Review by yoshox2000
Could have been a classic, but the gameplay sinks this ship
There's been a lot of talk about Odin Sphere prior to its release. It's the spiritual successor to Princess Crown for the Saturn. A popular game among importers, known for its beautiful 2-d visuals and action-rpg gameplay. The game's old school approach and eye candy have garnered much attention. Is it worth the hype? Not really. Read on
First, we must make mention of what is ultimately this game's selling point. That is the graphics. They are gorgeous to say the least. The game looks very much like an anime fairy tale and it really is an artistic masterpiece of the same calibre as games like Okami, Rez, and Ico. Not much really needs to be said about the games graphics. Screenshots and youtube videos really tell the story. The game's visuals are its best asset. Especially impressive are the character designs.
In the sound department, the game holds up well. Some of the music has that fairy tale feel the game is going for, and the music is also suitably epic and action oriented when necessary.
As for the story, it is well executed and manages to stay interesting. I won't comment on the english dub as there is no reason to bother with it since the original Japanese is available. Not surprisingly, the Japanese cast is excellent and delivers their lines well.
Everything about Odin Sphere is superb until you look at the actual gameplay, which was clearly the area of least importance. Like its predecessor, Odin Sphere is a 2-d side-scrolling action game. One twist to the gameplay is that levels are like spheres, hence the title. You can keep running in one direction and eventually end up where you started. This has strategic value as you can try to run away from an enemy and perhaps come up behind it for an attack.
This game has been called a beat'em up by many, but that's not entirely accurate. Odin Sphere bears little in common with games like Streets of Rage or Final Fight. Unlike those games, you can only move left or right, making the game closer to a game like Guardian Heroes for the Saturn or Ninja Warriors Again for the S-NES. There are no grab moves or throws at your disposal like most beat'em ups, no co-op and there is really nothing that would pass for an actual combo in this game since an enemy can attack you in mid attack.
This is actually one of the games biggest flaws. You can start a two to three hit combo on an enemy and they will just attack you in the middle of it. The only acknowledgement that the enemy has actually been hit by your "combo" is that they take damage, but they won't be phased or stunned at all. This is completely unrealistic and quite frustrating.
Another oddity is the power meter. A completely unnecessary and irritating element of combat that constantly limits your actions. Every action you take reduces this bar and when it is empty, your character is unable to move for a few seconds. This is very annoying due to how small the bar actually is causing you to frequently stop your attacks or retreat from an enemy. It really breaks any kind of flow that this game could have had.
Another intrusive element that breaks the flow of gameplay is item management. You'll quickly learn that you won't be very successful in this game unless you use your items. They're essential for victory in this game and not just something you use as a last resort. Your attacks are weak and you can't effectively combo in this game so you'll often have to use offensive items in your inventory or constantly use healing items to make up for the beating you're taking. In fact, you'll need to use health items often if you want your maximum health to go up as that is the only way to increase it in this game.
Needless to say you will spend a lot of time in the inventory screen. Making this more annoying is the very limited inventory space you have. Also adding to your constant time in the inventory screen is the Alchemy system, which allows you to combine items to create new ones. This is an interesting idea but gets annoying rather quickly as it becomes the only good way to get items since shops don't always have what you need and money is hard to come by. Having to remember all of these alchemy formulas, not to mention the actual process of gathering the necessary ingredients begins to feel like a chore after some time.
You can also grow seeds in this game to acquire fruit to heal your character and gain experience points towards health bar increases. However, you need phozons to grow a seed, which are released from defeated enemies. These are the same phozons you need to level up your attack power and eventually gain new special attacks, so you often have to choose between getting experience or getting health items which is tiresome. Essentially, Odin Sphere makes using items a rather complicated mess while most other games just keep it simple
That's the biggest problem with this game, everything feels heavy handed and restrictive. You can't do combos, you can take more than a few actions without your power bar emptying, and acquiring and using items is a hassle. It just seems that there are too many restrictive rules to play by, with very little in the way of rewards. Combat gets rather uninteresting due to all the restrictions and the fact that there is nothing really visually impressive about it. Special attacks don't all look very special and combos are such a pain to pull of that you end up not relying on them too much
Ultimately, Odin Sphere feels like a typical rpg experience. Great story, music and graphics, but weak gameplay. This will be enough for some people, but it's not enough to warrant all the hype and acclaim some have poured onto this game.
It's worth a rental for anyone who has the patience to deal with the sub-standard combat system. The graphics, story and music are certainly worth checking out.
Rating: 3.0 - Fair
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