Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir Review

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Title: Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir
Developer: Vanillaware, Atlus
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Type: Vita
Download: 1.9 GB
NA Availability: Digital Download | Retail
EU Availability: Digital Download | Retail
PSTV Support: 
Yes

Vanillaware.  That’s a name that can spark a lot in the gaming community.  They don’t have a lot of games to their name, but they have some quality titles in there.  PS Vita fans know them best for the multiplayer action RPG, Dragon’s Crown, and the brutally challenging Muramasa Rebirth.  One thing is for certain, though.  With the unique artistic style of the developer, it is always very easy to tell if you’re playing a Vanillaware game.

Going forward, the developer has gone back to its roots.  They began making games for the PlayStation 2.  Of the two games that came out for that system, one stands out as an essential origin of the side-scrolling combat systems that led to both Muramasa and Dragon’s Crown.  That game was called Odin Sphere, which is already available in this generation, as a PS2 Classic for PS3 owners.

The devs weren’t satisfied with that.  Instead, they completely remade the game for all PlayStation systems, including the PlayStation TV.  Here is my official review of Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir!

Story

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Odin Sphere takes place around a war for a mystical device known as “The Cauldron”, known for having unnatural magical powers and being directly involved in the destruction of one of the world’s great nations.  The remaining nations of the world fight for it for different reasons: The Aesir warriors want control of it.  The Fairies want to keep it out of the wrong hands, and other parties want it for far sinister reasons.

While all of this is going on, you are in control of 5 characters heavily involved in various parts of the war on all sides, seeing the different positions as things go by.  The nice thing about the story is that each character’s story arc shows them growing as a character and their own personal story, while melding each up towards the overall storyline.

Gameplay

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Odin Sphere is a side-scrolling beat-em-up action RPG.  The combat is similar to that of Muramasa being that you’re going through side-scrolling stages, collecting keys for puzzles, and fighting off waves of enemies and bosses while leveling up to increase your skills and obtain new abilities.

First of all, what is new in this remake?  There have been a lot of gameplay changes, like the POW gauge not being used as heavily to limit what you can do.  One bonus about the remake is that there are two main game modes.  The secondary mode is called “Classic Mode” which lets you play through the original PS2 version of Odin Sphere instead of the remade version.

Progression in Odin Sphere goes through character-based storylines.  The main screen of the game shows you controlling a young girl in a library, reading through tales of an age gone past, which is actually the plot of the game.  Unlike the demo, where you can choose whatever character you wish for a stage, you only have access to one character at the beginning.  Clear their story, another unlocks, and you continue this until you get through all six story arcs.

In each story arc, there are several chapters.  In each chapter, you will progress through a different dungeon to advance the story.  These chapters can easily be toggled between, so you can go back to previous chapters with your upgraded improvements in case you may have missed something in a previous dungeon.

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While in dungeons, you are going through 2D side-scrolling stages with the goal of reaching the Boss Room to continue the story and challenge that chapter’s boss.  To reach this, you must traverse other rooms of the dungeons, comprised of Normal Stages, Battle Stages, Mid-Boss Stages, and Rest Stages.  Each stage type has a different purpose and contains different things.

Normal stages are just for you to navigate through.  They may have a few enemies, but combat is optional.  Battle Stages pit you against waves of enemies and grade you on your performance, mostly on how high of a combo you can accomplish without the combo breaking.  Mid-Boss stages are like battle stages, but have a boss fight you have to go through.  Instead of fighting, say, goblins and bears, you may be fighting off an airship or giant lion.

Finally, Rest Stages are combat-free, with NPCs to talk to, a shop to buy items from, and a bell you can ring to summon a chef that you can use gained ingredients to purchase food to eat, which heals you and gives you experience points towards leveling up.

This also brings us to the Food and Growing parts of gameplay.  As you journey, you will find plant seeds as well as magical energy called Phozons that enemies drop.  In a dungeon, you can plant seeds and give up phozons to let them grow and sprout food.  This food can then either be used for ingredients at the mobile restaurant or eaten to heal and give you experience points, just as defeating enemies will.  You can also obtain food at the restaurants in the Pooka Village you can visit between dungeons, using coins you find in stages as payment instead of ingredients.

