Platform: PlayStation 2
Review Date: 8/23/09
"Odin Sphere" is a gorgeous game and looks like a painting in motion. It's a 2D side scrolling action game featuring beautifully hand drawn sprites which is exceedingly rare these days. The story is inspired by Norse mythology and follows the lives of five influential characters and their battles with each other. Each character represents a chapter in a book that a young girl is reading, and you have to read the chapters in order. The game begins with a young Valkyrie maiden named Gwendolyn whose sister has just died on the battlefield. Taking up her weapon, she begins her quest for vengeance, but is merely a pawn in a much larger game. The story telling is intense and emotionally charged, and the game had me crying less than a minute into it. Powerful stuff.
The game's greatest strength is its presentation. The art direction is superb and the game is just beautiful to look at. The dramatic music score is also excellent and provides a lot of emotional hooks for the story. Atlus has done a great job with the localization, providing a good script with both an English dub and the original Japanese soundtrack. I applaud them for giving the user a choice of audio, and even though the English voice acting is quite good, I still prefer listening to the Japanese. The game also features an "easy" difficulty level for "people who want to enjoy the story." Again, I appreciate any game that acknowledges this audience and makes it easier for them to enjoy it. Unfortunately, their idea of easy isn't quite easy enough for someone like me, and I can't imagine what the game would be like at higher difficulty levels. The reason it took me two years to write this review was because I kept hoping for some cheat codes to become available so that I could get through more of the game, but that sadly never happened. As a result, I never managed to make it past Chapter 1.
The game has a lot of other issues that keep it from being fun and it soon becomes an inventory management nightmare. You can only carry a very small number of items and deciding what to keep and what to discard is crippling. The alchemy aspect of the game quickly becomes confusing and overly complicated, and the limited inventory constantly keeps you from creating items that you need. A big part of the game involves planting seeds and harvesting the fruit that they bear. In the most bizarre case, you can grow a plant that sprouts sheep, which you can then chase down and butcher for health items. That alone is worth the price of admission. Unfortunately, fruit can only ripen if the plants are fed the energy from slain enemies, so every battle becomes a desperate ritual of trying to stay alive long enough to plant seeds next to your opponent before engaging and defeating him. You can also purchase various items from traveling vendors, but the act of counting out money is extremely annoying.
The controls are a bit strange and take some getting used to, and they become sluggish when you need them the most, which is typically during boss fights. The levels are small and short, and the frequent loading screens break the story flow and continuity. Three of the five playable characters are female, which is something I always appreciate. While Gwendolyn has a certain appeal, Velvet is the character that intrigues me the most. Unfortunately, you don't get to play her until Chapter 5, which I'm never going to get to because of the absurd difficulty. Much to its detriment, the game simply tries to do too much, and keeping track of everything is overwhelming. However, if you can manage the complexity and have the reflexes to pull it off, "Odin Sphere" can be a greatly rewarding experience.