Every now and then, a game that changes the way you think and feel about the RPG-genre and the gaming experience itself is released. I have played many good RPGs ever since I dedicated myself to the genre in 1999, but as of late I have been longing for something to lift my spirits and make me forget that I am actually “just” playing a game. And now it has happened and my savior is the small Japanese game company Vanillaware.
|22 maj 2007 (US)
Odin Sphere is something as rare as a 2D-game. Of course, games with “old” graphics are still being released, but not in the same manner as during the SNES era, for several reasons. The last time I saw anything even close to this was back in 2000 when I played Valkyrie Profile on my PlayStation.
Odin Sphere uses hand drawn graphics, which might take away some of the softness in the character movement, the backgrounds etc, but not so much that you think it’s ugly; far from it. Odin Sphere is the most visually brilliant game I’ve seen since Baten Kaitos for the GameCube in 2005. There is such an air of enchantment, from the moment the “New Game” screen shows. The detail is amazing and all the playable characters have different movement and fighting patterns. They even do different things after eating fruits and other foods that they grow on the battlefield to gain EXP. For example, Gwendolyn has a small hiccup/burp, Cornelius wipes his mouth and Mercedes licks her fingers.
Unlike other RPGs, this is a lonesome struggle to save the world. All characters are represented by a book and you’re taken through each of their stories one by one, though not necessarily in chronological order. Everyone bumps into each other eventually; Vanillaware has done a splendid job with intertwining their destinies.
I really like how the game is set up. Every new destination has a bunch of areas. Each new area has a fight, you can stock up in the areas that have a shop, and there are in fact several boss fights per destination. No less than three, ever. Odin Sphere is actually much harder than it looks, even though you’re playing on Easy Mode. Once a fight is over a pathway is opened to another area and sometimes there are several routes to choose from. At first it’s a lot like fumbling in the dark, but eventually you get a map on which you will see how all the areas are connected. It’s really quite simple but oh so clever.
Battles are tremendously fun, except for the awful lagging that occurs when many enemies are crowding your space. You run around in circles, literally, since it’s all in 2D. At the top of the screen is a radar that allows you to see a much bigger part of the battlefield, keep track of enemies, growing plants etc. It’s genius. And don’t be surprised if you look more often on the radar than anything else during a fight, it does work to your advantage.
Leveling up is a fun thing in Odin Sphere. Not only does your character level up, but so does his or her weapon, or Psypher. All characters have their own unique Psypher, but they share almost all the special powers that come with it, and this is not a bad thing. Once an enemy is defeated it releases tiny, floating lights, called phosons. You can draw these into your Psypher, thus making it gain levels and strength. But not so fast, what about the characters? Well, I mentioned that they eat fruits and so on to gain EXP. You will find seeds during the battles that you need to plant. The plants need phosons to grow (well, most of them anyways), so it’s important to create a balance between them and their weapon. It might sound tedious, but it’s not. Trust me. Later on you are able to visit a restaurant and a café where you can bring ingredients and get a nice, juicy meal. This is also the fastest way to level up your character. You will be using alchemy in this game as well. Mixing different materials will render different items, both useful for attacks or protection. Since money is pretty scarce, this is something you can’t do without.
Not only is the structure of this game and its graphics absolutely astounding, but so is the music. My all-time favorite Hitoshi Sakimoto has composed a brittle yet strong soundtrack. It’s a bit short, but his compositions are worth listening to a million times. And, you’re free to choose between Japanese and English voices, something I think every game should have these days. Another great feature is the possibility to see all the cut scenes again, whenever you like. You can view them from the menu, and there are plenty of scenes that you’ll want to relive.
All these things combined make Odin Sphere a solid game experience, but it also feels like a true fairytale. The cast is wonderful, believable and heartwarming. Sure, the game lags on occasion and has some issues with loading time, but that’s all forgivable when you realize what you hold in your hands; a precious gem, a game that truly touches your heart. A tale that I hope many will experience and love.