Genre: Action / Role-Playing Game
Reviewer: Marcus Way
Overall: 8.5 = Excellent
Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is an updated re-release of Vanillaware’s 2007 PlayStation action role-playing game Odin Sphere. This is more than just a simple high-definition makeover, however, as the game has undergone significant changes with numerous adjustments made to increase fluidity, expand combat, and update the interface. The result is a remake that surpasses the original in every way, and serves as an example as to how a company can rejuvenate a decade-old title for a new generation. As usual for multi-platform reviews, check the last paragraph to find out the differences between the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita versions.
The fate of five heroes intertwines as war wages between the nations of Erion. Each hero is a protagonist of their own chapter in an unfolding story that follows the events leading up to Armageddon. The framing narrative sets up these tales as the stuff of myths and legend as a young girl reads books detailing the exploits of each hero. Events unfold throughout multi-act chapters, many of which reappear in other character’s chapters, sometimes concluding, other times being retold from a different perspective. The melancholic tales are filled with loss, betrayal, and an increasing sense of futility. It’s rarely a happy story, but it is a well-told one, if fairly traditional in content if not in presentation.
One of the biggest changes from the original version is that the game’s pace has increased considerably and the action intensified. Characters now have unique multi-node branching skill trees, filled with passive and active abilities. These complement an array of air- and ground-based moves that allow players to break the enemy’s block as well as air juggle, stun, parry, freeze, burn, and electrify them. This by itself would make for a robust combat system, but the re-release goes even further. Save for one character, normal attacks no longer use the Power Gauge. Instead, the gauge and Psypher Points are reserved for certain powerful, frequently element-based Psypher Skills. Several moves were also added to the core set of melee attacks, and to ensure that those are regularly punctuated with harder blows, shortcuts allow easy access to up to four specials. The adjustments increase the speed of combat significantly, and as a result, it takes less time to clear areas of the land’s many bomb-throwing dwarfs, bow-wielding fairies, and impaled ghouls. The expansive move set also makes for more varied encounters, and at times, such manic combo-heavy combat that the game can resemble Marvel vs. Capcom or Guardian Heroes. It’s just as addictive, too. However, as with other action-heavy titles, such as the God of War series, the game is more than manageable by using the same handful of moves—but it’s always nice to have more. Another noticeable difference is that I found the changes also made it much easier to get an S grade in combat, which could take some work in original.
Leveling has also been made easier with expanded cooking options. As before, players can eat food they find, purchase, or grow. Mid-level cooking is now available at a touring restaurant that sets up in rest areas along with vendors that sell, among other items, ingredients. If the player has the proper materials and recipe, the chef will whip up meals that replenish health, add extra hit points, and bestow experience points. Other foods, such as fruit, can be eaten in the field for similar, though not quite as significant, perks. Many consumed fruit will result in a seed that can then be planted and nourished to grow a new tree that yields more fruit. There is a bit of a tradeoff here, as absorbed Phozons, the spirits of defeated enemies, are used to not only provide the nourishment but also level up skills. Personally, this was never too much an issue, as I always came down on the side of a stronger spear thrust rather than a new muggle to munch on. Brick-and-mortar restaurants remain as well, and since cooking is the easiest way to level up, returning players will feel spoiled with so many culinary options. Potion crafting has also been tweaked. Players can now mix and match seeds, food, other potions, and even grape stems to create concoctions. Not even the trash goes to waste. Inventory management can still get convoluted, though. Fortunately, it’s more manageable this time around with a nicely designed menu layout and two options to select items, a radial menu and a large grid.
Areas also retain their unique design. Missions involve working through interconnected areas that are visible on the mini-map as paths on either side, above, or below the current area. As the game is a side-scrolling title, a perspective trick is utilized to allow some paths to lead into the foreground or background. It sounds disorienting, and at first it can be, but it’s actually quite a novel way to include several paths within a 2D plane without making a jumbled mess of the world. Certain exits also allow the player to leave the region or teleport to a different area. Previously cleared areas can be revisited, and it’s often worth doing so, as some host treasure chests, recipes, additional storage backs, new skill unlocks, and hidden coins and ingredients. Progression requires that players find keys, defeat sub-bosses, and eventually take down the area’s main boss. As with many aspects of the game, it’s traditional but represented in a way that’s unconventional and refreshing.
In addition to all of the gameplay changes, the graphical performance has been markedly improved. The PlayStation 2 version has always been a sight to behold, but now the game performs as good as it looks. The saga is a lengthy one, clocking in at over 30 hours, and it looks stunning throughout. Also, for those who just want the prettier graphics without all of the newfangled changes, Vanillaware included Classic Mode.
Despite so many changes, one thing that has stayed the same is that the game can feel repetitive after a few chapters. Characters go through the same areas, fight the same enemies, and often experience the same events, and this loses some of its luster after a few cycles. Moves are also similar, which is compounded by how few players will actually need to use in order to achieve S rankings. Similarly, even though there are some unique recipes, the process surrounding them, from gathering ingredients to their consumption, is the same, and while that makes sense, all of this together results in a strong sense of deja vu when starting over with a new character. The individual stories help to pick up the slack, though, and even when it feels as if the player is going through a revolving door, it’s still a pretty damn entertaining revolving door.
Of the two versions, the PlayStation 4 is the most stable framerate wise and the easiest to control. Both versions are great, but the smaller directional pad and analog stick of the PS Vita port makes it a little too easy to select the wrong direction and whiff a special attack by inputting the incorrect shortcut. Handheld performance is also good, but there was a slight hint of slowdown during some of the larger boss battles; nowhere near the level of the PlayStation 2 version, but not always as smooth as the PlayStation 4 version. Really, there is no going wrong with either version. Cross-save is also supported, so players can continue their campaign on the go.
Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is a fantastic update to an already wonderful game. The numerous changes accentuate and expand on what made the original so good, and a Classic Mode offers purists the chance to play through the game in its high-definition glory but without any changes to the mechanics. That said, the adjustments don’t address the game’s novel cyclical design that isn’t always as successful mechanically as it is narratively. A byproduct of the approach is the growing sense of repetition as one character’s story leads to the next, and while it did little to dampen my enthusiasm, others who prefer pushing forward into undiscovered territory and battling newer, badder enemies should approach with caution. For those on the fence as to which version to purchase, the PlayStation 4 version has slightly better performance and controls, but the quick access offered by the PlayStation Vita helps to break up the game into nice bite-sized chunks. Players can’t go wrong with either version.
(This review is based on a copy provided by the publisher.)