REVIEW: Odin Sphere Leifthrasir

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016

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Odin Sphere Leifthrasir isn’t really one story, but five stories that converge into a sixth and then, if you make the right choices, a seventh story. There’s a lot of world building and character development going on; an epic tale that requires five protagonists and a bevy of supporting characters and antagonists to tell it. It’s ambitious stuff, with dragons bent to the will of cunning sorcerers, heroes trying to escape consignment to hell, once proud and noble kings driven to desperate and cruel acts by their own ambition, princesses trying to live up to roles fate has cruelly thrust upon them and love obstructed by circumstance and threatened by cruelty.

It’s pretty much everything you’d ever want out of an epic high fantasy story and in this respect Odin Sphere Leifthrasir effectively laces all of these dangling plot threads together into a fascinating and, at times, riveting tapestry of hope, desire, adulation and loss. I know it seems like a cop out to say ‘you have to experience it for yourself’, but I feel that to even begin to talk about these characters and events is a disservice to Vanillaware’s intentions. If you’ve already played the PS2 game and are simply revisiting it on current gen technology, they you already know where it’s going and are likely back to experience it all over again because it’s just that good. If you’re new to it, like I was, then you’re better off learning how the whole thing unfolds on your own.

In stark contrast to Dragon’s Crown, where the heroes are defined by their classes and simply exist as ciphers for the player, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir’s many characters have their own stories to tell and there are copious amounts of cutscenes that effectively deliver all of the exposition in a way that feels both organic and convincing. The narrative never feels forced, and the emotional transitions don’t come out of nowhere or disorient you.  To further assist you in understanding the chronology of events, there is a map of the cinemas and the order in which they occur that is easily accessible from the Options menu. And even better, you can watch as many of them as you like and in whatever order you choose to help you see it all unfold chronologically.

Odin Sphere Leifthrasir | World Map

Everything makes sense, but in some cases only when you have seen all of the story play out by completing all of the chapters. Oswald’s decisions in regard to Gwendolyn, for example, aren’t fully explained in her chapters, but after you play Oswald’s story you are able to paste it all together in your head and they form a sequence which satisfies to no end. There is a lot of triumph and tragedy in this story; an emotional journey of a tale which, when it’s completed, leaves you exhausted in the best possible way. You feel like you’ve been, literally, through hell with these people. And if you’re wondering whether or not the English dub is up to the challenge, I assure you it is. This is one of the best English dubs I’ve ever experienced in my life, but if you prefer the Japanese voices you have that option as well.

The gameplay takes place on a singular plane with only horizontal movement available to you, similar to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. There is jumping as well, which you’ll need to do when you face aerial foes. The basic flow of the gameplay is that you’ll enter an area in accordance with the story’s requirements (although revisiting previous areas for completion’s sake and grinding XP and resources is possible). These areas are comprised of many small chambers with multiple paths and all of them form a sort of ‘flowchart’ until eventually coming to the last room in the zone where the boss awaits.

There are shortcuts you can take advantage of if you want to quickly backtrack, but they are only available in certain sections and you’ll have to discover them before you can use them.  Vendors along the way can sell you maps, potions with various uses (damage, healing, etc), gear and ingredients for food. Food can be used to heal as well as grant massive XP, and you can eventually summon a travelling restaurant NPC which will serve you any dish you have both the ingredients and the recipe for. These can result in some huge level boosts but unfortunately, this is one of the few areas where the game stumbles a bit.

Odin Sphere Leifthrasir | Black Swordsman Oswald

The entire process of eating food just takes too long, kills the pace and feels more obligatory than engaging. It just slows everything down way too much for my tastes. Likewise for planting seeds and eating the various fruits that you can grow through the use of your Phozons (more on that later). On a mechanical level, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is predominantly a game about area and level progression and both feel fast-paced except for when you have to meddle with food. It feels tedious and is the one legitimate black mark on an otherwise stellar game.

