Oh, how long I’ve waited to be able to play Odin Sphere.
To be clear, I bought it on launch day, May 22, 2007, for the PlayStation 2. My eyes stared, unblinking, at the drop-dead gorgeous art design, but my feeble mind could not quite wrap itself around the many systems in Odin Sphere. The game also became increasingly difficult to play due to technical performance. Odin Sphere overtaxed the PS2, causing framerate issues so severe that Vanillaware’s beautiful game was reduced to a slide show. Load screens were frequent and lengthy as well. I abandoned the game shortly thereafter, always hoping for some kind of bug-fixing port. We sort of got that a couple years ago when Odin Sphere was rereleased as a PS2 Classic on the PS3. It still had framerate issues but they weren’t nearly as bad. Even so, I longed for more.
So you can imagine my zeal when Atlus announced Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir, an HD remake with gameplay improvements, last year. Having now finally played Odin Sphere to my own satisfaction, I can say with absolute confidence that it’s well worth the investment.
Odin Sphere has an interesting story conceit: you play five separate campaigns, in a set order, each with a different character. The characters control differently but the gameplay is largely the same between them. This allows Vanillaware to craft a surprisingly deep story, and for the many protagonists to view the story through a different lens. The plot involves a war between the Faeries and Dwarves over control of a mysterious Crystallization Cauldron, which has the power to create unlimited magic energy. Other races have tertiary roles: the rabbit-like Pooka, the neighboring kingdom of Titania, and the remaining citizens of the destroyed kingdom of Valentine all round out this epic fantasy.
Leifthrasir benefits enormously from Vanillaware’s experiences with Muramasa: The Demon Blade and Dragon’s Crown. Combat is much more similar to Muramasa here, with acrobatic attacks and fast-moving combos. Most characters have their own gimmicks. Faerie princess Mercedes provides the biggest change-up, as she uses an energy-based crossbow instead of a blade. Oswald can activate a “Berzerk” mode for increased damage, and Velvet has the best range. Psypher Stones, usually won from battles, provide each character with new special attacks, and there’s a constant stream of them, so combat is never boring.
You can use Phozons (experience) to enhance your main weapon and each Psypher Stone individually to tailor your combat. Do you find yourself relying heavily on Oswald’s blade rush attack? Power that sucker up. Don’t really like Cornelius’ diagonal slash? Save your Phozons for something else. Additionally, you can sink Skill Points (which you get for leveling up) into character buffs. Customization and character building are big parts of Leifthrasir.
Leifthrasir continues Vanillaware’s preoccupation with cooking—your characters will amass a wealth of food items on their journeys which can be eaten for health recovery or combined (at a traveling restaurant) for huge experience and max HP bonuses. Additionally, you’ll experiment judiciously with alchemy, combining Material (that’s an item) and various other implements to concoct all manner of offensive and defensive potions. Create a massive tornado that freezes enemies! Drink a tonic that makes your enemies drop more gold! Turn everyone into frogs, etc. Experimentation is encouraged, as you find actual alchemy recipes rarely. Similarly, finding the occasional restaurant recipe is a celebratory event, as Maury (the traveling cook) will add it to his menu. There’s also a good amount of lore to read about, only some of which is critical to the game itself.
English doesn’t have an adequate vocabulary to describe how beautiful Leifthrasir is. Every pixel moves or warps—even the backgrounds refuse to be static. Some characters look better than others (Queen Elfaria isn’t great) but that’s a matter of taste. I can really find no fault with the aesthetic. Similarly, the sound design is top-tier. Every word of dialogue is fully voiced, and in general I thought every voice was appropriate, although characters have an annoying way of pausing between phrases. The music is understated but beautiful. It’s not the kind of soundtrack that gets in your head, but that’s okay. It’s cinematic when it needs to be.
It’s not all wine and roses, though; there are some places where the game stumbles. Alchemy can occasionally become too much of a focus—you’ll be concocting offensive spells as well as potions for decreasing your POW use and restoring your PP way too often. You’ll be scouring every area for Mandragoras (vegetable critters) in order to create potions. You’ll learn how to create raw Material, then spent a lot of time finding the ingredients to do so. It really slows the game down. Combine this with an item-carry limit and you will find yourself spending way too much time in the item menu.
You’ll also suffer from Campaign Fatigue if you play Leifthrasir all the way through. This is a long game, and while each campaign does feature some differences, there are only so many environments and so many enemies. Also, unfortunately, there are only so many bosses. Yes, you’ll fight the same bosses several times as different characters. I think everybody gets to take a shot at Odette, Queen of the Underworld. For someone claiming to be unbeatable, the big dragon Wagner sure gets knocked around a lot. Also, while the storylines combine to tell one big story, some of the transitions remain unclear (why was Oswald in the Fire Kingdom?). It would have also been nice if the game’s lore was spread throughout Leifthrasir’s five campaigns rather than being largely shoved into Velvet’s.
Now, these problems may not be as apparent if you take a break between campaigns.
In summary, Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir is an incredible game marred by some item management issues that absolutely should not keep you from playing it. This is Odin Sphere as it was meant to be played, on hardware that can actually run it. It’s available on PS4 as well, and cross-saving is enabled. However, I would argue that a game like this is best played portably. There are demos available on both systems as well, so you can try before you buy. Me, though? I might actually double-dip so I can see Leifthrasir on the big screen.
Fairy princesses, dwarves, and a dragon named Wagner: as a lifelong Tolkien scholar, Odin Sphere checks all the right boxes for me. But when it was released back in 2007, the PS2 was a distant memory for me, and besides, my book slave wages were hardly sufficient to fund even a current-gen gaming habit back then. What I’m saying is, I didn’t know Odin Sphere was even a thing back then, and even if I had known about it, I probably would’ve passed on it. My ignorance, as it turns out, has been a blessing in disguise, because Odin Sphere Leifthrasir on PS4 is both the ideal form of a game that was woefully compromised on its original platform, and a deeply engrossing riff on the Germanic Nibelungenlied and Old Norse Volsunga sagas, from which Tolkien took deep inspiration for his Middle-earth books… influences which in 2007 I wouldn’t have had the same appreciation for as I do today. And at a time when I find my gaming tastes skewing heavily toward the past, the fact that Odin Sphere is an RPG-infused hack ’n slash in the vein of SNES classic The King of Dragons is just icing on the cake.
I haven’t played nearly as much of Odin Sphere Leifthrasir as Zach, but whenever I’ve gotten a chance to fired it up, I’ve lost hours at a time to its engaging, decently acted narrative and its deep character customization. The action, though, is where it’s at for me. Who doesn’t love juggling enemies on 500-hit combos just because you can? And while the different characters I’ve played don’t always feel as distinct from one another as I’d like, the fact that each character provides a different perspective on the conflict at the core of Odin Sphere’s story has given me plenty of reason to keep on playing. — Michael
Invisible Gamer’s review of Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is based on final review code provided to us by Atlus. The game launches on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and PS Vita on Tuesday, June 7th, 2016.