Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Odin Sphere Leifthrasir for PSVita (Nathan Green)

I’m a sucker for JRPG’s, ever since I got into them I’ve found something truly entrancing about them. Mind you my love of JRPG’s only really came to fruition a few years ago which meant that many JRPG’s have managed to slip under my radar for whatever reason, maybe they were too obscure or never got a European release. Whatever the reason, I missed out on them.
One of these games was Odin Sphere, which was originally released on the PS2 back in 2007 in America and 2008 in Europe and Oceania. I would have been around nine at the time which is probably why the game completely slipped by me, well that and the fact that my family had only just got our hands on a Wii but that's besides the point.
So now, less than ten years after the release of the original we have an updated HD remake entitled Odin Sphere Leifthrasir, and trust me, this game has given me a lot of stuff to talk about so with that being said, lets start.


The story is... interesting to say the least. Honestly the interesting part isn’t the story itself but rather how the story is told.
You see, Odin Sphere is split up into multiple “books”. Each book represents a different characters campaign. While each character is going through the same overall story each characters stories will be told from their perspective and fill in blanks that might be present from other characters stories.

It’s an interesting way of telling the games narrative and honestly I think it works quite well. The game provides you with a special chart to show specifically where certain events happen in the timeline and also where certain characters events overlap. Each character will go on their own adventure but the things that occur in those stories all are important in the large overarching plot.

It’s a clever system for telling the story and one I don’t think I have really seen before in a game. Problem is because of this system it makes talking about the story itself a bit difficult if you haven’t played through the whole game.
What I can say though is that the story itself borrows elements from Norse Mythology and also feels a little Shakespearean in how it is told (heck there are scenes where characters get a spotlight shone on them making it look like a stage-play and everything).

So while I can’t say too much about the story I can say the way it is told is extremely creative. That's all I can really say without getting into spoiler territory.


Now this is where things get interesting. Odin sphere isn’t a JRPG in the classical sense of the term. In fact the gameplay is completely different to what I expected.
You see, Odin Sphere plays a bit like a side scrolling beat-em-up. No I am not kidding. Let me explain.
Odin Sphere plays out entirely on a 2D plane. You run about in 2D and you fight in 2D. Dungeons contain three types of rooms: battle rooms, rest areas and normal rooms.

Battle Areas are just as they sound, you enter the area and a battle commences. This is where the 2D fighter gameplay starts bleeding in.
Combat heavily revolves around chaining together attacks which is a very simple and smooth affair. You only have one attack button which gives you a basic three hit combo as well as the ability to juggle enemies when coupled with pressing up on the D-pad but really that is all you need. The combat is incredibly smooth and fluid and despite the fact that I am a total idiot at fighting games I found myself getting the hang of chaining together attacks and pulling off flashy combos quite quickly.-
With Odin Sphere, I always felt like I was in control while fighting, inputs were responsive, combos weren’t a pain in the backside to pull off and skills were simple to pull off but effective at the same time.
Speaking of skills they come in two types, Passive and Active. Passive skills are always active while active skills require toggling using either a button combo or the skills menu (which can be accessed at any time during battle with the L button).

Now the skills menu is nice to have but I find it a bit of a pace breaker. Combat is quite fast and frantic and having the game pause while you pick a skill is a bit offputting.
However thanks to a wonderful thing called shortcuts this isn’t really a problem. In the skills menu you are allowed to assign skills to a surprising amount of button combinations. You have basic combinations of pushing a direction and circle at the same time but if you so desire you can pull skills off Street Fighter style by setting advanced button combos. I really like this feature. It allows players to set shortcuts in a way that they can handle. New players can use the simple shortcuts while other players (like myself) can map skills in a more advanced way. Really there is just something so satisfying about pulling off a skill through the use of a good old quater circle attack motion.
There are two different meters that a skill can deplete. The POW gauge and SP. Skills that deplete POW are able to be used more often as the POW gauge recovers by itself over time. SP skills however require SP and actually replenishing SP can only be done through the use of an item or by picking up Phozons (these little purple crystal things that replenish your SP and are the way you upgrade your skills).

Now some might call me a bit of a skill spammer but I found myself running out of SP A LOT during the early game. This is probably why I find myself using POW skills more as the POW gauge recharges by itself over time. It’s a minor nitpick but it would have been nice if they had reduced the SP cost for SP skills just a tiny bit.

The important thing to note about battle areas is how they are shaped. You see, Odin Sphere does something interesting with its dungeon design. Rooms come in two flavours, vertical/horizontal and cylindrical. Yes, cylindrical. This is how battle rooms are shaped and honestly, in practise it is a really clever idea.
The thing with these rooms is that because they are shaped in a circle you will well... keep running around the circle. This means that you don’t run the risk of off screening yourself while in a battle area and that is a total godsend in my opinion.
It also means that the camera is almost always placed sensibly in battle rooms so you can see what is going on. It’s simple but incredibly useful.

The other type of room is the vertical/horizontal room. These are just as they sound, nothing really too fancy about them. Sometimes they have enemies in them but most of the time they are just connectors between battle areas.
However these rooms are usually where you will find secrets. You see, Odin Sphere has an interesting system when it comes to learning skills. You don’t learn them as you level up, rather you learn them when you find special Phozon Prisims hidden around the place.
Sometimes you’ll get a prism for finishing a certain battle area but usually you will find them in hidden rooms not displayed on the map.
This really adds a bit of Metroidvania to Odin Sphere's gameplay which is something I really REALLY like. I’ve always liked Metroidvania games and adding a dash of that into Odin Sphere just makes it all the more fun for me.

