Odin Sphere ReviewGreg Knoll
If I’m being honest, I rarely play side-scrollers. To give you a bit of a reference, the last one I actually played was Symphony of The Night. Next-gen games either don’t do that, or don’t pull it off, so I haven’t touched any “2D” games since Castlevania. Odin Sphere was different. One look at it and I knew I had to at least play it one time to see how gorgeous it was. Yet, to my surprise, Odin Sphere has a few more things going for it than just looks.
Odin Sphere is visually stunning.
I’m not just talking about sharp images, polished pixels or incredible cel-shading either. Odin Sphere is incredibly stylish. The game has a mix of characters--some huge, like the Demon King, whose height stretches all the way to the top of the screen, some small like Velvet, who makes up for her lack of size with slick animated moves and revealing clothes. There are the Pookas--tiny, furry creatures who somewhat resemble rabbits--and the Valkyries--women with silver hair and small wings. Then, there are the enemies. The fact that I could battle huge creatures with bright red manes that would reveal another head out of their mouths, or giant forest queens who revealed their spider torso from under their dress made sure the boss battles never got boring.
The environments, too, I appreciate. I enjoy the fact that I didn’t have to look at dingy dungeons and boring brick walls. Odin Sphere let me battle in nearly every kind of environment imaginable, from blistering volcanoes to freezing alps. I could battle in two different forests or even in the underworld, wrought with creepy skeletons who would walk through the level carrying candles to light my way.
Odin Sphere is mind-numbing.
In the best way possible, of course. Most games with RPG premise all follow along the same formula. Grind, kill bad guys, gain experience, beat the boss, repeat. Odin Sphere is different. The experience is still there, but I could slay bad guys until my fingers were blistered, and if I wasn’t smart about it, I wouldn’t get anywhere. What makes Odin Sphere so different? Two things: The Phozons and the food. Every time an enemy is defeated, its body dissolves and what’s left are these tiny floating particles called “Phozons”. Holding down the R1 button allows you to stop what you’re doing and absorb them. Gain enough of these and your weapon’s level goes up. The tough thing is, if you’re not paying attention or too busy swinging that weapon you can miss out on the utterly important phozons all together.
Food--aside from restoring your hit points--plays two important roles. One, it is the only way to gain experience to raise your hit points. Certain foods have a greater rate, and there are even items that will increase the experience you get from eating normal foods. The other role is a little side-quest in Odin Sphere. Most of the food you can eat on the battle field is fruit. And where does fruit come from? Seeds, of course. The game is littered with seeds for you to collect. Each one bears a certain kind of fruit, but each needs Phozons to grow. The number changes so the challenge lies in planting the seed at the right time. Some vines grow with an inordinate amount, and you may not have enough enemies to complete the quota and--sadly--if you planted it, and it does ripen, it’s lost forever.
This game isn’t simply about grinding. It makes you think, which I absolutely loved.
And if that wasn’t enough, the game throws in another mini-game of sorts called Alchemy. You come across base formulas almost as much as you do seeds. What you do with them is up to you. You can’t actually concoct something until you find the formula for it. For example, a base alchemy potion and a carrot will make a healing potion, or a base alchemy potion and an onion will make an antidote. The challenge lies in mixing the proper things or hunting down the items to do such, as well as finding the right recipe for each mixture. It’s more involved and a lot more entertaining than say… buying everything.
Yet, as fun as all these things can be, they do lead to a downside in Odin Sphere: The game isn’t too adamant on stressing the importance of these actions, so I started out only eating food when I needed to regain my HP. In the beginning it wasn’t so bad, as the levels weren’t that hard. Later on in the game, I found I had to do a whole lot of backtracking in order to build myself up not to lose. There were times when I would also drop the seeds to pick up more important items, and again I had to backtrack to get to a suitable level. I wouldn’t mind so much, but there are just way too many loading screens, as well as screens that tell you which chapter and act you’re in. Once is okay, every screen is irritating.
I also had a bit of a problem with the story. Yes, it is a goliath in the later rounds and Atlus brilliantly syncs everything up and intertwines all those cool characters for one final showdown, but the story during the beginning tends to drag. It can be a bit campy and even a bit dramatic at times, it creates characters you want to cheer for like Valkyrie and Velvet, but the opposing characters--mainly the Demon King who ends up banishing his daughter even after she risks her life just so that he will save face--were a bit too much at times. Some you could find pure enjoyment by throttling, others I never got the chance to.
Such a shame.
Odin Sphere is a good game. Maybe even a great game. Its one flaw: It’s a slow starter. The story, the items, all those fun environments and neat little mini-games aren’t a driving force until later. If I was to give my honest opinion on whether or not you should play this game? Yes. But play it, give it a fair shot if you want to enjoy it. Odin Sphere has a great deal of wonderful things going for it, you just have to let it hit its stride, and you have to put in what you expect to get out. Which is what I loved. Games with twice as much exposure don’t have half as much heart.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.
May I have the strength to lead with compassion. May I have a resolve strong enough to inspire it in others. May my heart be true, my motives virtuous, my spirit valiant. And whether I fail or succeed, may I at least be brave in the attempt.
About the Author: Greg Knoll
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