Review by HolyLancer9

"A pretty face can't always cover up imperfections...."

There are many times when games get swept under the rug. The RPG genre is probably the most saturated video game genre in existence. There are a fair number of RPGs that get recognition, and there are many games that simply fall under most people's scopes. It's simply impossible for one person to buy, let alone play, every game out there. Odin Sphere is one of those games that many people probably brushed to the side with little thought, or might not have even knew existed in the first place. In the past, I had sometimes bought weird little titles that many people simply hadn't even heard of, and I found myself becoming increasingly interested in those niche titles, such as the ones that companies like Nippon Ichi and Atlus release.

So, to be quite honest, I really didn't know much of anything about Odin Sphere at all, and only decided to pre-order it about a week before it came out. Doing some research, I found out about it's stunning graphics, and more people knew about the game than I thought. Turns out, the game is by Vanilla Ware, a company that has really done very little (aside from creating Princess Crown nearly 10 years ago, which is another game I don't really know much about, as well as the upcoming GrimGrimoire) and the game was localized in the US by Atlus, who is notorious for bringing several niche games into the limelight, while only actually shipping out a very small number of the finished product. Atlus' choice of games is often quite sound, and their localizations are generally done exceptionally well.

The game was getting a lot of hype based on it's visuals, and it was boasted that, overall, the story unfolded like a classic fairy tale and had gameplay similar to classic beat-'em-up fighter games, with some typical RPG elements mixed in. It certainly sounded interesting enough, so I had no problems at all picking the game up, and Atlus rarely disappoints with it's game selection. I can honestly say that the game was almost mesmerizing with it's beautiful nature, aesthetically, and gameplay wise for the first bit. Unfortunately, it slowly degrades into redundancy, and can get downright old after awhile. But, I'll get into those details in the individual parts. Onto the review itself.

Graphics - 10/10:

Make no mistake; this game certainly has the graphics that it boasted. Really, the graphics were one of the selling points in the game. I think it's a bit of a stretch to say that the graphics ALONE are worth buying the game for, but it certainly does enhance the experience of the gameplay. The game uses 2-D sprites and backgrounds, and really, as beautiful as they are, one of the things that's really amazing is the attention to detail. Vanilla Ware has been quite thoughtful with the character animations, and giving them life. Enemy bosses are sometimes huge, and frightening, while other characters look modest, and humble. These things help them become more than just flat images on the screen, and gives them personality, and more characterization. It's probably easiest to just say that the developers did a good job in individualizing their characters through the way they animated their sprites, and gave them all different and unique little mannerisms that add to the visual appeal.

The areas and backgrounds all look very nice, too. Each place actually does seem like it's own environment. There is a forest, that has a peaceful, lazy appearance to it, a creepy netherworld, that is filled with darkness, and desolation, and a volcanic area, that seems to be alive with fire, and lava. Really, the visuals in this game (The character models, and areas) do indicate that 2-D graphics can still add huge depth to a game, and enhance the overall experience. While this game does have it's own set of short-comings, it certainly is one of the few games that remind us that you don't necessarily need flashy, realistic graphics to create a diverse and beautiful world. If there was any problem

Story - 8/10:

The game's story is told over the course of seven "books," the first five are used to detail the back stories of the five playable characters, the sixth is a string of final boss battles, and the seventh shows you the ending events and sequences. The story itself borrows loosely on Norse legend and myth, using many different aspects such as Odin, the Valkyries, and a number of other mention. The plot actually deals with the final days before the end of the world (or, in the Norse sense, Ragnarok) and a war over a weapon of mass destruction known as the Cauldron. There's also some typical other stuff thrown in the mix such as the prophecy that foretells the end of the world, and curses, and evil kings and things of that nature, but it's put together well enough so that it's a lot more tolerable than most.

As mentioned, there are five playable characters in the game, but you only play as one at a time, and you don't move on to the next character until you finish the current character's book/story. Each book unfolds in 8 chapters--a prologue, six main chapters, and an epilogue. By playing through each book, you'll find out more bits and pieces about the story. It's kind of a strange way to tell the story, really, but it plays out almost like a puzzle. The farther you get, the more scenes unlock, and the better everything fits together. In this way, while you play through each character's book, a lot of things just seem like they don't really make sense, and you might finish one character's book with many questions, but they'll likely be answered in an upcoming book. In a way, this seems really confusing at first, and you might have no idea how the events fit together, or what the timeframe for any of them even are. Thankfully, there is an in-game timeline that you can check, and it shows you which events occur when, and in what relations to the other events. Many of the events do make sense on their own, just by playing the game, and you'll be able to fit them together, but for the rest that you may be unsure of, the timeline is a great reference, and it was nice that they included it.

