By Tom Tolios / May 26th, 2016
I didn’t know what to expect out of Odin Sphere Leifthrasir because I’d never played the original. I know, it’s a crime that’s almost unforgivable in the eyes of some. After all, Vanillaware does this 2D brawling stuff better than anyone else on the planet and a hardcore gamer like myself should have long since sampled the first version of this game for PS2. I own a PS2. And I own the game. But I never played it.
I don’t have a good reason, really. I guess there were just too many other games coming out featuring franchises I was more familiar with at the time and this one just got lost in the shuffle. Shame that, because if the amount of fun I’ve been having with Odin Sphere Leifthraiser is any indication, this is a dandy little gem of a game I really regret passing over the first time.
I am familiar with Vanillaware’s products, have no doubt. Whether it’s the action of the never-released-on-western-shores Princess Crown on the Sega Saturn back in the day (as they say), Muramasa: the Demon Blade (released on both the Nintendo Wii as well as an enhanced form on the Vita some years later) or, in my opinion, their ‘crowning’ achievement Dragon’s Crown (see what I did there?), I’ve thoroughly enjoyed what George Kamitani and company have done throughout the years. After all, he was one of the guys responsible for the two excellent Capcom Dungeons and Dragons beat ‘em ups that tore up the arcades in the 90’s. There is a pedigree here, folks.
But enough of all that. What are my early impressions of Odin Sphere Leifthrasir? In case you didn’t know, this is an enhanced HD remake of a cult favorite PS2 game that will be launched in the US on June 7th, 2016. I’ll be doing a full review of this game soon enough (and please be on the lookout for that in the near future), but for now let me start by saying that this game, like all of Vanillaware’s offerings, is a visual tour de force. Beautiful and stylized 2D artwork with unbelievably detailed animations give this game’s world a real visual punch. Everything looks almost like a fully automated paper mache puppet show operated by dozens of puppeteers.
Background and foreground details punctuate a world brimming with mysticism and mythic lore that is only barely hinted at, left there for you to wonder about. Despite all the action taking place on a singular plane of activity, the different layers that envelop the characters scroll at multiple speeds to help create the illusion of real movement as you traverse haunted forests, stone cityscapes, dilapidated ruins and even the fiery netherworld itself. The world of Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is alive thanks to the wildly imaginative and supremely capable art direction Vanillaware brings to every product they develop.
As this is an early impressions piece, I can only talk about my time with the Valkyrie Gwendolyn, the daughter of the Demon King Odin and the inheritor of a magical spear called a ‘psypher’. The Valkyrie are Odin’s best fighting force and Gwendolyn is fiercely loyal to her father, pretty much to a fault. There is a sense of noble purpose to her blind fealty to her giant of a dad (and believe me, Odin takes up a significant amount of the screen whenever he appears).
There’s a lot of fighting to be found in Odin Sphere Leifthrasir, mostly because Odin wants to take out his enemies and capture a device from them that will allow him to generate a limitless amount of Phozons, a valuable energy source that normally requires great sacrifice to obtain. Odin’s ambitions are, of course, self serving while cloaked in the rationale of furthering his nation’s prosperity, but early on I wasn’t really concerned about any of that. I figured that the cutscenes would show me the different sides to this conflict as I played through. I just wanted to dive in and start mashing buttons to see how the game engine worked.
Combos are pretty satisfying, with basic attacks allowing for massive combo strings as long as you can avoid being interrupted. Enemies come at you in waves, so you have plenty of opportunity to hone your techniques. Other functions allow for double jumping, gliding, aerial attacks, guard breaking and special powers mapped to the circle button plus a held direction on the D-pad. You can move the character with either the D-pad (my preferred method for a game of this type) or the left analog stick, with the right one bringing up a map overlay of the environment that can be dismissed just as easily.
After playing copious amounts of Dragon’s Crown, I thought that all the action being stuck on one plane would feel limiting, but it really didn’t. In fact, I’d argue that it actually allowed for some pretty inventive combo strings and this felt incredibly rewarding. This isn’t to say that the vertical movement of Dragon’s Crown isn’t appreciated (it is), but it’s amazing what Vanillaware has done with this combat engine, given your options are to move left and right. The enemy designs were a treat to study as well as destroy, and there were great enough numbers of monster attack types that I was never bored when I get into a fight. There is just enough variety that I was constantly on my toes without my senses being overwhelmed.
All of this is further enhanced by an exceptional soundtrack that effortlessly captures the frenetic and hectic pace of the conflict as well as the fantastical essence of the overarching plot. Odin Sphere Leifthrasir has a very distinct world that is equally grim and intriguing as it is fanciful and whimsical. It is a true fairy tale world, and helped immensely with the immersion.
As it stands right now, I am continuing my playthrough in anticipation of my review, which should be posted soon. What I can tell you right now is that if the later parts of the game maintain the overall quality of what I’m seeing in the early chapters, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is going to be a thoroughly rewarding experience and well worth the price of entry.
Odin Sphere Leifthrasir will be released in the west on June 7, 2016 for the Sony Playstation 4 Entertainment System.
AtlusDragon's CrownMuramasa RebirthMuramasa: The Demon Bladeodin sphere leifthrasirPlayStation 4Princess CrownVanillaware