An unforgettable encore performance
When it originally released back in May of 2007, Odin Sphere was a rare treat for PlayStation 2 owners. In a time where sprawling, open-world epics were the order of the day, developer Vanillaware instead opted to release a more old school action-adventure that delivered satisfying combat, a great story, and some of the most gorgeous sprite work ever seen. While it seemed like a bit of an odd fit for the time, the gamble paid off. The game was ultimately a huge success. Praised by both fans and critics alike, Odin Sphere ended up being regarded by many as something of a modern masterpiece, weaving a touching Wagnerian tale that sits proudly alongside the best games to grace the console.
Now, nearly a decade later, Vanillaware and ATLUS have returned to bring this classic to a new generation. Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is a masterful retouching of the original game. The game brings to the table a host of enhancements, such as stunning HD visuals, an improved frame rate, and some smart new mechanics that breathe new life into the experience. Sure, Odin Sphere has aged more gracefully than many other games of its day, but Leifthrasir‘s numerous tweaks and refinements do a great job of modernizing the title in ways both newcomers and veterans alike will appreciate.
Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir’s story is set in the world of Erion, a fantasy world that’s been overcome with turmoil. Ragnanival, the Kingdom ruled by the Demon Lord Odin, has invaded the realm of Ringford, that’s presided over by the Fairy Queen Elfaria. The two nations are struggling for control of the Crystallization Cauldron, a mysterious relic from a fallen kingdom that has the ability to create a limitless supply of precious Psypher crystals. Players begin the adventure as Gwendolyn, one of Demon Lord’s daughters, but eventually assume control of five different protagonists, each with their own quests that intersect with one another over the course of the story.
As previously mentioned, the story itself is handled in a pretty unique way. The game’s narrative takes plenty of inspiration from German composer Richard Wagner’s operatic works. The world of Erion is steeped in Norse-inspired imagery, and the story focuses on such themes as chivalrous heroes, forbidden love, and poignant tragedy. The writing is frequently heavy-handed and poetic, and the voice acting is dripping with thick melodrama. This artistic inspiration bleeds over to the environments as well, which look more like lavishly produced stages than traditional RPG environments. I personally find the game’s style of storytelling delightful, as it manages to do something a bit different than expected, though it may come across as overly dramatic for those averse to theater. As someone who could go either way, I can safely say that even if Odin Sphere‘s brand of storytelling isn’t your thing, the game is well worth diving into for its rock-solid action.
After all, the game’s story is just one part of the package. You’ll spend plenty of time exploring the game’s vibrant world as battle an entire bestiary’s of enemies including noble dragons, murderous teddy bears, and other nasty foes. The combat system is tight and responsive. Each of Odin Sphere’s five playable characters has their own play style, and a number of standard and special attacks they can unleash. For example, Gwendolyn is a nimble Valkyrie who wields a mighty spear. She can glide across the battlefield, unleash dizzying combos, and put her enemies in a deep freeze with her powerful ice spells. Mercedes, on the other hand, is a fairy who can fly freely, and unleash volleys of deadly crossbow fire. Taking control of her almost makes the game feel like a High Fantasy take on Metal Slug as she runs across the land, laying waste to hordes of baddies with deadly streams of mystic firepower. While you’d think these different styles of play would feel jarring, the game does a great job of easing you into each character’s unique mechanics. And each character is a joy to control as you unlock new moves and augment their existing abilities. Not once did I wish a chapter would end so I could take control of a new character. Each of the game’s protagonists offers their own interesting dynamic to the action that keeps the action fresh and entertaining.
Another thing I really enjoy about Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is that it mitigates the need to tirelessly grind by giving the player more interesting ways to rake in precious experience points. Whenever you defeat an enemy, they dissolve into Phozon energy. You can then use these Phozons to grow seeds that you plant. Harvesting and eating the fruit from these trees yields health, experience points, and items that you can use for alchemy. Oftentimes, before a big boss fight, I’d simply plant a handful of seeds and reap the rewards as my character’s level raised several times in mere moments, giving me the edge I needed to best a challenging foe. Of course, spending those Phozons prevented me from using them to upgrade a few abilities, but the bonuses to my health and damage output were worth the temporary trade-off.
As useful as planting seeds to beef up your characters is, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir also introduces another way to bolster those levels – this time through the powers of fine cuisine. Each area you venture into in the game will have several Rest Areas scattered about. By ringing a bell, you can summon the portly Pooka Chef, Maury. When you visit Maury’s Touring Restaurant, you can give him recipes you find during your travels. He will then use these recipes to whip up a hearty dish that will restore HP and raise players’ experience points – so long as you bring him the required ingredients. These meals offer bonuses to EXP accumulation as well, meaning you can dig into a multi-course meal and watch those levels climb.