As for the main story, a war is being fought over the Cauldron, which, as mentioned, is an an artifact of immense power. The Demon Lord Odin is seeking out the Cauldron because it will allow him to manufacture Psyphers--powerful weapons made of Phozons, which are a type of spiritual energy left behind when a living being dies. Many of the other participants in the war are aiming to stop Odin from using the Cauldron's power, as its power had been unleashed in the past, destroying another kingdom, and the prophecy states that activating the cauldron again will be the first step toward the destruction of humanity.

From there, you take control of the five playable characters, one at a time, and fight through the war and the events surrounding it, up through the supposed end of the world. The characters themselves are fairly typical in nature; Lord Odin's Daughter, Gwendolyn, who is a dutiful valkyrie in Odin's army. Prince Cornelius, who has been cursed, and is seeking to find a way to reverse the effects of said curse. Princess Mercedes, who is trying to bring stability and order back to her kingdom, and prove that she has the ability to lead them as Queen. Shadow Knight Oswald, who was manipulated by someone he looked up to, and is trying to find solstice in his empty life. And Velvet a Princess who is trying to avert the oncoming disaster, and seeks to find a way to save the world and disprove the prophecy. However, the way the stories are told is actually quite compelling, and playing each chapter and each book shows us how these individual's fates are entwined with one another, and it really makes for quite a solid tale.

So, while the story itself is fairly typical in nature, the way it unfolds, and the connection between the characters are really what make the story stand out. It has a touch of "self-fulfilling prophecy" and although the ultimate ending isn't so bad, the fates of some of the characters are actually quite touching and sad.

Control - 7/10:

Control really feels like it's all over the board. Throughout the game, you're at the helm of five different characters who all play considerably differently, some of them are quite responsive and fluid, and others aren't so much. Each character had a different weapon and some different attacks at their disposal, so they all control fairly differently. Of course, it seems like every time you've gotten comfortable to one character, it's time to switch gears and move to another character. Also, every button on the control pad brings up a different menu; L1 brings up the character status screen. L2 brings up the area map. Start brings up the information menu. "O" brings up the the item bags, which you can cycle through individually. R1 brings up your total inventory. Triangle brings up your spells. It's a lot of things to deal with, and even toward the end of the game, I'd find myself accidentally clicking the wrong button and bringing up the wrong menu. For the most part, though, you just get used to the menus after awhile.

Gameplay - 6/10:

Odin Sphere is beautiful to look at. When you start up the first character's book, it is incredibly fun to play, as well. Initially, it really seems like very little can drive this game down. However, the first bit of confusion comes over what this game actually IS. It's a sort of RPG/Beat-'em-up hybrid, leaning more toward the latter. During the game, you'll watch a number of cutscenes, and then you'll be taken to where ever the next area is that you're supposed to go. Each area is divided into roughly a dozen smaller "rooms." Each room houses a number of enemies, and upon defeating them, you'll obtain a chest. Oddly, the way the game is set up makes it feel vaguely like a Legend of Zelda game; Once you get to a new area, your first objective is to find the map. Upon finding the map, you'll need to find your way around, locating texts, food and alchemy recipes, and ultimately you'll need to make your way to the boss's room, and fight the boss there to progress the story.

Gameplay and battle actually go hand-in-hand in the game. There's really no separation between exploration and battle. As you move from room to room trying to find your way to the boss, you'll be challenged by hordes of enemies. Often times, you'll fight dozens of them at a time. At first, I was actually quite impressed with the enemy AI, since it seemed like they were always able to somehow get at you, and cause considerable damage quickly., Upon further realization, I found that it had less to do with the enemy's intelligence, and more to do with the sheer number of enemies you were up against at once. The game is quite difficult, and that difficulty comes from the fact that you're controlling one person, and pitted up against wave after wave of enemy forces, with little time to do anything in between. I realize that this is pretty much the definition of a beat-'em-up, but since it's a game with RPG elements, I figure they could have given the enemies a shred of intelligence.

Most enemies and projectiles do nothing but aimlessly wander around, or fly around screen until they hit you. Or themselves. It's actually possible for you to be damaged by your own spells, and for enemies to be damaged by their own as well. Most of the time this is nothing but an annoyance, but occasionally you can actually work it out to your advantage. What's more there are times when there is so much going on, that the game pretty much grinds to a halt. It's particularly bad during some boss fights, when you've not only got some huge enemy moving around attacking, but also smaller enemies that constantly appear, as well as projectiles and other crap that's raining down, or bouncing around, or being thrown at you from all directions. It is quite a hard game, but given some of these reason, you really can't help but feel like the difficulty is artificial...

