Game Name: Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir (original 2007, re-master 2016)
Developer: Vanillaware (Dragon’s Crown, Grim Grimoire, Muramasa Rebirth)
Platform: PS2 (original), PS3, PS4, Vita, (reviewed on Vita)
Categories: Sidescrolling Reflex-Based Combat, Top-Tier Art Execution, 2D Exploration, Map Node Dungeons, Focused Combat Skill Progression, MOB Juggling/Crowd Control, Challenging Bosses, Casually Epic Story, Multiple Vantage Points, Extensive Voice-over Dialogue, Immersive and Engaging World, Extreme Inventory Management, Masterful Port
May Appeal To: button mashers, RPG addicts, art critics, Vanillaware fanbois, nostalgics, completionists, and introspectively deliberate story appreciators.
May Repulse: women’s liberation advocates, stat-crunchers, and brevity seekers.
Comparable To: the sultry hand-drawn visuals of Dragon’s Crown but minimal sexualized characters and situations. Odin Sphere: Lift-raiser has the sounds and story-telling mechanics of Grim Grimoire and bears similarities to Darkest Dungeon’s navigation. I’m not crazy, but the battle mini-map plays out like classic Defender and you slurp life essences out of the air like Soul Reaver.
Learning Curve: Gradual, though consistent. Some of the finer points of items and min-maxing techniques for character progression are discovered tens of hours in.
Game Length: 45 hours
Difficulty: Medium with Hard difficulty spikes for mini-bosses, some optional
Mastery: Odin Sphere: Lee-frasier has a good amount to collect in the form of recipes, in-world texts, skills, and parallel ability trees. Each battle as a rating with variable rewards based upon performance. If you wanted to dwell [or grind] in this world longer, I’d say there’s potential for double these hours.
Story: Ragnarok is upon us and all the indications of this world’s destruction are evident in ancient prophecies. But which nation’s interpretation is correct? The cratered land of Valentine and the curse that befell its people are but samples of the devastating effects in this land of dragons and faeries, and of cataclysmic promises kept.
Five heroes of intertwining fate must defy their respective puppeteers and discern a path amidst dangers emerging from the land of magma, the very netherworld, and from within. They each acquire hardy stones of various hues, infused into individually-styled weapons that sup on the essence of every downed foe. What roles do they play in this theater of high-concept fantasy? How will their paths dictate the fate of the world itself?
Gwendolyn: The swooping valkyrie. As a resigned daughter of King Odin, a man of overbearing stature and deed, she seeks to balance his approval and her autonomy.
Cornelius: The rabbit dervish. Once a prim prince opining love, he falls prey to a curse that alters his material form. Thus embarks a pants-less quest to reverse the spell.
Mercedes: The flying ballista. This inexperienced upstart is saddled with fulfilling her lofty role as queen and leader of the fairy kingdom, earning admiration along the way.
Oswald: The troubled shadow. Hollowed by rage and filled by desires for purpose, the young man spends great effort in severing debts and debtors which he has acquired.
Velvet: The misunderstood witch. Mysterious, fey, and homeless, she shoulders the responsibility of rectifying her family’s past and present actions in these trying times.
Presentation: As with Vanillaware titles, the graphics are jaw-dropping. Especially on the upscaled port where they redrew and updated animation cycles. This is brush strokes and depth brought to the fore like living concept art. It isn’t the identical tone, contrast, or color palettes used in the movie A Scanner Darkly, though the hypnotic painterly qualities are present in both. In this game, some NPCs have weird, unconventional proportions -duck lips, massive hands, tiny feet- almost like secondary character designs were outsourced to a “B” team of incongruent, lesser quality. All in all, though, this is an exception to the unified fantasy look and hardly distracting. Queen Odette’s swingin’ tits hanging loose and massive from a skeletal rib cage is an outlier to this observation, since the disproportional mammaries are a deliberate design choice consistent with the developer’s track record.
There is a lot of visual content here. A glut of enemies, mid-bosses, bosses, NPCs, merchants, objects, doodads get spread to showcase the artistry: lava levels, snow, traditional castles, fairy forests, and the netherworld. It’s a beautifully realized world and little effects like the dimensional layering of background
A bevy of voicework -hours of acting- accompanies the sporadic cutscenes, most carrying the weight of introspective emotion and duty tasked upon each playable character without being repulsively hyperactive like so many action series nowadays. None of it is the typical shrillness you see in modern anime and there is an acceptable amount of cheese to indicate that the actors were interested but not enough to discredit the tale to tell. Dialogue and delivery is believable, on point, and still a welcome respite at the end of the journey as much as the beginning. It never grated on my nerves and most characters are relatable.
