Odin Sphere (PlayStation 2) review
"Atlus has always been known for it's unique games, games based on concepts and game play that the larger companies would never touch-at least, not until someone like Atlus made the concept successful first. Atlus has brought us many of these surprises in past, and I can guarantee that anyone calling themselves a fan of action, strategy or RPG games has at least one Atlus game sitting on their shelf and I can assure you that Disgaea: Hour of Darkness will always have a place in my collection and ..."
Atlus has always been known for it's unique games, games based on concepts and game play that the larger companies would never touch-at least, not until someone like Atlus made the concept successful first. Atlus has brought us many of these surprises in past, and I can guarantee that anyone calling themselves a fan of action, strategy or RPG games has at least one Atlus game sitting on their shelf and I can assure you that Disgaea: Hour of Darkness will always have a place in my collection and that of many others.
Odin Sphere is obviously unique, just at first glance, but does that make it good?
The first thing that can make or break the decision to play this game is the graphics. 2D hand painted and rendered sprites and environments that are literally moving pieces of art will either draw you inexorably to the game or, conversely, the mere fact that it is '2D' may drive you away without another glance. It is an everlasting shame that with the release of the latest generation of game systems, so much is focused on making all graphics as realistic as possible. Thanks to this, there is a new generation of gamers that, sadly, look back upon 2D games with little more than contempt where the rest of us find nostalgia, and they dismiss such games as Odin Sphere where many of us will find a beautiful and classically inspired visual masterpiece.
Despite mildly repetitive, though gorgeous environments, the characters and enemies stand out stunningly. Gwendolyn, the Valkyrie princess glides across the screen on blue wings while she lifts her glowing blue spear to dive at the equally impressive looking enemy. Cornelius, the Pooka Prince, sprints up behind the massive dragon that can swallow him-and does!-and unleashes a blue bladed whirlwind of attacks before sprinting to safety as the lumbering giant turns to bring it's attention to the annoyance behind it. Everything about the game is gorgeous. Every attack has it's own flair and the glowing weapons cut colored arcs across the screen with every swing. Even the trivial items in your bag are rendered beautifully right down to apple cores and grape stems. Truly a feat that deserves accolades in it's own right.
But of course, once that graphics have drawn you in, if indeed they did, what else does the game have to offer? Visuals alone, while important, do not make the game.
Odin Sphere is a seemingly simplistic Action/RPG with easy to grasp controls. Square to attack or guard, with directional buttons to vary the attack, circle opens your inventory, triangle opens your Psypher Skills, X is to jump, double jump or (in some cases) glide or fly, and R1 lets you absorb Phozons. It sounds simple but works surprisingly well.
Each character you play as wields a glowing weapon called a Psypher-a Psypher being a weapon made of jewels stolen from the Netherworld which become more powerful by absorbing the souls of the dead called Phozons. Every monster you kill releases Phozons and for absorbing them you level your weapon and fill your Psypher gauge, which you then use to unleash massive special attacks. Phozons are also used to grow plants, which, in turn, provide you with food to level up your health bar and keep you alive. So you must make the decision-massive special attacks and a more powerful weapon, or more health and healing items?
Food can also be bought from the shops, but it is cheapest to grow it on your own and save your money to buy equip items, larger carrying bags and Material bottles to make potions.
Most of the potions in the game are unbuyable, and you must find the recipes and create them yourself, but this doesn't make itself feel tedious and unnecessary. Instead, it gives you a sense of accomplishment when you throw a bottle of Napalm at the wave of enemies and watch them either die or stagger around mildly stunned and mostly dead. How about unleashing a Blizzard in a bottle to freeze all enemies (save bosses) on screen, giving you time to pick off the stronger ones without the weaker hordes distracting you. Toxins to create poisonous clouds that drain the enemies health-and yours if you're not careful, Killer Clouds that cause death after a short amount of time, Fire and Ice spirits that surround you and protect you from 3 attacks and occasionally cause Flame or Freeze to enemies.
Don't be fooled, however, the game is far from easy and you have to find the ingredients to make these potions before you can unleash them on your unsuspecting enemies. Even on Normal mode, the middle of the three difficulty settings, the game is incredibly hard, and it's easy to die multiple times on the way through the stage to the main boss of the area. Each area is a spiderweb of circular stages with branching exits, not all of which lead to the end of the level. If you're lucky enough to find the map, you can survey the layout, check the rating and rewards for the next stage and plan your path as well as a strategy for each upcoming stage. If, however, you haven't yet found the map, you must pick a direction blindly and wait to see wether you are to be assaulted by a few enemies, waves after waves of them, a mini boss, or if you've wandered into a shop stage and a momentary rest. Luckily, when you die, you're only made to restart the circular stage you died in with the same items you had, rather than being sent back to the beginning of the entire level.
The only complaint I could bring about the gameplay is the massive lag that comes with some over-populated battles. It can be crippling when fighting an already frustrating boss. Even that, however, doesn't detract from the pleasing entirety of the game enough to break it.
Last but certainly not least, the sound is impressive as well-not as impressive as the graphics, but what is?
Fully voiced English or Japanese dialogue, including even the random shopkeepers and every NPC you can talk to. That is an accomplishment all on its own. The music is impressive, though at times it can be distracting, and it certainly helps set the mood of the story. It is, of course, the voice acting that shines.
All the characters really comes to life with well voiced and well written dialogue, and the story, told through 5 'books', each starring a different character you play as in the world of Erion, is also well written and well told, with the scenes from each story laid out on a timeline and eventually coming together as one whole. After completing the 5 books, there is a 'final story' wherein all the characters have put together the pieces and are fighting for the same cause that has finally been revealed.
Overall a masterpiece of a game with only a few minor flaws that can't come close to ruining what makes it great. It is, however, a hit or miss. You'll either fall in love with it or shortly despise it. Rent it before buying to make sure, but if you like it, you'll love it.
Community review by Lavieta (February 19, 2008)
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