Review by ZenChichiri
"A breath of fresh air, but has too many flaws to achieve greatness"
Odin Sphere is a 2D side scrolling game with RPG elements. It is a beautiful looking game that is marred by a bit of tediousness, some flaws with controls, and repetitiveness. The problem is that while playing through this game there is always that voice in the back of your head thinking how some fairly minor changes to the gameplay could have made this game one of the best 2D games ever created. It is unfortunate that what could have been is not what actually is though, so here are some details about the game. I will go into the furthest detail in the gameplay section as this is the section that had problems. The other sections were are flawlessly implemented and that is why I mentioned that voice that will appear in your head reminding you of the redeeming qualities.
It's nice to see that 2D gaming has not been forgotten about in console games. I was under the impression that most 2D games now would be coming out for handhelds only, and that's it. It was nice to see that I was proven wrong. How this game functions is that there are different types of areas. There are areas where you are at your rest point and can shop for items and talk to people, and there are areas where you battle. The battle areas are a series of circles that you walk around and fight enemies to progress further. Each circle has various exits to them and after the enemies have been defeated (unless you've already gone through the area) you exit out of one. When you exit it leads you to another circle that have exits as well. So basically how the areas are laid out are a series of circles that you navigate through. At first it seems like a good idea, but after playing for 25 hours walking around in circle after circle gets a bit tedious.
After each stage (circle) in an area, you get ranked on how well you did and this determines what sorts of rewards you get. The ranking system is flawed. It grades you based on damage taken and time taken to complete a stage. The parameters don't adjust to whether or not you're fighting a battle against 1 wave of enemies, 3 waves of enemies, or a sub-boss. It's always the same amount of damage against you and time taken to complete the level as the standard (which is something like 1 minute or less, and 50 damage taken or less for an S rank). This is absurd as some of the sub-bosses take phenomenally longer than 1 wave of easy enemies.
The way you progress your character in this game is odd. You eat food to gain HP levels that increase your max HP. This can be done by planting seeds that uses psyphers from fallen enemies to grow. When the seeds grow they bear fruit, and you can eat them after. You can also save some of your fruit and combine them with other ingredients to use at the Pooka village. At the Pooka village you take what would have been a low level exp growth fruit and combine it with other ingredients to get a lot more exp out of it. Enemies dissipate into psyphers and you have the option of using those psyphers to grow your seeds or suck them into yourself which gains exp towards your psyhper level. Your psypher level determines how powerful your attacks are, and also how many special attacks you have. It also fills up your psypher gauge which lets you use special attacks. I have no qualms with the way you level up. As a matter of fact, it was a nice implementation as it was a bold move to try something different which ended up being quit effective.
You end up playing as 5 different characters that each have their own story. Each character has a different move set and a different special ability. For example, Oswald is a shadow knight and he has the power to change into a shadow form where he grows immensely more powerful. This changes things up a little, which is nice. However, there is an ability list that each character gets as they gain in psypher levels and many of the abilities are the same for each of the characters. Some differentiation would have been nice. Also, when you play through each of the characters story they end up going to pretty much all the same places, albeit it is in a different order, but this still gets repetitive. This is especially considering that you may end up fighting the same boss 4 or 5 different times. There should have been more different types of bosses instead of repeating the same ones over again. It's fine if you have to fight some of the bosses 2 or 3 times, but this should have happened with only some of the major boss characters where it would actually make more sense. Fighting the queen of the netherworld with every character was stupid, as it would have been much more interesting to fight another beast from the netherworld and not just her every time you go there.
This game suffers from a lot of lag. The slowdown can be game breaking sometimes. If the system was not capable of handling it, there should have been less going on at once, as it would have been better to have less enemies on the screen with less slowdown. This especially occurred frequently during boss fights. Most of the time there would be enemies accompanying the bosses. Instead of having other enemies on the screen to make the boss fights more challenging, it should have been done in such a way that the bosses themselves were toughened up so there didn't have to be so much on the screen, which would have reduced slowdown by quite a lot.
