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Odin Sphere (PlayStation 2) artwork

Odin Sphere (PlayStation 2) review

"You probably donít know how epic an undertaking Odin Sphere was for me. I played the game twice over the course of two years, stopping the first time to break up with my fiancť. Odin Sphere was the last game we played together, making it a relic of that era for me. Writing a review for it is like closing the door on a period of my life. Of course, you donít really care about any of that. You just want to know if itís a good game, dammit! Whatís all this emotional hoo-haw? "

You probably donít know how epic an undertaking Odin Sphere was for me. I played the game twice over the course of two years, stopping the first time to break up with my fiancť. Odin Sphere was the last game we played together, making it a relic of that era for me. Writing a review for it is like closing the door on a period of my life. Of course, you donít really care about any of that. You just want to know if itís a good game, dammit! Whatís all this emotional hoo-haw?

Iíll say this... if any game was powerful enough to be the final nail in my heartís coffin, it would be Odin Sphere.

When I first saw Odin Sphere on a shelf at a Gamecrazy I had no idea what it was, but I wanted it. A dangerous desire, because I had no money at the time and it was a choice between me and my fiancť eating that week or getting a new game. In the end, love steered my heart, and me and my girl spent the next week starving in front of the television set while I battled my way through dragons, demons, and whatever else Odin Sphere was willing to toss my way. Was it the right decision? Well, Iím no longer with my fiancť, but hey! I own one of the best games ever made.

Thatís quite the bold statement, isnít it? Let me back up a bit. The first thing that struck me about Odin Sphere was its style. The characters exude emotion. Odinís Valkyriean daughter, Gwendolyn, stands straight backed as a sign of her good military training and loyalty. But her head remains bowed and her expression distant, especially under the stare of her uncaring father. Cornelius, a prince turned into a rabbit-like creature called a Pooka, is in a constant battle stance, ready to fight against his cursed fate. Mercedes, the Fairy Queen, is weighed down by the crossbow her mother left her, a reminder of her pledge to avenge her motherís death. The frail witch Velvet runs with a complete lack of balance, looking like she might topple at any time or be carried away on the barest wisp of wind. On the other hand, the Shadow Knight, Oswald, crouches and charges like a bull, though he is, in truth, fleeing frantically from his own demons.

Odin Sphere tells the story of all of these individuals and the role they play in bringing about the end of the world. You experience their stories one at a time. Each story has its own theme and its own feel, just as each character has their own woes and desires. Each is also rich with symbolism and metaphor, and the script hearkens back to the inner struggles and political interweavings of a Shakespearean play. Indeed, you feel like you are watching a performance when a light spots over one of the characters and they launch into a dramatic monologue. Yet for all this, the whole thing comes off as very subtle. Unlike the heavy-handedness of a game like Xenogears, which practically shoved philosophy and religion down the throats of gamers, Odin Sphere is content to weave its tales and let the player make the symbolic connections on their own time.

While any one of the plot lines could be considered a full game experience on its own, the real accomplishment of Odin Sphere is tying them all together non-linearly in a single story. Each characterís story takes place in the same set of time, but each witnesses different events. For instance, Oswald might be hunting dragons in the Winterhorn Mountains while Cornelius is stuck in the Netherworld, trying to bargain with the Dead Queen for his life back. The order that youíre forced to play the characters in ensures that you wonít understand the full breadth of the backstory or the characterís connections until the final scenario, giving the game a constant sense of rediscovery and excitement as you figure out little details about the situation with each new cinema scene. Itís an extremely dense method of story telling, but itís executed here with such brilliant precision that it pays off.

Almost as in-depth as the story is the gameplay, and it shouldn't work either... but it does, and is surprisingly uncomplicated for what it is. How best to describe Odin Sphere's gameplay? Itís a 2D sidescrolling action RPG brawler which lets you grow plants. Thatís just a bunch of words thrown at you, of course, but youíll note that they are all good words.

Similarly, the first thing the game threw at me was a bunch of attack combos I could use to beat my enemies into pulp as they came rocketing at me from the sides of the screen. Along with this, it explained that each level would consist of a series of arenas strung together, each containing its own set of enemies or bosses for me to do epic battle with. It also showed me how to suck up the souls (called ďPhozonĒ) of the fallen into my weapon. Not only would this power special attacks like sending a cyclone tearing across the screen, it would also eventually level up my weapon, causing it to do more damage.

So far so good. I wandered through a few bleak battlefields as Gwendolyn, tearing the shit out of fairies and dwarves and the occasional towering Unicorn Knight. Each character has their own special ability. Oswald, for instance, can transform into a shadow beast, and Cornelius has a rockiní spin attack thatís great for juggling foes. Gwendolyn can throw herself through the air like an over-sized dart, if the dart-board were made of flesh and bone and called ďdead fairy.Ē I used this move a lot, cause I thought it was pretty awesome. Apparently, the game did, too, because it scored me highly after each stage. This was good news for me, because I was awarded items at the end of a stage based on how proficiently I beat the shit out of my opponents. My expertise left me armed with a pendant that raised my attack power as well as several seeds that I didnít have a clue how to utilize just yet.