Finally we have rest areas. These are just as they sound, areas where you can rest. Here you will find a store, item box (yes you do have a limit to how much you can carry in your bag), touring restaurant, checkpoint/warp point and a few other things.
This is probably a good time to get into some of the other mechanics that Odin Sphere has. Firstly we have the alchemy system. In a nutshell this allows you to combine certain items from your inventory and create potions. To do this however you require special empty vials called material (yeah I dunno why they’re called that either). You can them combine material with items you have picked up to create potions. The most useful of these items would be the mandragoras which are basically vegetables with legs. These guys are found in the ground and upon walking over one that is hidden you’ll hear a little squeak sound. Once you get them out of the group you just need to give them a little wallop with whatever weapon you are holding and then you can pick them up.

Mandragora’s can be used to create the more useful potions, namely healing potions, antidotes and potions that can be used to hurt enemies when thrown.
As you continue through the game you’ll pick up scrolls with new recipes on how to fuse different potions. However you don’t require these scrolls to make the item found on them which is nice.
The alchemy system is one of the systems you will be using the most due to how useful it is. Alchemy can be performed anywhere, even in the heat of battle and you can take as much time as you want because the game pauses itself when you open the items menu.

The other system you will most likely be using a lot is the planting system. You can plant seeds that you find and when given phozons they will produce fruit. The useful thing about this fruit is that when eaten it not only gives you experience points but it also boosts a few of your stats a bit. If you want to survive in this game you are going to want to make use of this system. All food in Odin Sphere is like this with it giving you EXP boosts, stat boosts and other things when eaten. The nice thing about this is that it basically removes the need to grind entirely. This is also where the touring restaurant comes in as with the right ingredients you can make some dishes that boost your exp a TON.

Now these aren’t the only mechanics in Odin Sphere (trust me there are quite a few) but these are really the two main ones that you will be using the most often. The other mechanics are just fine but you simply won’t be using them as often as the two mechanics I just mentioned.

Odin Sphere also sports excellent controls. They feel great, incredibly natural and I always feel like I’m in control.

Overall I find that the gameplay of Odin Sphere is by far one of its strongest aspects. It’s fast paced, smooth and most importantly, fun.

Graphics and Sound:

I’m just going to say it right now, Odin Sphere looks and sounds fan-flipping-tastic. Seriously, this is one of the best looking games I think I have ever played.
Multiple times I was left simply gawking at my Vita for a minute or two just from how eye poppingly beautiful the game looked. This is partially due to the multi layered backgrounds which are all so detailed and have tons of stuff going on in them. From leaves blowing past to spurts of lava, there is always something going on in the backgrounds and it looks stunning.
The foregrounds have a lot going on too with more little details scattered all around that just make the game look stunning. To top it off the character and enemy art is top notch, it looks amazing and is extremely detailed and very well animated.
In fact, not only does Odin Sphere look amazing but it also is smooth as butter both animation wise and performance wise.

Animation wise everything is incredibly smooth and slick. The animation is spot on with no jagged edges or odd frames. What makes this smooth animation even better though is the games performance. Odin Sphere runs at a consistent rock solid 60 frames per second and coupling that with the animation and art it makes for the most beautiful game I think I have ever seen on my PlayStation Vita.

If you’re like me and own an OLED Vita then you’re in for an extra treat as well. The OLED screen really makes the games colours pop and it looks all the more amazing because of it.

Not only does the game look pretty however but it sounds excellent as well. This is one of those games where I would highly HIGHLY recommend that you use headphones because using the Vita's speakers would be doing this games soundtrack a horrible disservice.
The soundtrack to Odin Sphere is amazing, heck even the developers know it’s amazing because they slap the logo of the group who composed the music among the company splash screens.

Coupling the music and the graphics really makes Odin Sphere come alive in a whole new way. The music and graphics fit the setting so well and it makes the world of Odin Sphere really pop. Really no amount of praise can do this game justice when it comes to how well it is presented and I highly recommend you experience it for yourself (which you can do at the time of this review by downloading the demo off the PlayStation store).


Going into Odin Sphere I didn’t quite have much of an idea on what to expect but what I got was a game that was not only beautiful to look at but great fun to play as well. The game is full of things to do, secrets to find and areas to explore and the amazing presentation makes it a visual and audio pleasure to play. The game also plays amazingly on the Vita giving a lag free experience which just makes the game all the more enjoyable.

If you enjoy JRPG’s and are looking for something unique and enjoyable then give Odin Sphere a look. If you already played the original on PS2 then pick this remake up anyway because it tweaks and fixes all of the problems that the PS2 version had to make this version of the game the definitive experience.

Odin Sphere Leifthrasir gets a Highly Recommended

The Vita is certainly getting a lot of love this year with all these titles coming out and I’m sure I’ll be back with another review soon but for now this is BDVR Guest author Nathan Green signing off.

Odin Sphere Leifthrasir will be releasing on June 7th in North America and on June 24th in Europe for PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4.

PEGI: 12



OFLC: PG (Unrestricted, Estimated Rating)

Game and cover image provided by Atlus.