Your attacks are really basic. You hit the square button to attack, and X to jump. Circle brings up your list of special abilities to use. The other buttons do things like bring up your list of items and suck psypher out of midair. This game needed more differentiation with attacks, or to unlock new basic attacks, because using the exact same moves over and over again in a long game gets repetitive. Also, the controls feel unresponsive at times. Sometimes I would hit the jump button and it wouldn't jump. It felt like if you decided to attack or jump in the air you were committed to it, and there was no way out of it. Usually a cancel of sorts is implemented so that if it makes sense to stop the attack before it hits (to dodge an incoming attack) then you may do so. There were times when I saw an attack coming a second before it hit and if I could have cancelled out of the attack that I was doing then I would have been able to avoid the situation. Considering enemies later on hit for a third of your health per attack, this implementation would have been nice. The controls are not very fluid. It feels clunky and the characters are rather slow to react. When you run your momentum carries you a lot longer than it should. It can get rather frustrating.
I should also mention that this game requires you to grind for levels a little bit. I know some people are opposed to this and say that there should be a steady progression in difficulty to avoid this, so that's why I'm stating it here. The enemies can get real tough real fast, so grinding is necessary. Speaking of which, after unlocking the final area, which is a combination of all of the characters, I was prepared to do a bit of grinding with my characters to ensure that they had the proper items and levels to pursue the final bosses. So I go into the character book (each character has their own book, then the final book is a combination of all the characters) and thought that I would have access to the previous areas to do this. Nope, you have to start from chapter 1 in each of the books! What the?! I have to start from the beginning of each book?! This implementation is frustrating and unnecessary. Having to complete each book again just to get to the final areas and make potions/gain levels is ridiculous.
The story in this game shines. It is an intricate story that is seen through each of the perspectives of the 5 characters you play as. There is a timeline that shows the major events in each of the character's story, and how they coincide with the events of another character. This is fairly neat, as some of these characters are on opposite sides of a conflict, or they have some sort of other connection to one another. You piece together more of the story as you play through each character's story, and at the end you finally have the whole picture.
I have nothing to really say about the story other than it was really well done. It compelled me to continue on and find out what happens in this world that is coming closer and closer to Armageddon. Seeing how each character plays a part in this intricately woven series of kingdoms was interesting. Also, the story and characters have roots in Norse mythology.
The art is amazing. The backgrounds are all extravagantly detailed. The animations are all well done, it looks like there is weight behind every movement, and some of them just look downright awesome, like Oswald's shadow form. The bosses are massive and beautifully drawn.
This game is one of the prettiest games I have set my eyes on, and it's 2D. That is definitely an accomplishment in gaming. It feels like you are playing an interactive piece of art.
The music was all very well placed. Each song fit the locations perfectly, and the score was brilliantly conceived. For example, in the Volkenon Lava Pits the music sounds really eerie and gives the player the sense that they are going deep into a fiery cave where they may never return from. The Elrit forest music sounds lighthearted but with a sprinkle of mystical qualities to it to represent that inhabitants of the area. The sounds effects are really well done too. The voice acting in English isn't done well, but there is the option of changing it to the original Japanese audio track, which is very well done. Definitely a high point of the game.
Odin Sphere is a game that is fun to play through for what it is, but could have been so much more. The issues with the gameplay are unforgiving. With clunky controls, massive slowdown, and lots of repetition, the game is much less than what it should have been. Don't get me wrong, it still has its moments, and every other aspect of the game is fantastic, from the way the story was told, to the amazing visuals and music. What this game does do however is give a gateway for more 2D games to come out on home consoles, and not just handhelds. With the graphical capabilities that the PS2 put out for a 2D game, I can only imagine how gorgeous a 2D game much like Odin Sphere would look like on the PS3 or 360.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 09/25/08
Game Release: Odin Sphere (US, 05/22/07)
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