Great sounds abound, the scores of music being composed of fantasy-appropriate whimsy and fanfare to underwrite an uplifting mood. Despite darker, somber concepts of sacrifice, evil, loss, murder, genocide, and transmogrifying curses, the audio plays out like 1960’s music with chipper beats belying a shady underbelly.
Unique Features: Odin Sphere: Life-treason has a unique 2D exploration system where a map is composed of linked nodes which are sub-divided into rest areas (normally scrolling) and battle areas (looped left-right scrolling). Each battle arena(?) has exit points on the circle you traverse and a mini-map in the top-right to show enemy placement. It’s an expert design decision to allow close-ups of art details while not losing sight of the battlefield. The game also sports a sprawling chapter layout, robust alchemical options, and a dual-leveling mechanic that strikes an engaging balance.
Gameplay: Starting out isn’t overly complicated. You play an individual character that waggles their jeweled weapon around, side-scroller style, until the baddies keel over from having their skin shredded by colorful diamonds (their eternal souls subsequently absorbed and used to slaughter their peers). You nom food to regain HP, suck purple phozons (XP) out of the air to boost weapon abilities, and merely hang around a couple seconds to restore the POW meter. POW and PP are the currencies by which special movement options and AOE super attacks occur. These can explode forth in a fiery vertical column, thrust sideways in a drilling pattern, or home in on enemy locations despite their positioning. Over time, the players take notice that eating rare and fancy foods are not only useful in recovering vitality, but that it’s the source of increasing the character’s total HP and in funding a second tree of passive abilities that influence the potency of alchemy, back attacks, item prices, rare drops, PP refresh rate, and more.
What with the hustle and bustle of active combat, it’s a wonder that our protagonists have much time for planting. Fortunately, the growth time is accelerated via the autonomous release of phozons by certain plant species but can also be supplemented by your own weapon’s intentional siphoning. It takes some practice, but spending potential XP on the fruition of HP-yielding crops is a great way to keep the balance of offensive and defensive abilities. Some measure of reservation is required but an attentive player will become adept at knowing when and how to deploy these farming practices. For example, sacrificing phozons to nurture a rare Baromett seed to grow and spawn two fluffy sheep which can be butchered for Lamb Chops, which can be supplied to Pooka chefs with a massive triple “!” bonus on menu items after quaffing a Yogurt to further increase the effects of an eating binge can…. what were we talking about again? Oh yeah. Leveling in this game is simple in concept though it has opportunities for min-maxing exploitation. Though seemingly laborious in my wordy description, the dual channels of character progression in this game are a fun puzzle by its own right.
Alchemy…. there is a lot of ground to cover and so little space. Suffice to say, there is a potion with a tag that correlates to each letter of the alphabet: Antidote, Blizzard, Cooler, yadda yadda yadda Xtra Phozons, Yogurt, Zero. Each potion has 9 levels of efficacy, conveniently indicated on the icon. Recipes of seeds, monster bits, neutral bases, other potions, sentient vegetables known as ‘mandragora’, food, and garbage like bones and grape stems are often dictated to the player outright though creativity and exploratory combinations are often rewarded (you’ll be given a preview and a 100% success rate before committing to any such experiment). Identical potions can amplify themselves to even greater echelons and dumping multiple items into a 15+ some-odd mixture will yield a looping series of predictable results, the overall rating of the result gaining higher levels as it does so. The trick is in finding what reagents are essential linchpins to turning an unwanted potion type into useful stuff like Naturalize and Yogurt.
Pro tip: just add milk.
After literally digesting all of this, an intended rhythm of the game becomes evident: enjoy story-oriented cutscenes, gear up at safezones and villages, explore a 20+ node dungeon for secret areas, buried coins, and mandragora, vanquish foes for high-level loot, equip accessories dependent upon the environment (chill-proof, toxicity-proof, fire retardant), plan out the next spurt of XP/HP leveling and either binge or convert a horde of high-level items into clouds of phozons, spend the newfound ability and XP points, shore up your reserve potions via alchemy for quick-access healing and offensive assaults, and then obliterate mobs and bosses with AOE spell effects, juggling them to great effect and swooping through the air to funnel their spiritual essences into the very instrument of their destruction. Rinse and repeat.
