Review by NMabry

"In Medias Res"

I reached Odin Sphere with bated breath. I had read the blogs and review sites extolling its unmatched art direction, watched preview videos demonstrating its fluid and detailed animation, and had scoured the city's game stores in search of a precious copy. What I discovered after popping in the disc, however, was definitely a surprise.

In all of my research - if it may be called that - I had learned very little about the actual gameplay, save that it entailed an action RPG mechanic set on circular stages. As I played, this description seemed apt but something was a little off, a little too familiar. I relegated this to the familiarity brought on by years of similar RPG mechanics. But the trappings of the RPG just weren't there. No exploration, no character customization, no annoying-in-their-frequency enemy encounters, no sense of being a novice coming of age in a fantasy world. This bothered me until a passerby hit the nail on the head.

"Whoah, is this like Double Dragon?"

That is when my approach to this game changed. Not in a negative way. I had been playing an evolved version of a beat-em-up. The dissatisfaction that I felt when expecting an RPG faded away. I should stress that I have had a lot of fun playing this game, and wholeheartedly recommend it to others. But it is not a traditional action RPG. The stories, the stages, and the characters themselves are very linear. Following my observer's remark, I think that the most fitting analogy is River City Rampage, but set in a fantasy world. That is not to say that there is a great lack of choices in the game, but the choices all center around item management.

Items in this game may take the form of stat-boosting equipment, health replenishers, potions, or seeds. The more interesting and unique of the four are potions and seeds. Potions may be created in battle by combining a base ingredient and a catalyst (both of which are other items) which may produce special attacks or confer a special status upon the player character. Seeds are a different animal altogether. Their effects, once planted on a particular stage, require the player to feed them either souls or other seeds in able to produce new items. There is a great deal of flexibility in this item system, and it is one of the elements which keeps me coming back to play. Player customization, however, does not.

The player characters, while well-defined and subtly detailed, do not allow for customization. Each character has the same set of skills learned at predefined Psypher levels (the game's offensive experience level). The Psypher levels are increased by absorbing souls in battle. Each character also has a defensive experience level, which may be increased by eating healing items or by cooking food in a restaurant. This is the only semblance of customization, and does not allow much variety. But this minor detraction cannot take away from the game's true strength: storytelling.

This game tells a grand and nuanced story, with workable voice acting and a solid script. Although the first book of the six is a little bland, each chapter leaves the viewer both satisfied and craving a little more time with the characters. It kept me coming back to see what was around the next bend. Going hand in hand with the chapter-based format of the tales, each close is marked with an epic boss battle. These are both beautifully animated and include stage mechanics unique to each battle. For example, one such battle faces our hero against a large enemy which scatters trash along the battlefield. When it calls the rubble back towards itself, the trash collides with the hero, dragging her towards its gaping maw.

I have become a little tired of the same few stages repeated over and over, as each of the books take place in the same settings, and each non-boss level is extremely similar, but I still feel compelled to continue. This game, though not entirely what I had expected, earned itself a place near the top of my PS2 collection, and I imagine that if you enjoy beat-em-ups, it will similarly endear itself to you.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 05/29/07

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