Review by Misfit119
"Odin Sphere is incredibly aesthetically pleasing but the gameplay is boring and repetitive."
Graphics have become a major source of interest in the current generation. To compensate for this graphical obsession we have had to fork out money for newer systems with enough graphical power to render character models down to the pore. However not all games with great graphics need to be for a next-generation system nor do they need to have the most realistic graphics. Sometimes style wins out over pure graphics processing power.
Odin Sphere is the story of five ruling families of the five continents in the mystical land of Erion. Each chapter of the game deals with a particular character and his place in the battles and tribulations that wrack the lands. This is a land of faeries, demons and magic on the verge of an apocalypse due to the constant fighting and all-out warfare. The plot is fairly cookie cutter with only a few twists to it, none of them being all too interesting and it is definitely one of this games weak points. Amusingly enough the game is presented as being a storybook that a little girl named Alice is reading in her attic. It's weird, and a bit quirky, but I took a liking to it.
The variety characters you will control are a bit more interesting than the storyline though. You have Gwendolyn, daughter of Odin, King of Ragnanival, and a general of her fathers armies with some serious daddy doesn't love me issues. There is Cornelius, a cursed prince of Titania who is banished to the underworld for reasons unknown. Mercedes is the princess of Ringford, the land that is at war with Ragnanival over an item called the Crystallization Chamber, and loyal daughter. Then there is the Shadow Knight Oswald, human retainer of the Ringford and is something of a ruthless warrior fighting for his adoptive family. Lastly there is Princess Velvet, one of the last survivors of a devastated kingdom who carries a serious grudge against Lord Odin. The characters stories are told in chapters and they weave and intersect with each other and a character who is a protagonist in one story might be an enemy in another. This is probably the most interesting aspect of the story itself.
Gameplay doesn't really fare all that much better than the story. There are several aspects to it, some which are more interesting than others. The lions' share of the gameplay is the combat, which is at once innovative and totally disinteresting. The game will shift between drama scenes, which is basically you reading oodles of plot, and the combat scenes. These take place on a large grid of sorts that is basically a small series of rings connected to each other. Each ring is either a battlefield or an area to restock supplies.
The battlefields are essentially giant 2-D rings that loop infinitely while you fight the enemies. The way that this should work is that you perform combos, or use spells, to kill the enemies while fending off attacks from both directions. The basics of this work just fine but problems begin to show themselves nearly immediately. What makes most games of this ilk actually playable is that when you strike the enemy they enter a stun animation that gives you enough chance to get another hit in. This doesn't actually happen reliably in this game, which means that when you're fighting off three enemies at once they will suddenly press on through your hits and crack you one. This will cause you to lose your combat multiplier which is what gives you phozons (I'll touch on this later) and lets you score higher in each ring. The higher your score, the better the rewards you get upon completing all the enemies that you encounter in the ring.
This one problem renders the combat a task of frustration since each individual enemy you fight has the full capability of killing you. You will find yourself taking a hefty amount of damage from the enemies unless you learn to enter a quasi-Zen like state where you can fight most enemies without taking any damage. As you can likely guess a problem like this is only exacerbated during boss fights. Most bosses will just pummel you endlessly getting in any cheap shots that they can that do far too much damage.
All of this wouldn't be that big of a deal if there was an easy, and reliable, way to heal yourself. As it is you must eat food to heal yourself and to level up your health. There is no real level up system in the game and you gain additional health by eating food, each type of which gives you a different amount of experience towards a level up. Breaking it down to its simplest you must use your food to level up and heal yourself which really means that you need to carry a heck of a lot of food at all times. This wouldn't be that big of a deal if your carrying capacity wasn't incredibly limited.
Sure there are things you can do to make this less of a problem, such as buying more bags to carry stuff in, but as soon as you switch to a new character the problem rears its head all over again. Even forgetting that point there are even more things that the game expects you to carry, what with the ability to carry seeds to grow trees (by feeding them phozons) or mixing items via alchemy to create potions for both offense and defense. The game gives you about 20 slots to do what would be pressing with 40 slots. It's a bit more than just frustrating.
Realistically you end up grinding for money and items so that you can have enough space to carry the things you need for each character you end up playing as. This, along with the combat itself, lends to a heavy feeling of repetition while playing this game, more so than even with most other RPGs.
The only interesting part of the combat is that when you kill enemies they drop orbs of energy called phozons. These phozons can be absorbed by anyone wielding a psypher weapon (a weapon composed of a strange jewel-like mineral) and used to power magical attacks and support spells. Much like the food as you absorb more phozons your magic capacity will increase allowing you to cast spells more often and use more powerful spells. This is a little more intriguing than the food based system since you can very easily grind this up by repeatedly going into combat with enemies and using all your tools at your disposal to wipe them out. Essentially the more enemies you kill the more magic you can cast and the more energy you get to cast yet more spells.
There really isn't anything too spectacular about the graphics. They're vibrant and pretty to look at but it doesn't really look like anything we couldn't see on any other system, even the PSP. A serious gripe with the graphics though is that the characters are animated far too large and take up too much space on the screen. This leads to most of the enemies being off-screen much of the time and causing cheap shots a plenty from those very same enemies. The boss monsters do look suitably impressive but, once again, these graphics aren't really indicative of even the PlayStation 2's graphical prowess.
What's slightly more confusing is the slowdown that will occur in certain fights. The graphics are not that great where having six or so enemies on screen at the same time should cause slow down but it does occur. What makes this so frustrating is that it happens a fair amount during boss fights and this doesn't stop the boss at all. It has gotten to the point a few times where I got pounded on while the game was running slow and I couldn't react fast enough. It's a serious problem at times and seems more indicative of lazy programming than overtaxing the PS2.
The sound fares a fair sight better than the graphics. All of the characters have full voice over during the cutscenes and almost all of the NPCs have spoken dialog even during the regular sections of the game (even shopkeepers talk to you). Regardless of what the Japanophiles might rant the English dialog isn't really all that horribly done but the option is there for you to listen to the Japanese voice track if you so choose. The combat sounds are ably done and much of the music is subtle but mood setting. All in all it's a pretty good job for the sound design team.
Odin Sphere is very much a game that will develop a cult following and that must be acknowledged. Out of almost any game released in recent memory this game will polarize people with even the most slightly differing opinion. Some will love it simply as a measure of artistic expression while others will actually find some enjoyment in the combat. This game is very subjective and I would suggest a rental for any interested parties. My score may be low but the game is something of an experience that should be played, at least for a little while.
Reviewer's Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Originally Posted: 09/06/07
Game Release: Odin Sphere (US, 05/22/07)
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