Sunday, December 5, 2010

Game Review: Odin Sphere

Odin Sphere

Because Odin's Ball just wouldn't sound right

Playstation 2, 2007

Publisher: Atlus

Developer: Vanillaware

Time to Complete: 40-50 hours

Odin Sphere is a cult favorite from the latter days of the Playstation 2's lifespan. 2007 was actually a pretty good year for the PS2, even though the next-gen systems were taking over by then. Why am I reviewing a game that is several years old? Because for some ungodly reason I played it earlier this year, and I need something to show for those efforts besides a debilitating spleen injury.

Odin Sphere is an interesting game. In the kingdom of Odin, war has erupted between a number of nations. Behind the catastrophe are a circle of nefarious "Wise Men". As the land gets plunged into turmoil, a group of various young heroes each try to make sense of it on their own. It is a tale that borrows heavily from Norse mythology, washed in incredible, painting-esque graphics. This is a game that can make a case for 2D side-scrollers still being viable in the age of 3D. The entire game revolves around side-to-side combat involving hack-n-slash and even spell casting in real time as you try to unravel the events leading to Armageddon.

Pay no attention to Odin's fully erect beard

The story takes place over a series of many, many, many stages. These stages are set up as circular in nature; running in one direction will loop you back around to your starting point. In each stage, you fight off waves of enemies. There isn't much to the game, but it certainly is fun... at first. This game definitely doesn't need to be 40-50 hours long, and by the time you hit hour 20+ you may find yourself wishing there were, well, more to it. Another issue is that the same eight or so areas end up repeating themselves in every chapter of the game. By the time Oswald's story rolls around, those same few areas get pretty tiresome.

Battle, Japana-Norse Style

One of the problems with the otherwise fun and frenetic battles is that slowdown occasionally creeps its way into the game. Yes, slowdown... in a PS2 game. Too many enemies and effects onscreen at once and the slowdown begins. Then again, it isn't something I minded personally. The slowdown would usually occur when I'd be in the middle of some big crowd-clearing move. In other words, the game inadvertently adds drama to itself. Har.

The characters you get throughout the game gain levels as you slay enemies and consume items; these levels make them more powerful in terms of attack power and HP respectively. This adds a bit of depth to a game that would otherwise be a glorified Final Fight. There is also an interesting side-diversion in the form of the Pooka Kitchen. Combining items found in the stages allows you to create food that increases your stats and experience.

It's one hell of a kitchen

Adding more depth is an Alchemy system. By mixing various ingredients that you find on the battlefield, all sorts of potions and formulas can be created and used. In addition to alchemy formulas that can be found and created, the game is full of seeds that can be planted to cultivate various restoration items. In short, there ARE other diversions besides simply hacking and slashing. There are also plenty of story sequences. The problem is, by the time you're halfway through the game... well, whenever a cutscene pops up, you might just find yourself wishing for that music that plays people off the stage at the Oscars when it's time for them to shut up.

That statue needs to put on some damn clothes

The game is divided up until six chapters. The path is linear - they go in a specific order, and generally increase in difficulty as you go. Usually. I'd argue that the second and third chapters of the game are easier than the first. Each chapter deals with one of the five main characters, while the sixth has you taking control of all of them in succession. The game may have a linear progression, but that doesn't mean that time passes linearly as well. The five character chapters transpire more or less concurrently to each other, converging timewise on chapter six. Let's take a look at these chapters.

Gwendolyn, Valkyrie of Odin - The first chapter of the game gets players into it by playing as a tough valkyrie. Her controls are kind of stiff, and I can't help wondering why they didn't begin the game with an easier to control character like Cornelius. Also, Gwendolyn is a soul-less personality void for the most part. Still, this is a cool introduction to the game and its characters, giving a definite Norse vibe to the proceedings.

Cornelius, Pooka Prince - The Sonic the Hedgehog of Odin Sphere, Cornelius starts out as a man and - spoiler alert! - immediately gets transformed into a rabbit creature. Luckily, he can still swing a sword, and actually controls better than most of the other characters. His spinning slash is especially fun as it enables him to gain height and momentum, and intrepid players can use it to stay airborne against large foes. Cornelius may well be the most fun character in the game. Too bad it's mostly downhill after this.

Mercedes, Faerie Princess - Mercedes is the only character who uses distance-based attacks rather than melee attacks. She can also fly. This makes her storyline a little bit on the easy side, as she can stay out of reach of most foes while pelting them with attacks. She's also the most highly sexualized 12 year old in videogame history. Japan: It's How They Do.

Oswald, Dark Knight - Here's where the game really starts to lose steam. Oswald is a badass, but his controls aren't that great and his special powers are very limited in duration. At this point, the fact that you're doing the same thing over and over in areas that just keep repeating themselves is completely apparent. This game could have been half the length that it is and would have lost nothing by it.

Velvet, Lady of the Night...I mean, Witch - Velvet is the game's Sex Kitten Du Jour, with garter stockings, miniscule waist, and an ass that is so perky that it looks like a physical deformity. Does she really have to stand like that all of the time? It looks stupid.

Armageddon - The heroes come together to face off against a procession of really difficult - and highly visually impressive - bosses. This final chapter is short and to the point, unlike the first five which tend to go on and on and on.

Speaking of visually impressive, it's worth noting just how much the developers did with the graphics in this game. They're pretty amazing. Colorful, detailed, and just plain beautiful. It's only too bad that there isn't more of a variety to the game's locations. The same few backgrounds definitely get pretty old, beautiful or not.

The developers of this game went on to make Muramasa: The Demon Blade for the Wii. It's a similar game to this one, and supposedly addresses a lot of this game's weak points. I can't say much about this, though... I've never played it, and probably never will. Life dictates that I only play those few games that I *really* want to play from here on out.

Oswald's love-making skills need work.

So, I've established that Odin Sphere is pretty to look at, fun early on, and repetitive later on. This is a game that had tremendous potential at inception; it is unfortunate that Atlus didn't polish it more. They made it overly long without making it interesting enough for people to actually want to stick with it. I'd almost rather if they had split the game up into two or three separate games and given each one more distinction, area/gameplay variety, and things to do besides endlessly hack at waves of the same enemies. Aside from the cost, that would have made for a better experience. Normally, a long game length isn't something to complain about (even considering the lack of free time adults have)... but it becomes a bad thing when the game is filled to the brim with cut and pasted areas/foes/events the way this one is.

See these few areas? You'll be repeating them over and over.

I want to like it, especially considering I went through the whole thing (time I could have better used elsewhere), but it's difficult to let myself like it. Go for this game if you have a lot of time on your hands and aren't bothered by extreme repetition. For everyone else who has Shit To Do™, recommendation to avoid this.

Rating: 6.8 out of 10

1 comment:

  1. I bet you'd like Muramasa, though. I believe it addresses the problems with this game and it's more action-oriented (as opposed to item-oriented) anyway.