The beast of despair feeds on man and destroys hope.
The unleashed frenzy of death yearns for the light of life.
The advancing inferno scorches the throne's surroundings.
In the Cauldron that breathes despair, the blood of the ancients boils.
When Leventhan, last of the dragons, devours the stone of blood,
the path shall be closed and void will cover the world.
And so begins the tale of five warriors... Prophecy of the End
Odin Sphere is a 2D side-scrolling action JRPG (Japanese role-playing video game) developed by Vanillaware and published by Atlus for the PlayStation 2. It was released between May 2007 and March 2008 depending on where you live, and was made available for the PlayStation 3 as a PS2 Classic in October 2011 via the PlayStation Network.
Set in the fantasy world of Erion, where various kingdoms continuously clash while the prophesied Armageddon is drawing near, Odin Sphere’s narrative consists of five intertwining storylines, each of them featuring a different protagonist allied with one of the world’s nations. The five playable characters are mechanically distinct, and each tells the story from their own limited perspective as the player controls them one at a time in a set order. Together, these stories form an epic tale that draws inspiration from various European fairy tales and myths, most of all Norse mythology, as well as Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen — along with some Shakespeare influence, with the story’s chapters and acts unfolding as in a play.
The original game was gorgeous, but its elaborate graphics caused significant slowdown and frequent loading times due to the limitations of the hardware. What’s more, the gameplay was considered to be clunky, hard and limiting. Between January and June 2016, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir was released as a reworked game for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and the PlayStation Vita: Not only have its visuals received the high-definition treatment, the many improvements and new features make it a mechanically different game, one that is much more inviting. As far as the story is concerned, everything has been left as is, though a few lines have been retranslated and redubbed.
The most notable change concerns a fundamental element of the battle system: Basic attacks no longer deplete the Power Gauge (POW), which leads to more freedom in combat as you can keep making combos by chaining basic attacks without being punished for not using attacks sparingly. The Power Gauge now serves as a replenishable stamina meter for certain skills, while magic-based skills require PP (Psypher points, the equivalent of mana).
Another significant addition are character-specific skills. Skills (whether they require POW or PP) are learned by obtaining Phozon Prisms, which are rewards for clearing areas or beating certain mini-bosses and which can also be found in hidden locations. These skills can be active or passive, and they are leveled up by spending absorbed Phozons. Phozons are the life force of all things that are released upon death (namely when a foe is defeated); only Psypher weapons — such as the ones wielded by the protagonists — are capable of absorbing these Phozons.
Abilities are introduced alongside skills: Unlike skills, all abilities are passive; some abilities are the same across the characters, while others enhance specific aspects of the respective character’s combat style. Abilities are unlocked as part of an ability tree with Ability Points, which are gained upon level up.
Further notable additions and changes include the following:
- improved user interface (especially item management)
- storage box that holds 128 extra items
- more equipment slots
- reworked alchemy system (including potion previews)
- new monsters, items and texts
- reworked area maps, teleport checkpoints
- Maury’s Touring Restaurant
- reworked stage score calculation
- improved camera zoom and aerial combat
- post-game content: New Game Plus, Heroic difficulty, boss rush stage
Overall, combat is much more fluid and fast-paced now, and the game has become easier as a result, though the player can still choose between 3-4 difficulty levels. Grinding should no longer be necessary, and the alchemy system allows for more experimentation now. The revamped skill system makes the characters much more diverse in combat, as in the original game, skills were unlocked at certain levels and mostly remained the same across all characters.
Odin Sphere Leifthrasir’s reworked gameplay is referred to as Refined Mode. Should you still want to experience the original’s gameplay, the remake also offers Classic Mode, which retains the original’s mechanics while allowing you to play with the improved graphics. Most of all, you will not suffer from the frame rate issues and the long loading times that were present in the original game (though they are absent from the emulated version on the PS3). With that said, there is no reason to buy or play Odin Sphere on the PS2 or as a PS2 Classic on the PS3 anymore.
If you’re interested in the game’s mechanics, I highly recommend checking out the official site, which not only describes the many gameplay elements in detail, but also has trailers dedicated to them. (And not only that — the story and character trailers are gorgeous!) This topic (post #15 specifically) on the GameFaqs forums also contains detailed information on further changes.