Upon defeating enemies, they release phozon energy, and you can use your weapon to absorb it. For story purposes, phozon is literally the life-force of a living organism, and when it dies, the phozon is returned to the planet. However, you can absorb it, leveling your weapons up, making them more powerful. Doing this will increase the amount of damage you do, and you will also learn more spells and attacks. Phozon can also be used to grow food, which is used to eat, which in turn heals you and increases the amount of HP experience you gain. Unlike most typical RPGs, you don't really gain levels by defeating enemies, nor do you really have stats that you need to worry too much about increasing. Despite that, eating food will increase you HP levels which raises your max HP. It is actually neat and an interesting approach to making your characters stronger. You must strike a balance between leveling up your Psypher (weapon) and growing food to raise your HP levels, and it's the key to surviving.

The game also has a fairly in-depth alchemy system. While alchemy systems are becoming somewhat recycled and overdone in RPGs, Odin Sphere's system manages to be somewhat interesting and complex. By obtaining items known as Material, you'll be able to combine items together into the material flasks. The materials will multiply each other upon mixing them, and by combining the right item with a high-level material, it will yield a high number of phozon for you to absorb, or use to grow more food. The results from alchemy aren't to be taken lightly, either. You'll get various potions which do a number of things, including reducing damage, healing HP, and causing various elemental damage to enemies. There are many different potion combinations, and it's wise to try them all. If you go into battle ill-prepared, either by not properly leveling your HP/weapons, or by neglecting alchemy, you'll quickly find why many claim the game to be so difficult.

So, while the game appears to have a lot of really neat features initially, this begins to fade away once you start playing through each character's story. Although each character plays and controls quite differently, you'll have to fight through the same bosses, and traverse the same areas over, and over, and over again. In that respect, the game can feel like it gets old quickly, since you're just constantly doing things over. Also, although it makes logical sense, when you begin one of the other character's stories, you lose all the items and inventory space you had. Inventory is extremely limited in Odin Sphere, and you'll need to be very, very choosy in what items you keep and/or otherwise use. Especially early on, when you can only carry a few items, and it can be a bit difficult, since the number of items you get is determined by how well you do in battle. You're graded on how well you do in battle, which includes how much damage you receive, and how quickly you dispatch the enemies. Depending on those, you're assigned a rank, and get items according to your rank after all the enemies are defeated.

Overall, it is a fun game to play, as it has a number of interesting features, including the weapon leveling system, as well growing and using food to make yourself stronger, as well as using different items and things in alchemy. It is fun beating up wave after wave of enemies, but, as great as each area looks, the game just gets boring after some time because of the lack of variety, and recycled areas and bosses. It would have been a lot better if there had been more things specific to each character, rather than just recycling the same thing back and forth between all of them.

Music - 9/10:

This is one of those games that feels like it was really enhanced by its soundtrack. The visuals in conjunction with the sounds really set up the mood and feel of the game quite well, and, regardless of the fact that the areas themselves were reused too much, at least they were given their own life, and they felt like actual environments.

Replay - 7/10:

Oddly, there's a lot to do in this game, yet at the same time, there really isn't. Since it's not really the typical RPG, there aren't many hidden things. There aren't any extra dungeons, or hidden characters, or powerful side-bosses. However, upon beating each character's story, you can play back through them, with all of the items and things you gathered on the previous playthrough. There are also a number of different ending branches to the story, which requires that you fight through the final string of bosses by altering the order in which you use your characters for each fight. So, while there aren't tons of extra things to do, there still are a few reasons to continue on after you beat the game the first time. Unfortunately, the repetitive nature of the game will probably turn you off from going through the game from the beginning again...

Overall - 7/10:

Odin Sphere really did have a lot of potential. The game had a stunning art-style and graphical direction, as well as a number of interesting story and gameplay elements. There actually are quite a good deal of interesting features in the game. The progression of story and flow of battle felt a little clunky, and the major problems seem to stem from the fact that the game can easily get boring, quickly. It's worse that it's actually a difficult game, so it almost requires the player to take even more trips through each of the areas, so you can't help but feel that the game is just long and needlessly drawn. The game definitely needed more variety in it's areas and bosses. The ones that were there were magnificently done, it's just that there were too few. When making a game that was obviously meant to be eye-candy to some extent, don't bring it down by offering such a meager amount of visuals. The lag, wasn't a major issue for most of the game, but for the battles it does appear in, it's almost crippling. Odin Sphere is one of those games that had a lot of promise, a great premise, but felt like it ultimately disappointed, due to some rather obvious issues. It's a beautiful game, visually, with a solid story, and some surprisingly original features. It's just a shame that the folks at Vanilla Ware seem to have misplaced half of the game's levels and processing speed...

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 07/09/07

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