As you move through areas, many of which have rewards for completion and, in some cases, hidden secrets that can lead to substantial power ups, you face waves of enemies that come at you in a variety of shapes and sizes. Bees buzz down at you from hive spawn points that you need to destroy. Dwarves throw grenades at you. Valkyries dive bomb with their spears and so forth. Sub-bosses and bosses take up more of the screen and have significantly more HP, but you have an ever-growing arsenal of abilities at your disposal for dealing with them. You can throw potions that cause damage over time or buff you for a short stretch. You have a basic combo string that can be cancelled into guard breaking attacks, aerial launchers, dash attacks and so forth.

Additionally, you learn special attacks for each character that can do devastating damage, which can be mapped to the circle button in conjunction with a direction on the controller. These maneuvers, as well as your base damage with your weapon, can be enhanced by going into the ‘Skills’ menu and spending Phozons to improve their effectiveness. This is a separate progression system from simply ‘going up in levels’. Phozons are not required to raise your character level, which generally results in an increase in HP. Phozons are acquired in a few ways: you get them for killing enemies and certain items can be used to generate more.

odin sphere leifthrasir | Battle in the Snow

The enemy variety and designs are thoroughly entertaining, with a good mix of attack patterns which keep the pace just frenetic enough that you don’t get bored but also don’t feel overwhelmed. And these are some of the most expressive enemies I’ve ever faced in a video game, but I guess that’s to be expected from the artistic geniuses over at Vanillaware. They’ve taken the time to make every part of this game brim with personality and charm and every enemy type feels distinct. Combat is a rush, with visceral graphics and sound effects that help enhance the sense of the power you command. Enemies collapse with satisfying hit sparks and animations, and seeing the flash of your blade on screen as you mow down minions is highly entertaining.

Some rooms feature sub-boss challenges that can yield greater rewards than normal, as well as some optional areas called ‘Trials’ where you face two of the stage’s sub-bosses at the same time. These fights can become quite hectic and intense and are a lot more challenging than you might expect. The rewards are always worth it, however, and the ability to save at any point in the game helps in the event of failure.

You will also find crafting items and coins strewn throughout the stages, sometimes requiring discovery by striking the ground where it shines with a star-like shimmer or by opening chests that contain these goodies.  You will find alchemy recipes throughout the game for mixing potions that can either heal, harm or buff, and this is where you may find yourself doing a little crafting, which goes pretty fast and isn’t overly complex. One of the best things about Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is that the game will pause while you access your menus, so in the event that you’re about to die you can make a healing potion and immediately use it provided you have the raw materials. I found the radial inventory menus a bit cumbersome to use at first but I eventually adapted to them. That being said, I feel they could have found a better, simpler way to pull off this particular interface.

Odin Sphere Leifthrasir | The Pooka Prince

By conducting some research on Odin Sphere and its current gen remake, I’ve learned about a number of technical issues that plagued the PS2 version of the game, which seem to be mostly due to hardware limitations. Apparently, Vanillaware made the game too good for the PS2 to handle and there was a significant amount of slowdown when enemies were too numerous and load times which were too long and occurred too often. I am happy to report that in addition to getting what appears to be a fresh coat of paint in the form of remastered artwork, I experienced no slowdown or frustrating load times at any point during my playthrough. Plainly put, the software performed as smooth as silk.

Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is a marvel of a game, a niche gem that, like Valkyria Chronicles, deserved more love than it got in its original release. I am part of the problem here, I know, but I’m very glad to finally be experiencing this game in all its storied glory on the PS4. Despite the pacing issues when it comes to the cuisine element, I can’t recommend this game enough. If you are a fan of 2D brawlers, fantasy storytelling, RPGs, exploration or are even just someone who appreciates a sublime visual presentation, then this is your game. The copy I reviewed was provided by the publisher but that is not going to stop me from purchasing the Storybook Edition on launch. I believe in it enough that even though it resides in my hard drive currently, it deserves to be purchased. Yeah, I liked it that much.

Review Score

Review copy provided by publisher

Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is available for the Sony PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita entertainment systems.

About Tom Tolios

Really smart, talks too much, loves the video games and the Star Wars and the Game of Thrones, likes the manga and some anime and knows that Kentaro Miura's Berserk is the greatest thing ever made.

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