Odin Sphere Leifthrasir Review
The original Odin Sphere was a well-regarded action RPG back on the PS2 developed by Vanillaware. It had some gorgeous 2D sprite graphics, a great fighting system, and an intricate storyline that followed five characters and their intersecting paths. It was let down by some serious technical issues though. Thankfully though, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir has just been released, building upon the original and allowing a whole new bunch of people an opportunity to play a great game. With improved graphics and performance, as well as a completely revised gameplay system that makes it feel like an entirely different game, Odin Sphere is must buy for anyone who enjoys RPGs.
Odin Sphere is set in the world of Erion. Vaguely inspired by Norse mythology, it’s a fantasy world in turmoil. The Demon King Odin and his army of Valkyries and warriors are warring with Fairies for control over a devastatingly powerful magical artefact. A terrible curse has destroyed a kingdom and turned most of the survivors into tiny little rabbit like beastmen called Pooka. Various schemes are colliding as plotters and factions work against each other, and all the while, the world marches towards Armageddon as prophecies start to come true. Odin Sphere features 5 playable characters and follows their stories as their continually intersect and cover the events leading to the looming end of the world. Gwendolyn, a Valkyrie who is desperately trying to earn the love and attention of her neglectful father Odin. Cornelius, a prince who was cursed and become a Pooka and his struggles to break the curse and return to human form. Mercedes, Fairy Royalty who is forced to grow up quickly and assume leadership and responsibility in the face of war. Oswald, the Shadow Knight, a living weapon whose soul is bound to the Netherworld and his attempts to find a reason for living. And Velvet, a mysterious witch and the princess of a fallen kingdom, who is desperately trying to avert Armageddon.
The storyline is excellent and well told, split amongst several characters that, whilst progressing in a linear fashion, take place in different locations and different times. The interwoven narratives lead to a greater whole, and it’s a deep story with a rich background. If you’re going to tell an intersecting storyline with different characters, Odin Sphere is an exercise in how to do it right. It’s fascinating how the game plays out. For example, Gwendolyn’s story is the first tale you play. Early on, you meet Oswald as an enemy on the battlefield as he fights on the side of the Fairies. Partway through the game, Gwendolyn is married off by father King Odin to her former enemy Oswald, after he performs a mighty quest to slay a dragon and wins her hand in marriage, much to her chagrin. Oswald’s story fills in the blanks, going from how he turns from an enemy of her nation, to her future husband, as well as allowing you to fight said dragon and win her hand. It’s a very interesting way of telling the story. The game is also fully voice acted, and it’s done very solidly. And while some of the dialogue is corny and melodramatic, it’s very fitting considering the fantasy/fairy tale world they inhabit.
Gameplay wise Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is excellent, and in some ways it’s practically two separate games. The original Odin Sphere was completely remastered for Leifthrasir, and the game comes with two separate modes: Classic and Refined. Classic is the original gameplay, and has a slower more strategic sort of pace to it. Attacks drained your limited but regenerating POW meter, and you had to manage your energy in combat carefully. It played like a cross between a fighting game and a beat ‘em up with some RPG elements like levelling up, or using items. It was difficult, thoughtful, but rewarding. Refined on the other hand basically amps up the combat like crazy. Rather than the more methodical combat of classic mode, it uses similar gameplay as Muramasa Rebirth – also by Vanillaware, and one of the best damn games on Vita – which basically means it becomes an intense, incredibly fun, fast paced action game with RPG levelling and skill trees. The camera has been pulled back to give you a wider view. Attacks no longer drain your POW meter, though special abilities do – unless you’re playing as Mercedes as she fights with a magical bow – and you mulch through enemies at a ridiculous pace as your fight large numbers and can build up your combo meter to ridiculous levels. Your character also gets a skill tree and you can unlock and level up various new combat skills and spells, with characters specialising in different ways. Gwendolyn for example has ice magic that can freeze enemies. Cornelius uses lightning to stun. Mercedes has to stay out of enemy range and shoot enemies. Oswald is pure damage dealing and gets a berserk mode. And Velvet has chains for mid-range melee and powerful fire magic for distance attacks. There’s actually a significant difference between Classic and Refined modes and essentially you’ve got two different games covering the same story to play.
Levels consist of several stages, some where you battle enemies, some where you platform and discover treasure, and rest stages where you can buy items from vendors. Levelling up is achieved in two ways, experience points and phozons, which can be gathered from defeated enemies or from the stage. Phozons are used to upgrade your weapon in classic, or used to upgrade your skill tree in refined mode. Levelling up generally increases your health, and you earn experience points from defeating enemies and eating foods. Food is available in a variety of ways, from growing it using seeds and phozons, to collecting items and cooking it, to buying from restaurants. Food is necessary to gameplay, as it heals you, increases maximum health, and is the only efficient way of levelling up. Also common to both gameplay modes is alchemy, where you can mix together various items to create useful potions that can heal you or damage the enemy.
Presentation wise, the game is absolutely gorgeous. As typical of Vanillaware, it uses 2D sprites that are intricately crafted and immaculately detailed, from the characters to the locations. And for those who weren’t fans of the hyper stylised and highly sexualised character designs in Dragon’s Crown, the art style here is much more restrained, but no less well drawn, lush, or detailed. The game runs very smoothly for the most part, although in some of the more intense battles with a half dozen enemies and a bunch of area effecting spells caused a bit of slowdown when I was playing it on the Vita. It’ll likely be better on the PS4 version though. The soundtrack is good, and perfectly suits the fantasy/fairy tale like atmosphere, while the voice acting is solid.
Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is an excellent game, and a must play for anyone who owns a Vita – seriously it’s a good if heavily underrated machine, show it some love people! – or for anyone who’s a fan of RPGs. With its two gameplay styles, I’m sure it covers most of the bases for what people want in a combat system, whether tactical and methodical, or balls to the wall action packed. Throw in an interesting story split amongst five characters, and some absolutely beautiful presentation and I’m damned thankful that Vanillaware are porting some of their older titles for people to enjoy. After Odin Sphere, Muramasa, and Dragon’s Crown, I’d say that Vanillaware is a company you have to keep an eye on.
About: Simon Mawson
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