Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: 06/07/16
Japanese based developer Vanillaware does a lot of interesting and creative things with their games. The one thing they don’t do (so far), however, is create games utilizing 3D polygon-based graphics. Lead by artist and game director George Kamitani, the team includes a good number of experienced employees, including folks from Atlus, and while not branded as a Vanillaware game, 1997’s Princess Crown for Sega Saturn (which has yet to see a US release, sadly) is considered by many as the developers’ maiden voyage. The team wouldn’t complete their first game under the name Vanillaware, surprisingly, until 2007, with the game Odin Sphere. Despite a somewhat convoluted menu screen and bouts of slow down when too many things were moving on the screen, Odin Sphere was an amazing site to behold at the time it was released. The game mechanics themselves borrowed heavily from those used in Princess Crown, meaning that multiple dozen hit combos occurred frequently, as the combat had a fast and fluid arcade style to it that just felt right. As it happens, the market has been seeing a lot of “definitive” and “remastered” versions of games, and there’s no time like the present for Vanillaware to do the same, which brings us to the topic of today’s review, Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir. Odin Sphere‘s inclusion in such a movement is interesting, as while it originally was released two console cycles ago, there are no polygons to clean up and enhance, and the 2D visuals honestly still hold up today. So what, exactly, is improved upon in this edition of the classic?
As it turns out, pretty much everything, to be honest.
Odin Sphere is a fantasy story that tells the tales of the actions and plights of five main protagonists across the course of the game. The story sections are accessed via a young girl who is reading them from books, not unlike Shining Force, and each character’s story is contained within a different book. At its core, the game narrative is laden with many elements of Norse mythology. The plot begins from, and centers around, the raids of Odin’s army upon the fairy kingdom in attempts to seize what is known as the Crystallization Cauldron. This is, as you’d imagine, a magic item of immense power, which in this case produces an endless amount of Psypher energy, which is an incredibly potent and powerful form of essence. As the story moves from character to character, we’re shown the motivations of each of the protagonists, as many appear as antagonists for another, only to receive later development that shows they’re not as they seemed to be. The story is as complex and well written as ever, and it stands as one of the best from Vanillaware to date, as they manage to juggle multiple characters and storylines effectively, making the end result a story worth seeing through to its end.
If the original Odin Sphere was a sight to behold, seeing it entirely remastered in 1080p in the Leifthrasir edition is simply awe-inspiring. The game quite literally appears as a gloriously illustrated story book of the sorts come to life, and I wholeheartedly believe that has always been the developer’s intention with this game. The colors themselves are incredibly vibrant, and the attention to even the most smallest of details is impressive. Countless layers of horizontal scrolling make up the backgrounds in any given stage. The layers continue towards a grand castle or mountain range, as an example, providing an amazing illusion of depth. The character design in Leifthrasir feel familiar with they’re pseudo anime styling, yet they look wholly unique to this game, through the askew proportions and absence of any hard line refinement. From the nymph like Valkyries to the hulking sprite of King Odin himself, each and every character and monster possesses personality, yet another element the team incorporated from Princess Crown. The characters also feature extensive personality in their animations, such as when a grizzly bear enemy will attempt to retrieve a honey pot from his bag to restore his HP when it gets too low, and a witch boss will mix alchemical potions in the heat of battle as she launches them to release their effects.
Unlike the original PS2 release, Leifthrasir runs smoothly at sixty frames per second, bringing the characters and countless other moving details that adorn any given level an even grander sense of scope and beauty. To be frank, you haven’t really seen this game until you’ve seen it in its updated, remastered glory, as the game shows nary a sign of the slowdown of its original release, leaving the whole experience feeling smooth and well executed. The animation itself is also top notch and extremely frame heavy for even the simplest elements. That said, never once did Leifthrasir lag itself down or come to a stop due to the amount of things going on; things rolled right along without so much as a hiccup throughout.
As I mentioned previously, Odin Sphere is, in a way, the spiritual successor to Vanillaware’s Princess Crown, before they were known as Vanillaware, of course. While the game sadly never made it outside Japan due to various technical reasons that (so far) have made its translation all but impossible, for those who have played the game, the core gameplay in Odin Sphere is quite similar. Odin Sphere essentially plays like a side scrolling beat-em-up, but with only the ability to move to the left or right on a single plane. A single attack button along with various presses of the directional pad or analog stick will result in different moves; holding up while attacking will result in a launch move, and holding down will result in a slide, for instance. In the original game, your ability to attack was governed by a POW bar, which made things difficult to deal with at times. Fortunately, Leifthrasir doesn’t utilize the POW bar for executing regular attacks, instead leaving this meter to be used only for specific special moves, which makes combat much easier to work with. You can press the L1 button to bring up a skill menu, which will pause the action, and you can execute various special moves from there. The combat is typically fast paced, and in this particular edition of the game, everything plays fantastically and looks amazing thanks to the absence of slowdown that marred the original release.
Besides all the cosmetic and performance enhancements made to this particular version of Odin Sphere, a considerable amount of extra content has been included as well. Yet another Princess Crown throwback that appears in Odin Sphere is that of the inventory system; items appear on a circle above your character when the inventory is opened, and you can tab through them to see different categories of items you have available. Your inventory frequently contains seeds of various sorts, which influence a lot in the game, as growing food via seeds, and then eating said food, grants you Experience Points and raises you maximum Health, similar to how eating food worked in River City Ransom. In the PS2 version, you could only plant a single seed or eat a single item at a time, meaning you had to keep opening the menu again and again. In Leifthrasir, you can plant and eat in bulk, which makes things very convenient. Other improvements include being able to equip three accessories rather than just one, the inclusion of all-new enemies, an added difficulty mode for more challenge, and a storage box for items you want to keep. You can even play the game in Classic Mode, which retains the original mechanics of the game for those who want to see what the original was like… or want even more of a challenge.
Short Attention Span Summary:
Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir is easily one of the best enhanced editions of any game I’ve played, and it’s far and away the best possible version of this game to be released, ever. Seeing the game in 1080p and running at sixty frames per second is worth the admission price alone, and adding in improved combat mechanics and a wealth of other mechanically pleasing gameplay changes, and it’s a no brainer. Whether you’ve played the original to its conclusion or are brand new to the game, you would be doing yourself a disservice by not checking out Leifthrasir. It was an amazing game when in first came out in 2007, and this updated version trumps the original in every way imaginable.