Some more remarks:
- The average game length is around 30-40 hours.
- Normal difficulty is quite easy, so don’t be afraid if you’re new to action games! Difficulty can be switched anytime.
- The game allows you to choose between English and Japanese voices. I love the English voices in Odin Sphere!
Do I recommend Odin Sphere Leifthrasir? Yes, absolutely. Aside from the battle system that was briefly described above, here are some things to look forward to:
Alchemy and Cooking
Alchemy is a big part of the game, as the potions produced can be used to support you in numerous ways, damage output increase and recovery being only two of them. The alchemy system is intuitive: While you find recipes for certain potions as you progress in the game, you are also free to experiment with ingredients to concoct potions before actually finding the respective recipe. Thanks to the newly introduced alchemy preview, you also know exactly what you’ll get, which means no wasted ingredients.
Seeds and fruit are frequently found as you explore and win battles, with seeds growing into fruit if you plant them. There’s also some livestock around, such as sheep growing on trees! While all these foods can be consumed right away to replenish health, gain experience and increase max health, it is far more profitable to use them as ingredients in cooking: Compared to raw ingredients, dishes provide drastically increased gains in all three aspects.
In the original game, the café and restaurant could only be visited while in town, where you’d bring your ingredients along with the recipes in order to prepare the dishes. In the remake, the café and restaurant provide their own ingredients, and you order the dishes in exchange for an exclusive currency. Battle stages, on the other hand, feature rest areas where Maury’s Touring Restaurant can be summoned: a cook who prepares dishes for you if you provide the necessary ingredients along with recipes you’ve found. There’s a vast amount of dishes in the game, each of them with its own mouth-watering graphics (equal care goes into the drawings of the recipes), and each character has their own eating animation. Needless to say: Don’t play Odin Sphere while hungry.
The biggest visible charm point of the game to me aside from its gorgeous visuals is its storybook theme. The game opens with a scene in the attic, where a young girl called Alice and her cat Socrates sit down to peruse the books in the library. These books contain the protagonists’ stories, which are further divided into chapters and acts: seven chapters per character, including prelude and epilogue. The beautiful lettering in the game as well as the transitioning screens from act to act along with various poems contribute to this theme, not to mention the presence of fairy tale elements, direct references to Shakespeare’s King Lear, melodramatic soliloquies and the occasional use of “stage lighting” to move a character into the spotlight.
The many texts that you find on your journey (prophecies, notes and recipes) are stored on the text archive bookshelf, whereas the story archive contains a chronological overview of all characters’ story events by acts, with gaps indicating the passage of time and parallel points showing where certain events take place simultaneously. It’s incredibly fascinating to watch the story archive’s timeline fill out as you progress, and to see where the individual stories overlap, which character was doing what at certain points, under which circumstances the protagonists’ paths cross and what each person’s take on the encounters is.
Characters and Themes
Most of all, I’d recommend the game for its protagonists. Be warned that the game can get very repetitive in later parts: Not only do you play through seven chapters each with five characters, the stages — locations within the various nations — remain the same, though each character has different reasons to be at the respective place at the respective time. While the characters all play differently and their stories and struggles are equally diverse, not much changes in terms of exploration, and some areas have a lot of maps to go through. To some players, the story might also lose its appeal once they’ve played through a few protagonists’ books and have more or less grasped the overarching story.
I won’t deny the repetitiveness of the gameplay in later parts. Personally, however, I had a hard time putting the game aside because I wanted to see more and more of the characters’ stories. The political turmoil across the nations as well as the issues and motives of the different races and fractions are carefully written, yes, but above all that, it is the heartfelt and genuine struggle of the protagonists that resonates, all the more so due to the strong common themes across the stories: the adolescent yearning to be acknowledged, the helplessness felt while trying to make sense of the world and its truths, the search for identity, the desire to create a world according to one’s own wishes. (I will elaborate on these points under Depth.) More than anything else, Odin Sphere’s writing makes for a compelling coming of age narrative that delivers its messages in a firm and resounding manner.
If that has caught your interest, I highly recommend reading Aevee Bee’s review of the game: It’s one of my favourite game reviews, and not only is it the main reason I decided to give the remake a try after failing so horribly with the original, it coloured my very perception of the game as I journeyed through its different tales.