In addition to the mouth-watering addition of Maury’s Touring Restaurant, new changes are brewing in the form of some tweaks to Odin Sphere‘s alchemy system. In the original game, players were able to concoct various potions by mixing an item with a flask of liquid called a material. These potions did everything from heal your character to provide status buffs and perform devastating elemental attacks on your enemies. Odin Sphere Leifthrasir builds upon this system by allowing players to combine a potion with an item to create new recipes. Additionally, these concoctions can now be merged with each other or with food items to increase their potency. Unlike the original game, it’s no longer necessary to have recipes on hand to brew potions. You’re now able to experiment by mixing your own combinations of ingredients to see what nifty brews you can come up with. This seemingly subtle change really opens up the alchemy system, adding a welcome layer of depth to the proceedings.
If there’s one area of Odin Sphere Leifthrasir‘s package that’s a bit disappointing, it’s the repetitive nature of the environments. Over the course of the game you’ll repeatedly explore many of the same locales multiple times with each character. Sure, the towering ramparts and detailed stonework of the Ragnanival’s capital of Nebulaopolis look great, but after the third or fourth time you venture into its ornate corridors you’ll undoubtedly wish the world of Erion had a few more unique areas to explore. Each character does offer several ways to get around each stage though, and the enemy and item layouts change enough that things still feel fresh and engaging, even if the scenery doesn’t look much different than the last time you were there. This complaint can also be leveled at the bosses that you’ll face time and time again. Battling the Goddess of Death or a newborn dragon feels awesome initially, but decidedly less enthralling after you’ve done it a few times. Despite this, once the story starts unfolding it becomes easy to shake the feeling of deja vu as you soak up the theatrics.
In terms of visuals, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is certainly a sight to behold. The jump to glorious 1080p really shows off the game’s stellar visuals. The sprites simply pop off the backgrounds, and you’ll absolutely appreciate being able to see even the most intricate details in the environments with ease. Considering how many moments of this game look like they could be lifted from a canvas in the galleries of a museum, that’s definitely something to be happy about. Even if you’ve played through the original game already, this boost in visual fidelity alone is almost enough to warrant purchasing the game all over again.
Aesthetics aside, the game plays like a dream as well. The original Odin Sphere performed pretty admirably on the PS2, but during particularly chaotic boss fights things could slow to a crawl. While not game breaking, it was certainly a headache that resulted in a handful of unnecessary deaths for this reviewer. Odin Sphere Leifthrasir remedies this completely, keeping the action silky smooth even during the most over-the-top melees, where giant bosses, hordes of enemies, and explosive spell effects fill the screen.
We played both the PlayStation 4 and Vita versions of the game extensively during our review period with the game, and the differences between the two are pretty negligible. The PlayStation 4 version of the game obviously looks a bit better, thanks to the added screen real estate that really lets you drink in all of the little details. It also performs a bit better, as the Vita version would see a slight dip in the frame rate during some more ambitious boss fights, but this was never enough to affect the gameplay enough to really impact my enjoyment of the game. Most conveniently, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir also supports Cross-Save functionality, allowing you to easily transfer your data between both the PS4 and Vita. The only real bother I had with the Vita version is that the map is accessed by tapping the right thumb stick, which is easy to inadvertently nudge in the middle of combat. This resulted in more than a few occasions where my view of the screen was obscured by the map at a less than ideal moment in the game. That said, anyone playing on the Vita will want to reign in those twitchy digits a bit for this one.
When all is said and done, I can’t recommend Odin Sphere Leifthrasir enough. The game was phenomenal when it first released nearly a decade ago, and it’s even better today thanks to a handful of smart refinements that crank the dial all the way to 11. It’s not very often a game comes along that looks quite this stunning, and the story is fantastic – so long as you don’t mind a narrative steeped in copious melodrama. If you never managed to get your mitts on Odin Sphere when it first released, there’s no better time than the present to dive into this unforgettable adventure. And if you’ve already experienced the game, this brilliant remaster does more than enough to justify revisiting this modern classic.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: PS4 (Reviewed), Vita, PS3 ; Publisher: ATLUS ; Developer: Vanillaware; Players: 1 ; Released: June 12, 2016 ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on PlayStation 4 and Vita review codes provided by the publisher.