By: Brian Gunn
The original Odin Sphere was a cult hit late in the PS2’s lifespan; one that put developer Vanillaware on the map, at least for western audiences. Since then, they’ve gone on to release Muramasa and Dragon’s Crown, and with each new release their profile rose. Now they’ve returned with Odin Sphere Leifthrasir in an attempt to teach old dogs new tricks.
Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is a side-scrolling action RPG, and one that tends to favor moves that are flashier in appearance than they are in execution. For this version, the title’s controls and combat have been revamped to be more similar to Vanillaware’s most recent games, in particular Muramasa.
Square is your basic physical attack, and if you hold a direction it tweaks it, like sending an enemy into the air for a juggle combo. Magic and special abilities can be used either from a pause menu or assigned to the circle button with similar modifiers, giving you four options to use in combat without needing to pause.
For purists there’s also a mode that lets you play with the old controls and systems in place, only updating the visuals.
If there’s one thing Vanillaware is most known for it’s their unique art style. While the playable characters may fit into the typical anime styling of many Japanese games, the world and supporting cast tend to lean toward something painterly. Everyone’s exaggerated, like Odin and his muscular arms that are bigger than most of the citizens of his realm.
This remake has brought everything into the world of HD, with levels more oriented around flat designs and a huge frame rate boost. The frame rate makes the stylish combat sing, though somehow there’s still a few moments of slowdown every once in a while — at least on the Vita.
The soundtrack is one that jaunts from rousing epic tracks to melancholy quite frequently. Sometimes that melancholy doesn’t quite fit, as the story is a bit under-cooked and can even be a little on the campy side. Voice acting is similarly campy, attempting to invoke a tragic or operatic atmosphere, to mixed results.
Odin Sphere Leifthrasir tells the story of Armageddon through a Norse lens, albeit with a healthy dose of liberties. Players start in the role of Gwendolyn, though to finish the game four other stories with their own heroes are required.
Basically, the world is about to end because the various kings and queens are meddling with things they don’t understand, and the story is told from the perspective of their children or subordinates that get tangled up in it. Each story is needed to fulfill the bigger picture. This can make the first few a little unsatisfying as you wait for gaps to be filled in later.
Each character has a few unique traits, though they all play relatively similarly. Gwendolyn has a spear so her moves are more about thrusting attacks, Cornelius wields a sword so he’s more balanced, and so on. Each tends to get at least one unique gimmick though, like Cornelius’ Shovel Knight style downward attack.
Levels are broken into several mini areas, ranging from enemy encounters to rest areas where you can visit vendors. Combat encounters are scored, offering better rewards if you manage high combos, avoid damage, and end things quickly. There’s also some general treasure hunting to do, though it’s mainly the ability unlocks that stand out.
Speaking of abilities, there are a great many to earn. Most will be from general story progress, though a few are hidden quite well, and many are useful. So useful, in fact, that they almost break the game.
In remaking the title, Vanillaware gave players an incredible amount of extra tools to deal with the enemy, but they haven’t reworked the enemies. On normal, the game quickly becomes incredibly easy as you obtain abilities that let you do things that were incredibly hard in the original version.
For example, getting behind a boss was tough in the PS2 version, meaning you had to either learn to dodge/block their attacks or carefully plan getting behind them. In the remake, some of the earliest abilities will allow you to dash right through, and the enemies don’t seem to know how to deal with players having so much mobility.
There’s an inventory system, and the notorious planting system returns, though it has been neutered to barely matter. Players can now grow plants by releasing their power directly into it, while in the original you needed to kill enemies around a plant for it to grow. It was a mechanic that needed tweaking, but now it feels like they should’ve just let you buy the fruits directly given they removed the only challenging aspect.
One small touch I love about the game is that the limited inventory slots makes players use their items fairly liberally. Now, that’s typically something a lot of games go for, but very few end up following through, either making items too rare (thus encouraging hoarding) or too useless.
Here they’ve managed to make the various spell potions you’ll find both plentiful and powerful enough to use without too many second thoughts, and there’s a crafting system to replace them in case you regret using up a particular item.
I found myself sort of enraptured with the changes at the start of my experience with Odin Sphere Leifthrasir. All of the rough edges have been sanded away, though some of the charm has been lost in the process. It’s a gorgeous restoration, and there’s a classic mode for those put off by the changes, though I can’t help feeling like there might’ve been more middle ground to cover between the old and new.