The year was 2007, a friend of mine told me about a game called Odin Sphere and asked me to give it a try. Released during the waning days of the PS2, Odin Sphere was overshadowed by flashy games on the brand new generation led by Wii, 360 and the PS3. This lead to many gamers missing out on the experience, including myself.
I found myself too busy playing God of War 2 and Dracula X Chronicles as well as next gen games like Bioshock, Metroid Prime 3 and Heavenly Sword, to pay attention to an obscure title and the name Odin Sphere fell to the wayside of my gaming memories.
9 years passed and I never gave that game a second thought, until this June when the same friend informed me about incoming release of a remake of the original Odin Sphere and strongly recommended that I give it some attention as it was an experience that I would not regret.
Unfortunately my dear friend passed away before I could let him know that he was right all along. Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is an absolute gem of a game, with unique blend of presentation and gameplay, which speaks to the heart of preferences of gamers like me and my friend and perhaps you as well.
Where most modern Action RPGs follow the framework popularized the original Legend of Zelda, Odin Sphere dares to deviate from the formula and follow the game structure laid down by games like Zelda II: Adventure of Link and River City Ransom.
At its core Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is an Action RPG that features combat mechanics of side-scrolling beat-em-ups combined with crafting systems and levelling trees for skills and character attributes.
The game mixes this side-scrolling gameplay with magnificently hand drawn 2D sprites and a colourful overall aesthetic that perfectly complements its wondrous story that takes inspiration from various western mythologies.
Set in the land of Erion, the game tells the story of war between kingdoms from point of view of 5 different characters and unfolds an enriching narrative that tackles both national royal politics as well as personal triumphs and misfortunes.
Starting with the Valkyrie princess Gwendolyn, the game deals with each character sequentially as each them is given their own independent journey with a complete story arc.
As the game progresses these discrete arcs become interweaving stories where the connection between the characters is nebulous at first but as the threads of causation begin to take shape the motives and relationships between main characters becomes clear.
On the whole, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir’s narrative has a fairy tale like quality and like all classic tales, follows themes of honour, greed, glory, revenge, love and tragedy. This gels perfectly with Odin Sphere Liefthrasir’s art style which looks like pictures from storybook come to life.
Odin Sphere’s presentation has a timeless quality to it. Not only are its large sprites beautifully drawn and the lush backgrounds strikingly vibrant, but the true depth of the game’s visuals come from how each action is exquisitely animated complete with little touches like different eating, running, jumping and idle animations for each playable character.
Like its art style Odin Sphere’s sound design also melds perfectly with the game’s general aesthetic which evokes the wonder of ageless fairy tales that capture the imagination of people centuries after their conception.
Depending on the place and the situation Odin Sphere’s orchestral soundtrack moves effortlessly from bubbly and cheerful tunes to solemn and melancholic melodies, while the voice acting competently delivers on the subtleties of its slightly melodramatic dialogue that gives the overall presentation an aura of a theatrical play.
Core action in Odin Sphere revolves around hack and slash gameplay that includes using ground, rising, mid-air, dash and charged attacks along with unlocked skills and Psypher (magic weapon) powers while guarding, sliding and dodging enemy attacks.
In addition to this side-scrolling action, the game features a progression loop that includes gathering loot, harvesting fruits, crafting items and levelling-up all the while trying to manage character’s inventory.
Odin Sphere Leiftherasir features quite deep item crafting mechanics that include mixing magic potion ingredients with alchemy as well as gathering ingredients and recipes to grow fruits and create culinary treats.
Eating food allows players to replenish some of their health and also levels up each character to increase their HP, attack, defence as well as other stats.
These wide assortment of savoury delicacies and sweet deserts can not only be prepared by collecting recipes and ingredients but also purchased from select eateries with currency dropped by defeated enemies.
Defeating enemies also rewards players with purple sprites called phozons which act as a resource to level up each character’s individual skills, Psypher weapons and magic powers, thereby allowing players to increase the power and amount of moves in their arsenal.
Furthermore Odin Sphere Leifthrasir’s game flow requires players to start in a home stage at the beginning of each story scenario. There player is able to gather information from NPCs and buy items from merchants to prepare for battle.
Leaving the home stage opens up the world map where players are given an overview of the land of Erion and able to select their next destination from a range of locations available for play.
These locations are large areas within the world of Erion that have distinct world themes, ranging from castle, city and ruins to forest, ice and lava.
Each area houses different stages linked to each other in structure of a maze. These stages are key to story progression and are usually divided into the following four types:
Battle Stage is where the player fights enemies. These stages loop back onto themselves, allowing player to scroll infinitely without backing up into a corner. Players cannot move to another stage until they defeat all the enemies in that stage.
