Odin Sphere

An ancient prophecy holds that several disasters will ravage the world, and that the survivors will become kings. The destruction of the Valentine Kingdom falls in accordance with this prophecy, with rival nations battling over the Cauldron, a relic that gave the Kingdom great power. The Vanillaware-developed and Atlus-published Odin Sphere follows the paths of five warriors leading up to Armageddon, with their paths ultimately intertwining. The game is fairly enjoyable, though it does have some blemishes that affect its gameplay somewhat.

Odin Sphere’s gameplay is fairly methodic, with each character traversing across basically the same stages that have several connected areas containing up to five stars of difficulty (alongside an adjustable difficulty level for the whole game). A few seconds after the current character enters an area, enemies spawn, with each character having his or her own unique set of physical attacks to execute against the foes. Upon defeat, enemies release Phozons that the character can absorb, both gradually increasing the character’s Psypher gauge level and adding to his or her Psypher experience level.

Depending upon how high a character’s Psypher experience level is, he or she can increase his or her Psypher gauge up to a certain number of levels, which in turn allows that character to use various Psypher skills that consume a certain number of gauge levels. A character’s maximum Psypher gauge level sporadically increases the higher his or her Psypher experience level becomes, also meaning higher damage for that character. Phozons also allow for the growth of plants within each area, requiring seeds and a certain number of Phozons to blossom and dropping fruit the character can eat to both recover HP and increase HP experience, ultimately increasing the character’s HP level.

When the player has eliminated all monsters from an area, the game scores how well the player did and rewards a number of items depending upon performance. Money is also sometimes among these items, with five varieties of coins. Players can also find various Mandragoras from the soil of each area, which they can use in various Alchemy recipes sometimes gained from clearing each area of a stage. Recipes can also allow players to cook various foods in restaurants accessible at certain points in each character’s chapter, both increasing maximum HP by a fixed amount and HP experience by a sizeable fraction (certain food recipes also require different types of coins gained in dungeons).

Overall, the battle system is fairly enjoyable, with the presence of only two stats, Psypher level and HP level, keeping combat from becoming overly complex. If a character dies, moreover, the current area simply restarts with previous stats and items restored, with the player able to return to home base, restart at the last cleared area in a dungeon, and save the game, in most instances. There are some shortcomings, however, such as the severe visual slowdown at certain points (which can certainly eliminate the fun of playing on higher difficulty levels), and incessant inventory management, with the player needing to purchase additional inventory sacks for every character, although even so, item space can quickly fill up. Otherwise, combat is one of the game’s high points.

Inventory management, unfortunately, consumes a heavy amount of Odin Sphere, and if the player performs especially well within each area of a dungeon, the rewards gained from stellar battle performance can very easily clog a character’s sacks, with each character only able to contain up to six bags that can each carry a maximum of eight items. There are other types of sacks players can buy for a cheaper price that can hold fewer items, although since money can be tight, it’s usually not worth it since the player can ultimately replace them with sacks that can carry up to eight items each. Everything else in interaction, however, aside from some fairly lengthy load times, is clean, although item management certainly detracts from the intended simplicity of combat.

Though Odin Sphere is the alleged spiritual successor to Princess Crown, the game does bear many distinctions in the RPG genre, such as the ability to plant seeds within dungeons for food, the presence of only two character stats, the general setup of each stage, and the like, that make it feel fresh in its own right.

Odin Sphere’s story is another of its high points, with the presence of five different protagonists, some from different sides of the game’s war, giving it a bit of variety, and the way their paths intertwine at times being interesting, with some emotional scenes and a bit of romance. Moreover, the game keeps an archive of all viewed cutscenes that the player can view again at any time, even showing their chronological order. There are multiple endings, as well, and a text archive giving the game a bit of backstory (and providing clues on how to get the best ending). Granted, the game could’ve used some variety in its boss characters, since each of the five protagonists essentially fight the same ones without actually killing them. Despite its flaws, however, the plot is enough to keep players intrigued.

The soundtrack, composed chiefly by Hitoshi Sakimoto and his flunkies, fits the game well, with few weak tracks. All dialogue in the game, moreover, is fully-voiced, with the player able to choose either English or Japanese voices, the former of which are fairly decent for the most part, despite some annoying characters here and there. All in all, Odin Sphere is fairly easy on the ears.

The visuals, paradoxically, are both one of the best and worst parts of the game, being fully two-dimensional, with decently-animated sprites, wonderfully-colored scenery, and an overall sense of beauty that make the title look like a work of art. Unfortunately, Odin Sphere’s visual beauty is only skin-deep, for there are some technical flaws that bog the game down at times. One is that in battles with many sprites on the screen, items and enemies included, severe slowdown can occur, which can really affect the flow of combat, maybe lead to unintended damage or death.

Another flaw is that the game’s dungeons mostly recycle the same scenery in each of their areas, which might have been excusable if load times weren’t constant. Games like Rogue Galaxy, conversely, can churn out beautiful 3-D visuals without major lags or load times, so there’s really no excuse as to why a title like Odin Sphere can’t do the same with its sprites and 2-D scenery, especially when said scenery is heavily reused throughout the game. In summation, the graphics, while superficially appealing, certainly lose their appeal when considering their technical problems.

Though each “book” of Odin Sphere takes a few hours to finish, the time it takes to actually see an ending, if the player breezes through, can be somewhere around thirty hours, although the time it takes to complete everything and get a seven-star save file can range up to around fifty hours (an estimate, considering the internal clock is a bit slow).

In conclusion, Odin Sphere is a fairly solid title for the most part; the battle system is simple but enjoyable, the story engaging, and the music never out of place. It does have some hiccups, such as the heavy degree of inventory management as well as the technical shortcomings of its otherwise-beautiful visuals. Nonetheless, the game is proof that the Playstation 2, even as the next generation of consoles commences, has yet to become obsolete.

The Good:
+Solid combat.
+Great story.
+Good soundtrack.
+Decent art direction.

The Bad:
-Inventory fills up quickly.
-Lots of slowdown.
-Long loading times.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 2
Game Mechanics: 7/10
Controls: 5/10
Story: 8/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 6/10
Localization: 10/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 30-50 Hours

Overall: 8/10

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