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Now to the most important part of gameplay: Combat.  No matter what character you’re using, you will be hacking and slashing with attacks to take down enemy troops.  You have various normal attacks you can do as well as skills that are learned as you proceed through the storyline.  Normal attack combos only get you so far, as the key to mastering the system is by linking and chaining skills into your combos to keep yourself constantly striking the enemies for as long as possible.

The nice thing about this is that all 5 characters have completely different playstyles.  Gwendolyn attacks with a spear and can utilize aerial jumping and gliding attacks while Mercedes can fly around the enemy, firing off rapid-fire magic shots from her cross-bow.  No matter who you use, you’ll learn different ways of utilizing combat.

Skills come by defeating bosses, but every dungeon also has a hidden skill from paths that you may not take otherwise.  Knowing that, it would be good to explore dungeons rather than just rushing through to get to the boss.  After all, you can save your game at any time in a dungeon.  These skills are mostly combat skills, which either use the always-regenerating POW gauge or the PP gauge that slowly builds back up as you fight.  You’ll need to find a balance between these two skill types, since PP Skills cannot be used nearly as often.

When you defeat enemies, you gain experience, money, and chests for the stage with rewards in it.  Experience lets you level up, which will increase your stats, key to getting the PP necessary for the high-end skills.  The rooms that give food as rewards is also a part of this experience as you get experience from the enemies you fought and the food you’re given.

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There’s one thing that grinded my gears about the combat in the game: Boss Variety.  The bosses you fight are quite the spectacle, but there are a lot of bosses you fight in every single story scenario.  Going up against a flying airship with dwarves throwing bombs at you was pretty epic the first time.  It was not as epic the 4th time with no new attack patterns from it.  The game re-uses at least a couple bosses in most of the story scenarios and that really puts a hinder on a fun combat system.

To help you fight, the game has an item and alchemy system.  You have a bag that can hold various types of items, from food to materials to magic potions.  Magic Potions have various effects, depending on what you have.  Some restore your health, some damage your enemies, and some can give you a boost or buff for damage, burn resistance, etc.  Items come in grades, and alchemy allows you to mix potions with other items to enhance them and make them stronger.  A health potion with alchemy could go from healing 100 HP to healing 750 HP.

Odin Sphere is difficulty, but not drastically so.  The game will challenge you (unless you play on Easy Mode) with bosses, making you realize this is not a button masher.  You’ll have to learn some boss patterns to be able to survive, especially against the bosses that use items against you and will constantly heal themselves when they get low on HP.  It’s a battle of wit and strategy.  And hitting them as much as possible.

As far as length is concerned, the HLTB website claims the original game is 37-40 hours long.  I would gauge the game more at 20-30 hours.  The longest any of the scenarios took me was about 7 hours, and that was one of the longer ones.  You may not get 40 hours of it, but I’d wager most would get at least 25-30 out of it.

Controls

Controlling this game isn’t hard to do, and everything is explained quite well.  While the game is compatible with the PlayStation TV, it doesn’t use any of the extra buttons for the micro-console.  No extra triggers are used here, nor is the touch screen on the Vita.

Moving around the stages and areas is done with the D-Pad and Left Analog Stick, while the Right Stick doesn’t do anything at all.  The two triggers are used for opening a skill menu and for doing quick dodge maneuvers.  The X button is used for flying and holding X for each character’s special aerial trick (Flying for Mercedes, Gliding for Gwendolyn, Teleporting for Oswald, etc) and Square is used for normal attacks.  Triangle lets you pull up the item screen and Circle is used for skills.

As I said before, all of this is explained to you, so there’s no confusion about what you’re supposed to do.

Presentation

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Visually, this game looks beautiful whether you’re on the PS Vita or the PlayStation TV.  I almost exclusively played Odin Sphere on my PSTV through my 32” Smart TV.  From the character models to the active backgrounds, everything looks practically flawless.

Performance is one thing a lot of people didn’t like about the original Odin Sphere.  On the PS2, combat had a lot of lag and frame drops.  This was completely fixed in the remake.  The Vita version has no frame drops anything, aside from the intentional slow-motion sequences for when bosses are defeated.

Summary

Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir fixes a lot of things that brought down the original Odin Sphere.  My only complaint is the lack of boss variety.  The rest of this is a beautiful, fast-paced, and well-optimized Action RPG that any Vanillaware fans need to check out. 

9/10

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