Action RPGs on consoles have exploded in recent years, and many publishers and developers have made their marks in the genre, all trying to bring something different to the table.  While Atlus has normally been known for RPGs, they’re also known for bringing rather quirky titles over to the United States, and this describes developer Vanillaware’s title, Odin Sphere, perfectly.


Featuring 2D graphics and side-scrolling action, at first glimpse, Odin Sphere looks and feels a lot like a standard beat ‘em up game along the lines of Golden Axe or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the original arcade game).  Scratch the surface, however, and much more can be revealed.


However, in this world of “everything must be 3D and be gorgeous and innovate”, how will a quirky little action-RPG fare?

For those who have seen GrimGrimoire, another recent game by Vanillaware, the graphic similarities are obvious.  Odin Sphere features gorgeous 2D sprites which are incredibly detailed and have a solid level of animation.  In fact, everything in the game has an amazing amount of detail, from the game worlds that you fight in to the monsters, to the characters themselves.


The scale on some of the creatures and areas are incredible also, with some boss monsters nearly filling the screen with their immense power.  Some of the animations could stand to be better, but it all works rather well, and the game plays fluidly…for the most part.


The one major glitch in the system for the graphics is that it really shows the limitations of the Playstation 2.  There are major slowdowns in numerous parts of the game, especially in the boss battles, and there are places where the framerate dips drastically.  Hopefully, if there’s a sequel to this game, it’s done on a next-generation console, where the game can show off its true glory.

First off, it needs to be noted that the people behind Odin Sphere’s voice acting, especially on the English side, should be hired to do many, many games.  The voice acting in this game is very well done, which is good, since every line of dialogue in the game is voiced.  For those who still can’t stand it, however, the option does exist to switch over to the Japanese voice track as well.


Beyond the voicing, the sound in general is impressive.  The background is full of noises, the sounds of battle ring through the air, and the game actually tends to sound like the frentic fight for life that it truly is.  The orchestral music does a great job at delivering the game’s impact aurally, and beyond that, the music is just beautiful to listen to, and deserves a game soundtrack release at the very least.

Combat in Odin Sphere, at least as far as the controls go, is about as easy as a game can get:  All attacking is handled by the square button.  This also handles talking to other NPCs.  While jumping with the X button adds some depth, that’s really all there is to combat.  Movement is handled (of course) with the left analog stick or directional pad.  The triangle button opens the Psypher Skill Ring, while circle cancels actions and opens the Item Ring.  L1 displays your map or switches bags in inventory, L2 shows a status screen, R1 absorbs Phozons in combat or switches bags, and R2 brings up your bag screen.  Last, the start button naturally pauses the action.


It all sounds simple enough, but in practice, it can take a bit of time to master the different elements, and in the heat of battle, can be a bit confusing.  Still, it’s simple enough that almost anyone can pick up the game and get a handle on the controls rather easily, and that’s what’s important.

Without giving too much of the storyline away, Odin Sphere plays out like this:  In the world of Erion, nations are constantly at war, the stories of which are being read by a little girl in an attic.  This leads to the five acts of the game, each one focusing on a different character, ranging from the daughter of the demon lord Odin to the Fairy Queen and including a swordsman and a pooka-knight, among others.


The stories of the five intertwine in an overarcing story that involves Odin’s quest to obtain The Cauldron, a weapon of immense power, and the prophecy that his quest triggers.  Each chapter is told from the viewpoint of each of the different characters as you move through various Spheres, or battle areas, all of which play out like some old-school side-scrolling games. 


The game starts out simple, with the concept of just attacking monsters and not getting too far into a group to keep from being killed.  While it may seem that it’s just a mass of pushing the attack button to kill everything in sight, you’ve got a power meter to restrain you.  Use too much attack power in a short amount of time, and your character will be left stunned and defenseless until your power meter regenerates.  Pausing the slaying will also help, as every second spent not-attacking will help to fill that meter just a bit more.


Adding to the difficulty is the fact that launching a combo of attacks on a monster won’t stop them from performing their own attack, which can be devestating as you unleash a four-hit monster attack, only to run into the buzzsaw of three or four monsters hitting their own attacks while you’re in mid-stream. 


As you kill monsters, they release Phozons, or souls of the departed.  Your character can absorb these Phozons, which not only help to level your character up, but can also be used as fertilizer for plants which you’ll plant both before and during the frentic battles.  Yes, you’re not only a bloodthirsty slayer, you’re also a peaceful gardener.


This adds a bit of strategy, as you’ll juggle slaying waves of monsters which can (and do) attack from every direction including beneath with setting up planting seeds to help you regain hit points or give you items for the very deep alchemy system.  Some plants even release Phozons on their own, which let you string together plants to assist you.


Also, as your character’s power grows, you gain access to Psyphers.  Absorbing Phozons assist you in raising your Psypher level as well as activating the powers themselves.  Unfortunately, the act of absorbing Phozons requires that you stand still and remain defenseless, so it’s something more to add to the complexity of the game and throw another ball into the juggling act. 


Speaking of alchemy as you run through the Spheres, now and again you’ll hear a squeak coming beneath your feet.  These are Mandragoras, which can be released by jumping on the squeaking spot on the map, then hitting them with your weapon as they run away.  There are different varieties of these creatures, and they’re all used to create potions through the alchemy system.  You’ll pick up recipes along the way, as well as discover some for yourself, which allow you to increase the type of items that you can create.  Creating items through alchemy can have an immediate impact on your ability to survive battles, especially the extremely difficult boss battles, and is a skill that cannot be emphasized enough.


Throw all of it together, and mix in a cooking skill that you unlock later to help run a tea shop(!?), and it makes for a very deep game with lots of complexity.  It’s actually almost too hard and complex for some gamers, which can be a downfall, but it’s well worth working through the rougher spots for the overall glory that is Odin Sphere.  Best of all?  Once you finish the five acts, the game gives you a sixth act which all but blows you away.

Any time a game can give you fifty hours of gameplay or more, it’s a good thing.  Add in the fact that the game just has so much to do, and it’s not even a sandbox game such as Grand Theft Auto or one of the similar games out there, and it’s even better. 


From the six chapters of gameplay, to the deep alchemy and cooking system, to the fact that some of the levels are replayable to get a better rating, there’s a lot of things to do in Odin Sphere.  Add in the fact that it’s only $40, and seemingly not as rare as many Atlus games (my Wal-Mart carries it!), means that this game is well worth the money spent for fans of the genre.

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