In truth, the action can become a “bullet hell” genre if enemies are left to their own patterns. But with good crowd control in stacking mobs on top of one another and smart leveling via the eating/absorption mechanics, the experience is delightfully rewarding and has an unexpectedly diverted focus on combat so that the power-leveling aspects aren’t required (though they certainly help). There is enough complexity here to appease RPG fans despite the emphasis not being in the traditional areas, and twitchy gamers looking to bobble a swarm of helpless goblins without mercy will get their kicks.
Additional Comments: For the curious: “Leifthrasir” references the Norse mythology regarding two people re-populating the leftovers from Ragnarok – the cosmic cataclysm. How you’d have enough genetic diversity, air, or food to succeed I have no clue.
Odin Sphere: Leaf-tracer is markedly different than the original version. Among other improvements there are: new dodge and evade actions, additional nodes and rest areas between battles, mini-bosses and primary boss updates, the POW gauge, an optional inventory UI, moar texts and fluff, alchemy adjustments, and graphical updates like redrawn assets, a widened aspect ratio, and resolution embiggening. Although I don’t recommend it, there’s a toggle to play the original PS2 release without these changes. If I’m not mistaken, the newer version also reworded some sexually suggestive dialogue.
What I Liked: Pretty much all of it. This is damned near close to a perfect game and the attention to detail is demonstrably consistent. The luscious art spanning an entire world, the cutscenes, the sprawling/interconnected story, the secret areas, alchemy, planting, the continuous reward of food and XP leveling, the dual ability trees, the disparate attack methodologies, the anime influence without being overbearing, the music, the bevy of textual documentation in-game, the lore, the characters, and both the accessibility and cathartic nature of wailing on 30 simultaneous enemies onscreen.
What I Disliked: If I was required to nitpick, this game’s sheer amount of content is its own impediment when it comes to trying the player’s endurance and resolve. I can only liken it to the ambitious craving for an epic tale of derring-do that gets shunted after your first ten hours exposed to the Lord of the Rings trilogy (book or movie, take your pick). Surely, I’m impressed and amazed by the execution of such a game but even spreading out a playthrough across nearly a year was a bit exhausting, especially with my obsessive playstyle. There are reasons why I dropped the PS2 classic without completing it after all (load times, pacing, clunky save mechanic, the flow of battle, item pickup trouble) – however, the re-release successfully quashed those original quibbles.
Oh, and controlling the slow, shuffling girl to pick up a storybook is frustrating as hell. Get out of the WAY you dumb cat! There has to be a better method for loading a game.
Glitches Experienced: None, thanks Odin Sphere: Lie-phraser!
Hours I Played: 51 hours, and “S” rank on all sequences
My Personal Reaction: This is an impressive port. I don’t recall the last time that equivalent attention was spent in updating a gaming experience that was so fastidiously constructed with love. It’s a masterpiece built on top of a masterpiece but with nothing lost in the conversion process in modernizing a title by a decade.
(The new Bard’s Tale is a contender for this honor.) I really enjoyed Odin Sphere.
Noob Tips: Be selective about what abilities you improve. It’s possible to merely sample the 1st tier of an unlocked ability before committing experience points towards the 2nd and 3rd levels. Passive abilities are always worth the points.
In general, it’s easier to max out HP traits over XP ones so keep that in mind when sacrificing phozons for vegetables or trading wads of cash on recipe ingredients.
HP Leveling: Avoid buying items with your Pooka coins. Horde those suckers and gulp a LVL 9 Yogurt before splurging at the confectionary or traditional chef in Pookaville.
Be as gluttonous as possible since the Yogurt’s effects persist throughout these visits.
XP Leveling: Phozons fly away if unconsumed so hit the Soul Reaver “absorb” button to keep them close. You net over 300 phozons at a time if you dump expensive foods like Cacao Beans, Lamb Chops, Shrimp, and up to 32 total consumables on the ground. Craft a LVL 9 Naturalize and watch the light show of purple rain boost your capacity.
Depth and Replayability: Medium depth, Slim-to-None replayability
Suggested Value: $60
Where to Buy: Amazon, eBay, Game Outlet Stores
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