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Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir (PlayStation 4) artwork

Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir (PlayStation 4) review

"A PS2 great gets the remake it deserves"

Odin Sphere was a game that I desperately wanted to love on the PS2. It was visually gorgeous, had a compelling story, and played around with some really neat ideas. Unfortunately, a lot of those ideas got in the way of the game actually being fun, and I ended up feeling frustrated more often than not. Thereís always room in my heart for a do-over, though.

Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir is another recent result of the popular trend of taking an old game and remastering it for a new generation. Unlike a lot of remasters, however, Leifthrasir is more like a full remake. The updated gameplay and content take a game on the cusp of greatness and transform it into one of the best action-RPGs around.

Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir (PlayStation 4) image

If you never played the original Odin Sphere on the PS2, just know that itís a collection of interconnected stories inspired by Norse mythology. Players follow the stories of five characters whose adventures intertwine throughout the narrative and wind up coming together in the end. What makes the narrative so interesting compared to similar games is that itís framed against a young girl reading these tales with her cat. Itís also notable that the stories arenít told in chronological order, which enables the plot to leave intriguing questions that will be eventually answered by other narrative strands that played out previously.

What makes Odin Sphere so special is that every character is truly likable. You want to root for Gwendolyn, daughter of Odin, as she struggles to decide between doing whatís right and doing what her father wants; or Mercedes, the naive princess of the fairies suddenly becoming the queen and learning how to effectively rule.

While the story is the same as the one originally presented on the PS2, Leifthrasir does add some some additional context to the overall narrative. While I like to think Odin Sphere succeeds more as a character-based story, itís nice that the writers added a little more to the overall plot to help explain some concepts that may not have been sufficiently explained in the original.

Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir (PlayStation 4) image

It perhaps goes without saying, but Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir is also a beautiful game. It was one of the most stunning games on the PS2, and itís now one of the best looking titles on the PS4, as well. Rendering all the artwork in full 1080p certainly yielded lovely results, but the added detail to the backgrounds (over the original) puts it leagues ahead of its predecessor. Itís also worth mentioning that the game runs at a silky smooth 60FPS, so the often unbearable frame drops into the single digits from the original game are a thing of the past.

If Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir were content merely to further contextualize the story and improve the visuals, it would have been a pretty alright game. Fortunately, the developers at Vanillaware have completely revamped the core design. Combat is far more fluid, alchemy is more user friendly and the maps allow for considerably more exploration.

My biggest gripe with the original Odin Sphere was how combat was felt more defensive, despite the game clearly wanting players to go at it offensively. It achieved this unfortunate balance by making every attack pull from a POW meter that refilled over time. In Leifthrasir, normal attacks no longer deplete the POW meter (except in the case of one specific character). Instead, only special physical attacks have that effect. Even then, the POW meter refills far more quickly than it did in the original version, allowing the game to become the incredible action game it always deserved to be.

Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir (PlayStation 4) image

Combat has been further augmented, as well, with a fully fleshed out progression system. In the original, base stats were leveled up through experience gained from fighting and eating. Each characterís weapon, however, was leveled up when players collected phozons from fallen enemies. What made this process awkward is that phozons could be spent on growing food, thus weakening the weapon. In Leifthrasir, phozons are still used for growing food, but they can also be spent on upgrading the weaponís base stats and skills. In other words, all weapon level progression is permanent, but there still remains an interesting dynamic that requires players to prioritize either weapon strength or experience from food.

Skills are far better implemented in Leifthrasir, as well. Formerly, skills were special attacks that players gained by leveling up weapons. Here, they are instead mastered by finding items hidden within levels, or by completing challenges. Once a skill is obtained, itís a permanent fixture of that characterís repertoire, and can be leveled up with phozons. Each character also gains a number of passive skills, such as increased back attack damage, that they can improve by spending separate skill points that are gained by leveling up a character.

The above changes make for a far more pleasant experience overall. I love action games, and being able to freely attack without worry of an arbitrary limit placed on my movements allowed me to experiment with how I approached each situation. Boss fights in particular are far more thrilling, as I was able to look at how I could most effectively use each characterís skills to interrupt attacks or juggle them in the air.

Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir (PlayStation 4) image

Maps are also more fun to explore. In the original, each space was an infinitely scrolling sphere that either contained a combat encounter or a shop. In Leifthrasir, only combat is relegated to spheres. Shops, rest areas and exploration areas are more traditional finite rectangles. I can imagine some people arguing that this wasn't the right choice, but I felt their addition made the areas more interesting. I enjoyed looking for hidden alcoves and secret chests that contained new skills and treasure.

The above changes may have you seeing red if you feel that Vanillawareís changes make the game too easy, or that they betray the core titular sphere mechanic. If that's the case, I have good news for you: Vanillaware has also included a classic mode that leaves the original PS2 game mechanics fully intact, but keeps the improved visuals and framerate. Itís incredibly thoughtful of them to include this option, as some players swear up and down the original game is fine as-is. Those players get to have their cake and eat it, too.

Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir made me skeptical when it was first announced. I thought it would be a simple remaster resulting in a pretty, but arguably flawed, game. Instead, I got a completely revamped experience that fixed everything that I felt was wrong with the original. Itís now easily one of my favorite action-RPGs of all time, worth every penny for new and old fans alike.


Phazonmasher's avatar
Freelance review by Zachary Walton (June 20, 2016)

Zach Walton likes JRPGs, visual novels, horror games and anything that gives him an excuse to drink.

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