But things wouldnít stay bright and cheery and fairy-blood stained forever.

As good as my ďflying deathĒ move was, spamming it got me in trouble. You see, your characters get tired in Odin Sphere and if you keep pushing them, they have to pause for a vulnerable breather. This happened to me at a most inopportune moment. Caught in the middle of a mob, I found myself pelted with arrows and cut into like an overripe cantaloupe. With barely any health left, I changed up my strategy, utilizing a series of quick strikes and dodges, then jumped and glided a ways out of the mosh pit to let my enemy come to me. When they were all lined up nicely, I let loose my stored up cyclone power and sent them to the Wonderful Land of Oz (also known as Hell). The battlefield fell silent. I had persevered. But I was in bad shape. I needed a pick-me-up quickly.

Thatís when the game chimed in. Like the voice of God telling Noah to build an Ark, it instructed me to grow fruit. Specifically, something that looked like a raspberry but which the game called a Mulberry. I fell on my knees and prostrated myself before these instructions. I opened my inventory and retrieved the vital seed. I toiled in the earth, planting the bud, and Phozon did rush to the bud and lo! a bush did sprout forth! and from the bush came fruits of the earth, that were of a healing nature!

Aside from healing me, the fruit also gave me EXP towards my health bar. In the same way that Phozon could level up my weapon, Phozon could also cause fruit to grow that would ultimately raise my maximum health level. I would have to choose which use I put it to. But there was another twist awaiting me! Eventually, I would discover that seeds came in many forms, including my personal favourite, the Baromett seeds, which sprouted live sheep. By bringing the right food to the Pooka village, they could cook me meals that were even more healing and EXP granting. However, these dishes couldnít be made without the help of Mandragoras, little living vegetables that appear occasionally in the stages. I first encountered one in the forest. I was walking along, minding my own business, when suddenly I heard a little squeak coming out of the ground. My days spent playing Mario came rushing back to me and I jumped on the spot. To my surprise, a little walking onion popped out and started to run. My natural predatory gamerís instinct kicked in and I stabbed it to death with my spear.

And thus did I capture my first Mandragora.

Hunting the Mandragoras became another exercise in strategical choice, as aside from being used to cook, they can also be brewed with magical materials to make powerful potions, ranging from healing tonics to a liquid napalm which impressively bursts across the stage in pillars of flame and which can devastate bosses. Again I was being asked to make a choice. Do I mix this onion into a healing potion that might save my ass during the boss fight, or do I gather some berries and take it all to the Pookas so they can raise my maximum life? Or do I say screw this health business and instead make enough bombs to start Ragnarok?

The pure simple fun of a brawler mixed with the constant strategical decisions of a tactical RPG. That describes Odin Sphere in a nutshell. Itís my one true love.

Not that me and Odin Sphere havenít had our rough spots. As fun as the combat system is, Odin Sphere isnít really a game that lends itself to the amount of grinding youíll have to do to get through it. The biggest reason for this is the story. The story is so well paced that any time not spent advancing the plot can be frustrating and flow-breaking. Imagine this scenario: the love of Corneliusí life has just been kidnapped and is about to be sacrificed to a Dragon in a ritual that will help usher in the end of the world. Meanwhile, Cornelius is in a state of intense depression, feeling he will never be able to break the curse thatís changed his form. Yet upon hearing that his love is kidnapped, he tries to find the inner strength to go on. He grabs his sword and rushes to the rescue... but along the way he has to stop in the forest to forage for potion ingredients, and then heíll probably have to go to the Pooka village to eat a few meals, and maybe after that heíll hunt some Mandragoras and make some potions.

You can see how this would get annoying.

Another note of complaint is that I started to get bored with the levels by the time Iíd reached the third character. The levels that are included are varied and interesting, including fire caverns, wintry peaks, and even the Netherworld, but recall that youíll be going through them over and over with five characters. Itís easy to get a little antsy by your tenth trip through the fairy forest. It wouldíve been nice if each character had at least one unique level.

A lot of people also complain about the occasional slow down that occurs when fighting a lot of enemies at once, but I donít know why. It just makes the game look cooler as you see everyone get beaten up with Matrix speed. Also, the slowdown never lasts long, and is much rarer if you play on a PS3.

Despite these tiny pock marks on an otherwise beautiful product, Odin Sphere is a unique gaming experience that epitomizes the best of the art form. It is immersive, interesting, and fun. For most it will be a great way to spend 40-50 hours of their life. For me... well, read enough of my reviews and youíll piece together my twisted and disturbed love life. And it would almost be as entertaining a tale as the one Odin Sphere weaves.

zippdementia's avatar
Community review by zippdementia (April 29, 2009)

Zipp has spent most of his life standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox there. Sometimes he writes reviews and puts them in the mailbox.

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