Review by LightFantastic

"Sadly, nobody will be guiding your ships, axes, spears, or swords."

I guess the PS2 still had a little life left in it after all.This game seriously has so much going for it. This is one of the most aesthetically pleasing games on the system, including some of the graphic favorites of even the most jaded video game fans; hand-painted backgrounds, incredibly detailed and colorful characters, and strikingly smooth animations all combine to put this game up there with Okami in the ‘Gaming as Art' category.

Graphics don't exactly make a game though, and we have seen that time and time again. So does Odin Sphere have more to it than a fresh take on graphics? Or is it simply all style and no substance?

The answer is that Odin Sphere is an incredibly entertaining game that does almost everything right. The game accomplishes what it sets out to do by creating a complex and intriguing high fantasy story that still feels and looks like you are playing a children's book. As I said before, this game is tons of fun to look at. Sure, you may be mislead by a name like Odin Sphere, which invokes the image of burly and intense bearded men destroying all that opposes them, and if there were a truth in naming commission for video games it would probably have changed the title to ‘Weeaboo Weirdo Self Gratification Material Sphere', but that doesn't detract from the game at all. I think a good amount of people will write this game off because of the graphic style, and I was ready to do the very same when the previews originally came out; I don't like the Chobits look either my friends. Look past all that though, because this is an entertaining game no matter how manly you purport to be. Which, for me, is pretty manly. I'm writing this review right now on the back of a lion I tamed with my own hands.

My incredible manliness aside, there is another aspect of this game will seemingly turn people who only give it a cursory once over away, as the story sounds super cliche on paper. A fantasy world is being torn apart by several warring kingdoms attempting to gain control of a magical artifact and fulfill a prophecy. As you play, the game does throw a good amount of twists and turns at you and it definitely keeps the story from getting cliche at all, which is welcome. Without the story this game wouldn't be nearly as entertaining as it is. There is also a good amount of replay value, with an eventual five character to unlock that all give their own unique perspective on the story, so essentially you have five different storylines to play through, all of which feel different from the one before it.

The dialog can get a little silly at times, but that can be attributed to the whole thing being read from a child's storybook. Aurally, the voice acting is capable and the soundtrack attempts to be epic but falls a little bit short from being one of those compositions that all the kids that sat in the back of your high school study hall and read bad manga would have in their Inuyasha CD holder.

Now on to the most important part of any title, Gameplay. It is a relatively simple sidescrolling beat-em-up with some basic RPG elements intertwined into it; but despite that, at no point does Odin Sphere ever become one of those mindless brawlers that seem to dot the PS2 landscape. It does this by breaking the mold in slight ways, such as the stage clearing system. Each stage is actually a circular area that you must accomplish its objective to clear, when you clear a stage you are given a letter grade and some items to help you make it through the area. All of these circular stages are connected in varying ways across the map, which gives you multiple routes to complete the entire area. You can explore, collect items, or go straight to the boss- which I wouldn't even remotely recommend.

One thing that may surprise you about Odin Sphere is that it is difficult. Incredibly difficult. You look at the graphics and the plot and think “OK, I'll just hammer the square button a lot and I'll be fine” but that doesn't seem to work. There is always a strategy to defeating bad guys, and most boss fights WILL take you multiple times to complete. Added to the strategy is the seed planting system, which lets you plant a seed to grow replenishment items. You have to choose to do this wisely, as growing seeds need to absorb the very same things that you need to do in order to level up; the souls of your slain enemies. Sure that sounds more intense than it is, because really you just hold in a button in order to absorb little pink glowing orbs, but still… that is what they are. Even absorbing these cotton candy souls is difficult, as you only have a limited time before they fly away, but it will be hard to find a small lot of land to peacefully absorb them while dozens of enemies charge at you. All this combines to keep the game from getting stale, it may get frustrating, but never stale.

This all probably sounds appealing to you by now, but be warned, there are some negatives. The enemies can be insanely cheap, and some boss fights will make you want to find the creators of the game and kick their teeth in due to one hit kills… even the normal enemies tend to use annoying mob tactics that make it tough to get the upperhand. Trust me; you will be on the brink of death more often than not.

Also, the magic system isn't really all that effective, and you will find yourself all but forgetting about it in the early parts of the game.

On top of that, you may find yourself fighting through slowdown and choppiness when tons of enemies are on screen. This surprised the living hell out of me, the graphics are pretty and all but I can't believe they can make the PS2 chug like this. Thankfully that doesn't happen very often, but when it does it will probably be at a very, very bad time. Load times will also be there to annoy you, as the circular stage structure requires loading in between each section. This may not sound too bad, but some stages will only take a handful of seconds to beat, almost equal to the amount of time it will take to load the next one.

Despite all that, this is still one of those rare "must play" games that, despite a huge buzz initially, have seemed to be forgotten. It is especially appealing if, like me, you have yet to cough up the cash for one of the next-gen systems. PS2 could still have had a little life left if developers continued to take risks on games like this, and Odin Sphere is definitely a good enough game to use to champion that idea, and it is definitely a good enough game to get a play from anyone who enjoys an old school feel to their new school games.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 07/10/08

Game Release: Odin Sphere (US, 05/22/07)

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