Feb 10, 2009

Odin Sphere

I seem to be something on a 2D kick lately in my video game selection. Perhaps I have an aversion to depth.

Odin Sphere is a 2D action RPG/brawler for the PS2, that I had heard good things about but had not gotten around to playing until recently. I'm a huge action RPG fan, with the Diablo series having been my gateway drug, and the genre elements present in this game are numerous and engaging.

The first and most immediate aspect of this game is the graphics. Though these are 2D sprites, these have to be some of the most detailed and well-animated sprites I've ever seen. As with other good 2D sprite games, screenshots only go so far in showing the beauty of the game - the real magic is in the animation of it. In this respect, Odin Sphere makes these 2D characters come alive in ways I never thought possible. The level of polish applied to the sprites in this game produce a shine that is blinding.

The story is... well, I'm not too sure honestly. I've put in about 8 hours into the game, and I can tell I'm still nowhere near the bottom of this rabbit hole. It's a complex, interlocking story involving several characters from different races and nations. You start off with the story of the Valkyrie princess Gwendolyn, the daughter of King Odin. After being banished from her country for slaying one of the king's generals who was plotting against the king, she ends up married to what was one of the nations enemies, Oswald. Her illegitimate half-sister from a destroyed nation Velvet, whose motives are still unclear, has gone out of her way to really mess with King Odin's plans of obtaining the Crystallization Cauldron, some super weapon.

That's about as far as I've gotten. To put this into perspective, this is just ONE of five interlocking stories that all weave one larger story that keeps building - the struggle to prevent Armageddon.

As far as game mechanics go, leveling up revolves around the use of phozons, which are the souls of slain enemies or are created as a result of alchemy. You can do one of two things with these souls:

  • Absorb them immediately into your weapon, which levels up your abilities and charges your psypher gauge (think "super bar" from any recent Capcom fighter).

  • Use them to grow plants. Most plants yield fruit only after they have consumed the required amount of souls. Consuming food, in addition to providing you health, is the only way to level up your hit points.

Alchemy is another major game mechanic, in that you have to create different potions on the fly as you need them. For example, fighting in a volcano level you start to take damage just standing around in the heat. Then you find the alchemic formula for "Cooler", a potion that prevents this slow drain and you make yourself a brew to protect yourself against the heat. There are potions for just about every purpose, from the offensive (napalm, blizzard, etc.) to the defensive (cooler, warmer, painkiller, healing tonic) and making sure you have the right potion (or the ingredients for the right potion) at hand becomes critical.

Managing all this stuff - your plants, potions and even the souls that come your way - becomes a tricky affair. All throughout, you're making difficult decisions on what you think you'll need going forward. Do you plant the sheep tree now (note: there are plants that grow friggin sheep in this universe), hoping you'll slay enough enemies for their souls to bear sheepy fruit? Or do you charge your weapon with them because you think you'll need your super abilities later? Do you make the healing tonic with your last alchemic material, thinking you'll need the hp boost? Or do you make antidote, because you're in an area where the enemies will poison you often?

One note: this game is difficult. I must confess, I knew of the game's difficulty ahead of time and started my game in easy mode. That isn't to say it's easy, but rather easier. There are times where the gameplay is so frantic that I have died before I realized I needed to heal. This has happened much more than the gamer in me would like to admit - it's just that challenging and engaging. I look forward to playing this game a second time on normal, or if I'm particularly sadistic hard mode.

The only negative thing this game suffers from is the occasional slowdown when there is a lot going on the screen. Thankfully this doesn't happen all that often, but when it does it breaks up the flow of combat a little.

In the end, this game is pure joy to play. It's got gorgeous and beautifully animated 2D sprites, challenging and well-balanced game mechanics, and interlocking stories all wrapped up into an action RPG/brawler game. Do yourself a favor and grab a copy of it. I regret not doing it sooner.

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