The original Odin Sphere is a 2D action RPG developed by Vanillaware and published by Atlus, which was released back in 2007 on the PS2. At the time it was praised for its stunning 2D visuals and intuitive gameplay, but it suffered from a low framerate. 9 years later, Atlus and Vanillaware have once again teamed up to release Odin Sphere Leifthrasir, a remastered version of the original, on the PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4. Taking advantage of the more powerful hardware, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir attempts to resolve the problems with the original game. Below, you can find my review of the game’s PlayStation 4 version!
It’s immediately obvious that Atlus and Vanillaware put a lot of effort into this remaster, as Odin Sphere Leifhthrasir, running on the PlayStation 4, is a gorgeous looking game. The game’s distinct art direction, courtesy of Vanillaware’s art director George Kamitani, coupled with the 1080P resolution and 60 frames per second framerate, make this one of the most impressive 2D games on the market. Everything from menus to in-game areas (ranging from castles, forests, snowy landscapes to the depths of the Underworld) are delivered in a very colorful and crisp HD presentation. And while the framerate was inconsistent on the PS2, on PS4 the game almost always maintains its 60fps. There rare occasions where it does suffer from a drop in framerate, and curiously the worst ones don’t happen in battle, but instead when you’re viewing the in-game’s item box. Thankfully, this doesn’t really impact the gameplay.
The attention to detail from Vanillaware is present in every part of the game. As you can see in the image above, even the texts that offer some background details of the story and its characters are decorated with artwork. While this is a remaster of a PS2 game, it’s not evident from the game’s presentation, as the end result looks like a fully-fledged PS4 game.
In the sound department, the game comes with both Japanese and English dialogue options, and while I preferred the Japanese dialogue, the English one is of a good level overall. The soundtrack seemed to come straight out of SEGA’s Valkyria Chronicles at times, which is hardly surprising as it features the same composer: Hitoshi Sakimoto. His work here is once again of a high level, and it complements the rest of the game perfectly.
The game starts in a small library located in an attic, where a young girl named Alice is reading various books. Each of the game’s five main characters is represented by one of the books. As Alice, the player can select a book to read, and this will start the story for one of the main characters. At first, only Gwendolyn’s book is available for Alice to read, so she’s if the first character you get to play as. Completing her story will unlock the book for Cornelius, and so on.
Watching the various cutscenes during each chapter, it quickly becomes clear that the characters that you meet in Odin Sphere Leifthrasir are rarely one-dimensional stereotypes. Each character has its own motives, and this is perhaps best demonstrated by the fact that the five main characters cross paths from time to time. These encounters aren’t necessarily peaceful, and you may even find yourself in a boss fight against one of them.
All of these individual character stories are part of an overarching storyline, and experiencing the true ending to the story requires completing each of the characters’ individual story arcs. The game’s story certainly isn’t the game’s main focus, as you’ll spend most of the time fighting your way through the game’s various stages. But it really contributes a lot to the atmosphere and immersion into the mystical world of Odin Sphere, and I was eager to find out how the story would progress.
Odin Sphere Leifthrasir offers two different modes to play the game: Refined (the default option) and Classic Mode. The latter is meant for those who wish to experience the original gameplay of the PS2 version, but if you play the Refined Mode first (which I recommend), you’ll probably have a hard time returning to the slower paced Classic Mode. After all, the Refined mode builds on the experience that the team gained from their more recent work on Muramasa: The Demon Blade and Dragon’s Crown, and the result is a faster and more fluid battle system that feels both accessible yet has plenty of depth.
Right from the start, your character has a substantial list of moves and attacks, and you’ll soon find yourself juggling your enemies in the air and following up with aerial attacks and combos with little effort. The game is a joy to play, even from the first minutes. Each character has its own particular moves and special skills as well, making for a different gameplay experience. For example, playing as the fairy Mercedes will make the game more similar to a 2D side-scrolling shooter, rather than the 2D beat-em-up gameplay experienced with characters like Oswald.
The way the 2D stages are designed is rather interesting. You enter a specific region from the world map (typically, each chapter of a characters’ story is located entirely in one of the game’s regions) and each region is divided in different areas. As you can see in the screenshot to the right, each one of the areas can contain exit points to other areas, and the way they’re connected is not linear. As such, not all paths need to be taken to reach the stage’s end boss. There are different types of areas as well. Some may be Battle Areas, where you’ll have to fight opponents in order to clear the area. At the end of Battle Area, you’re granted a score, which in turn determines how many items you get from a reward chest that pops up. Taking down enemies fast without taking a lot of damage yourself is the key to getting a good result.
There are also Rest Areas, where you can often buy and sell items, enjoy a meal from a traveling cook, or find a checkpoint. The latter are used to fast travel between areas. Clearing the chapter is done by defeating a boss in the aptly named Boss Area.
As you progress through the stage, you can encounter mid-boss fights as well, which as you may expect involves fighting a boss of an intermediate level. There are also Trial areas, which typically involve fighting two or more mid-bosses at the same time. These battles are optional and are often more challenging than the end Boss itself, but you’re granted special items if you emerge victorious from the battle.
The game’s RPG element is hardly an afterthought. Defeating enemies grants you Phozons, which can be used to upgrade your main weapon, but also to grow food and upgrade your skills. Unlocking those skills is done by collecting items called “Phozon Prisms”, which can be acquired by defeating the enemies in certain areas. Each one will unlock a skill, which can be either active (requiring the player to activate them manually in battle) or passive (not requiring user interaction, such as increasing damage depending on combos you perform). A skill tree system is present to help you keep track of all your skills and their level.
Growing and eating food plays an important part in the game, as it’s a vital source of EXP for your characters. By collecting seeds, planting them and using some of your acquired Phozons to grow them, you can then collect their fruit. These can be eaten directly, granting you some EXP or restoring your health. But they can also be mixed with potions or combined with other ingredients to create an entire meal in one of the in-game restaurants. A special kind of roots, called Mandragoras, can also be found hidden in the ground or dropped by defeated enemies. These can be mixed with “Material”, which is basically an empty bottle. Combining these with Mandragoras will give you potions, often related to a certain elements like Wind or Fire. These potions can then be used against your enemies, for example capturing them in an ice storm. Between all your skills and potions, you have a lot of different ways to defeat your enemies.
If there’s a downside to the game, it’s probably the amount of repetition. As you complete the stories of each character, you’ll find yourself revisiting the same areas and fight the same enemies. Although the layout of the stages may be different, and some boss fights might differ slightly, there’s definitely a sense of déjà vu with each consecutive chapter you play. The different play styles for each character do mix things up a bit, but not enough to hide the rehashed content. But it’s really the only real flaw I can point out for the game, and the story was still interesting enough for me to want to see how it all ends.
Odin Sphere Leifthrasir shows how remakes should be done, as it fixes a lot of flaws from the original game while delivering a presentation worthy of the platforms it’s running on. The revamped gameplay is fast and intuitive, and the game’s RPG elements help you customize your character and playstyle. With five different characters and an interesting storyline, you’ll spend plenty of time on the game before seeing the true ending. That said, the game does start to get repetitive over time, and some more variation in terms of areas and enemies would have been nice to have. But it’s the only real flaw in an otherwise fantastic 2D action-RPG. While there have arguably been too many remakes in recent times, this is one that you should check out, even if you played the original.
Review copy provided by Atlus U.S.A.