Free Stage is a more linear area which may or may not be host to some enemies. These stages allow players to explore and leave the stage without requiring them to defeat all or any of the enemies.
Rest Stage is where players can speak to NPCs and interact with merchants. These stages do not house any enemies and usually feature a checkpoint aura that allows player to immediately teleport to another checkpoint in a stage that the player has explored in that area.
Finally there is a Boss Stage that is basically the culmination of that area and usually houses the most powerful enemy of that location.
Not only does the game give players the recommended character level before going into any Boss or Battle stage but it also grades players’ performance on time taken, combo chains, skills used, damage received and rewards the players accordingly with items and currency.
However Odin Sphere features a lot of “backtracking” as each of the 5 main characters journey through the same set of locations in different order. While the enemy positioning, boss encounters and level structure change from campaign to campaign, the player has to essentially experience the same 8 locations at least 5 times before the end of the game.
What makes this level reuse acceptable is that the core action gameplay changes considerably from one character’s campaign to the next, as each of the five characters is uniquely different in not just his or her magic gem imbued Psypher weapons but also movements, attacks, skills and special powers.
Gwendolyn is a svelte warrior princess that uses her Psypher spear to do quick close range pokes and slashes. Her manoeuvrability is based on limited gliding, allowing her to do mid-air multi-hit combo juggles and her skill progression is based on new spear stab techniques as well as powers based on cold and ice.
The affable Prince Cornelius is an adorably undersized hero that relies on his large sword Psypher to do powerful slashes. His small demeanour allows him to quickly move in the battle field and avoid some enemy attacks, but it also makes certain enemies hard to reach. He is, however, aided by verticality of his double jumps and his skills based on furious sword spin attacks and lightning magic.
Mercedes is a petite youth that completely changes the style of play from close combat melee to keep away zoning with her flying ability and her weapon of choice; a crossbow Psypher. Her skill progression is based on managing magic bullets and her spells complement her regular attacks and allow her to summon allies or knock enemies away.
The grim Shadow Knight Oswald is an edgy warrior that utilizes his red psypher sword to hack his enemies and add to his berserker gauge that increases his speed and power upon use. His skill consists of harnessing black flames to warp across the stage as well as unleash devastatingly powerful shadow attacks.
Finally there is Velvet; a solemn beauty that attacks by whipping her chain psyphers, mirroring gameplay of God of War’s chain blades, which not only make her viable at mid-range combat but also allows her to swing around the stage like Spiderman. Her skills revolve around doing swings and twirls with her chain psypher as well as utilizing fire magic to deal powerful and lasting burn damage.
The ability to play entire story campaigns with these 5 characters adds both gameplay and narrative depth as it gives players the opportunity to experience the game through very diverse set of skills and abilities as well as a look at the politics in world of Erion from five different point of views.
What’s more Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is both a Remake and a Remaster. In addition to featuring a complete remake of the original game, Leifthrasir includes a “Classic Mode” that retains the original Odins Sphere’s game mechanics while remastering its visuals.
This Classic mode does away with the frame rate issues and frequent loading times of the original Odin Sphere but it retains what many considered to be convoluted mechanics that the developers changed in the Remaster.
Therefore veteran players can relive Odin Sphere experience in its original glory while newcomers, like myself, can not only play the game they missed in 2007 but also appreciate the effort developers put in changing mechanics for the remake “Refined” version.
Vanillaware not only updated the game in its Remake where players no longer have to contend with a stamina meter for basic attacks or pause the game to select special powers through a menu screen, but also streamlined old currency mechanic and levelling system, with addition of new items, skills and powers as well as the ability to customise their input commands.
With the Classic and Refined versions of the game available in one disk, players have so much content at their disposal; from playing more than 5 character campaigns to collecting items, ingredients, 50+ food and 25+ alchemy recipes as well as locating new skills and powers for each of the 5 characters.
However if its main game mechanic of 2D hack & slash brawling, skill levelling, crafting and inventory management does not sound appealing to you, then all that content won’t matter as Odin Sphere Leifthrasir will most likely feel tedious and repetitive.
On the other hand if all that seems like right up your alley then the game’s 40-60 hour story campaign will come as welcome excuse to explore the unique and wondrous blend of presentation and gameplay in the world of Odin Sphere.
Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is certainly not a game for everyone. It is a unique experience that caters to niche taste. For those that enjoy and value such experiences, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir promises to deliver a truly unforgettable experience.
If you are a fan of 2D artwork, side scrolling beat-em-up gameplay and charming fantasy tales, you owe it to yourself to pick up Odin Sphere Leifthrasir and avoid missing out on this absolute gem of a game.