories fit right into the game's masterfully created atmosphere and I would not have them any other way. That said, the predictability does get a little stale at times, and you can almost tell each character's story from their picture alone. There's Gwendolyn, the warrior princess torn between love and duty, Cornelius, the transformed prince seeking a way to break the spell placed on him, Mercedes, the young and naive fairy princess nervous about her role in the kingdom, Oswald, the cursed and melancholic black knight seeking his purpose in life and Velvet, the vagabond princess from a destroyed kingdom. The characters interact with one another at various points within the books, sometimes as allies and sometimes as enemies.
Each character's single story all weave into a far larger story arc that explodes to the fore at the game's finale. As the game's name suggests, the story features many allusions to Nordic mythology and those of you familiar with Norse myths will find many familiar references within the story. The game is set in the land of Erion, a mystical place composed of three nations: Ragnanival, Ringford and Titania, as well as the ruins of a fourth nation, Valentine. At the game's outset it is revealed that the world is on the verge of fulfilling a set of ancient prophecies foretelling the Armageddon (funny how many game worlds turn out like that) that will be set in motion by five catalysts. The nations of Ragnanival and Ringford are at war for possession of a massive mechanical construct known as the Crystallization Cauldron that is said to be one of those catalysts. As the game progresses, you learn more about the history and future of Erion, all beautifully interspersed within each character's tales.
Despite their relative simplicity, each character is vividly brought to life over the course of their stories, and you feel a great deal of companionship towards them by the end of their story. This excellent character development also extends to some members of the supporting cast who, while not playable, make appearances in most or all of the books. From the dutiful and stern demon lord, Odin, to the ferocious and haughty dragon Wagner, these characters are developed almost as much as the playable characters. The game's story is nothing short of fantastic, and it really does a good job of pulling you in. And, without spoiling anything, the last bits of the story and the ending are simply epic.
The graphics in Odin Sphere are drop-dead gorgeous. The character sprites are big and well-detailed, and their attacks and movements are beautifully fluid. The characters are drawn in a very stylistic way, be it the Aesir, with their huge upper bodies and tiny legs, or the dragons with their beautifully coloured scales.
By far the most impressive aspect of the game, however, is the game's backgrounds. Each environment looks as if it was directly produced from a high quality watercolour painting, and it gives the entire game the feel of being a living, breathing work of art. This all ties into the game's central motif of the gameplay taking place within a book, and the environments do look like something you would find in an old-fashioned book illustration.
The game is so beautiful, it could really sell on that aspect of it alone, which is really quite phenomenal when you consider what other visual feats have been accomplished in the field of game development. It's hard to pick which environment comes off as the most impressive... from the beautiful watercolours of Elrit Forest to the dazzling sky patterns and architecture of Nebulalopolis to the luminescent flora of Ringford, all of them are simply incredible.
Odin Sphere is a sidescrolling action-RPG that is, in equal parts, hack-n-slash and traditional RPG. Your character, equipped with a weapon known as a psypher, moves through looping stages, killing all enemies to proceed. After you complete one stage, you move to an adjacent one on the map and start all over again until you reach the end of the dungeon. The game sets its difficulty fairly modestly; It is not a hard game, but certainly isn't easy either. Unlike some sidescrollers, you cannot simply wade into a legion of enemies and unleash a single spell to devastate them all. To the contrary, if you get surrounded and try to fight instead of run, you will be treated to the sight of your HP bar dropping like a rock, and you will be dead in seconds.
In this sense, Odin Sphere promotes a sort of intelligence in the way you will need to handle battles. You will need to learn each enemy's attack patterns and weaknesses and use that knowledge accordingly in order to achieve the best results. If you simply go in with your weapon flailing, you will be at best mauled and at worst killed.
Your weapon is never replaced in the game, but can be levelled up by absorbing phozons, small sparks that emerge from the corpses of slain foes. These phozons can also be used to grow plants that will bear fruit. Said fruit is your main source of healing for most of the game and also serves to level up your HP.
The game also makes use of two slightly more complicated systems; recipes and alchemy. Recipes are more or less combining several items at a special restaurant to yield a meal that gives a large amount of food experience and increases your HP. Alchemy involves using items called materials and combining them with small, anthromorphic vegetables called Mandragoras found out in the wild to produce potions with a variety of effects. Some may increase your damage, some may protect you from a certain number of hits and some may release an attack against your foes. Each alchemy mix and recipe must be found in the wild before it can be used.
Gameplay in Odin Sphere suffers from a number of flaws which detract from an otherwise perfect game. The first and most damaging of these is the monotony of the gameplay. The problem first rears its ugly head by the second book and does not let up until the game's finale. The problem stems from the fact that each character plays through 7 different stages, and there are only 8 stages in the game world. The number of bosses is slightly higher, but not by much. This means that by the time you've played through all five books, you will have played through the same stages and fought the same bosses 4-5 times. This gives the gameplay a somewhat plodding feel that can seriously detract from the enjoyment of the game.
A second major flaw is slowdown, which I didn't think still existed in recent generations. Sadly, during some fights in Odin Sphere (boss fights tend to be the big offenders in this category) there is so much going on on-screen that the graphics engine just can't handle the strain and the game devolves into a slideshow. Fortunately, control does not suffer while in this mode, so the slowdown, while annoying, is simply a minor irritation instead of a gamebreaking glitch.
A few other problems tend to crop up here and there. The lack of inventory space, for example, is an oft-repeated complaint. Between finding space for your alchemy ingredients, your healing items, your extra potions, your recipe ingredients and your equipment, there is an extremely tight squeeze on inventory space and the game really could have been less restrictive in this department.
These flaws are all nuisances, but are all forgivable for those with patience. The actual battle mechanics are solid and all the other concepts are spot-on.
The music in Odin Sphere is, for the most part, top-notch. The game features orchestrated tracks that are simply stunning in their elegance. The soundtrack is one of the best I have heard this generation and is one of the game's major high points. From the beautiful vocals of the main theme to the staccato woodwind work of Ringford forest to the sweeping strings in Elrit forest, the music is simply beautiful. Regrettably, some of the tracks are overly simplistic, which detracts from their overall quality, but the soundtrack as a whole is amazing.
The voicework in Odin Sphere is spectacular and very professionally done. You can tell that a lot of care and attention was put into this department of the game. The one major flaw is that the voices are very obviously dubbed over the original Japanese and the character models on-screen were not modified or re-timed to take into account the English voices. This leads to a few awkward pauses in spots, but the voice acting is otherwise stellar.
I really wanted to give Odin Sphere a higher rating than a simple 8, as its story, graphics and soundtrack are really worthy of a 9... Unfortunately, the flaws in gameplay simply drag the score down and I can't really find an excuse to ignore them and raise the score. That said, Odin Sphere is a phenomenal game and is truly a work of art and, with a completion time of around 40 hours, it will certainly keep you busy. I highly recommend it to anyone with a PS2.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 11/05/07
Game Release: Odin Sphere (US, 05/22/07)
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