I realize that I’m writing this quite late in the game, though perhaps I can justify it, what with the recent announcement of Odin Sphere for the PS2 Greatest Hits lineup. In any case, I recently played Odin Sphere for the first time and I wanted to share me thoughts on it, even if nobody else really cares to listen.
The battle system in Odin Sphere is quite simple compared to many action RPGs. You fight on a 2D field that forms a complete circle, you have your standard attacks and your specials. Here’s the catch – Odin Sphere has 5 different protagonists, each of which has their own special skills and attack patterns. Here is a basic rundown of the characters:
Gwendolyn – Uses a psypher spear. The most balanced character, possess the ability to glide. Her ultimate ability is by far the best in the game.
Cornelius – Uses a psypher sword. Powerful combos, but short range. Can use a spinning aerial attack. Moves very quickly.
Mercedes – Uses a psypher crossbow. Strong ranged attacks, but low stamina. She can fly and fire charged multi-shot. She has a unique ability that shoots a powerful shot across the screen.
Oswald – Uses a psypher sword. Short range, but rapid combo potential. Can transform into a shadow monster to boost power temporarily.
Velvet – Uses a psypher chain. Long reach, but slow combos. Her charged attack homes in on the enemy for a powerful ranged attack.
Each character has only two stats, Power and HP. Power can be increased by absorbing phozons from enemies, alchemy, or plants. HP can be increased by eating food (or later by eating at the Pooka restaurant). Items can be obtained by clearing levels or stealing them from monsters. Among these items are several types, the most important being plants and alchemy mixes. By planting seeds and allowing them to absorb phozons, the player can grow food that allows them to recover HP and can be used in cooking. Alchemy Mixes are items that, when combined according to the right recipe, allow the player to create new items. Items created with alchemy range from healing potions to napalm. Obtaining these alchemy recipes is up to the player, but being able to craft a variety of potions will certainly be to the benefit of any player.
Odin Sphere’s battle system seems basic at first glance, but it requires you to master five different ways of fighting, along with packing the right items and picking the right time to use them. Using an item before being hit will cause the player to drop the item. Timing is quite important in battle. Most characters do not possess the ability to block attacks, so it is up to the player to dodge powerful attacks on their own. It is worth noting here that Odin Sphere is a challenging game. I was unable to beat the game on my first playthrough on the Normal setting. I had to reduce the difficulty to Easy in order to make it through, and even then I found myself dying against some bosses and in some of the harder areas. Do not underestimate the difficulty of the game, Normal on Odin Sphere would be “hard” on most other games. Thankfully, you can play any of the books over as many times as you want to, so just because you’ve beaten the story for a character, it doesn’t mean that you can’t make them more powerful.
While I am on the topic of the battle system, I have to offer up my biggest complaint about Odin Sphere. In areas with many enemies (particularly in the underworld) the speed of the game sometimes grinds to a screeching halt. There is a noticeable slowdown. I had ripped my copy of the game and was using HD Loader and I STILL experienced this slowdown. I can only imagine what load times and lag must have been like playing from the disc…
This might be the first and last time I ever make this statement, but the visuals might be Odin Sphere’s biggest selling point. I have never once considered myself a person whose opinion is easily swayed by nice graphics. Graphics are an asset – one part of what a game can use to provide an overall experience. But the graphics themselves can never justify the purchase of a game… Odin Sphere made me question that philosophy for the first time. I can honestly say that I purchased the game just based on the beautiful 2D graphics. Vibrant colors, stunning detail, and beautiful locations set the stage for a truly rich visual experience. While the graphics are not the whole of the experience, they contribute more than their fair share in creating a deep fantasy world. As a fan of 2D games, I’m honestly not sure how much better a game can look than Odin Sphere. Character movement is subtle yet dramatic, very fluid and very natural.
There is one minor complaint I have about the graphics, but it is so minor that I almost hesitate to make it. My complaint is that the game made no effort to create character models that accurately reflect a left vs. right profile. What I mean is that the character looks identical no matter if they are facing right or left, which obviously isn’t the case with real people. Still, with how perfect everything else in the game looks, I’m totally willing to believe that every character is ambidextrous and call it a day.
I absolutely loved Odin Sphere’s soundtrack. Certainly within the game, there wasn’t a single piece of music that I did not like. Even once I was listening to the OST independent of the game, I still loved almost every track on it, which is actually very rare. Each area in the game has its own specific music, and of course there are event specific themes as well. It’s difficult for me to describe the tone of the songs properly, I simply lack the necessary vocabulary to do so. The music doesn’t feel like your ordinary game, most game music seems like you could probably fit it into most games if you wanted to, but Odin Sphere’s music is distinct. It was clearly written to fit the specific fantasy setting, which it does to perfection. In my ignorance, I might describe the tone of the music as an “aggressive classical”. I’m actually not sure if I can pick a single track that I think is the best. Battle on the Snowy Mountain and Facing the Darkness are certainly two of my favorites, but honestly, I could list off 20 other songs that I like almost as much. Fans of game music won’t be disappointed by the Odin Sphere OST, it’s truly a complete package and one of the strongest game soundtracks I have heard in years.
I’m not sure if I have any more comments to make, but as always, RPGFan has a detailed review of the soundtrack up. If you’re interested in that sort of thing, you can find it here.
Odin Sphere includes an option to play the game with either the original Japanese voiceover or the English dub. The entire story is voiced, even generic NPCs encountered between levels are voiced. Obviously the game has less text than your standard RPG, but the voice is a huge part of the experience in Odin Sphere. I played the game with in Japanese because I wanted to examine how they translated certain things. Normally, after I have played a game once in either Japanese or English, it is difficult for me to adjust to the other language right away. However, that was not the case at all with Odin Sphere. After my first playthrough, I switched the language back to English and found myself confronted with one of the best dubs I have ever heard. It was completely natural and was in keeping with the fantastic translation Atlus provided. I honestly don’t have a preference for one or the other. I am perfectly content playing either way and for the first time in a very long time, I can say that I can enjoy one just as much as the other. I think many fans of anime will immediately go for the Japanese option, but let me encourage everyone to give the English version a shot, I think that a lot of people are going to find themselves pleasantly surprised by it. You would really be missing out if you never heard it.
Characters and Story **No Spoilers**
Odin Sphere’s story is fantastic. The tales of five different people blend together, cross paths, and create a single, powerful story. The game is divided into books, each focusing on one of the five characters. The stories cross over, often pitting one protagonist against another. The game kind of toys with you, at least that’s what it felt like to me. You are forced to play the game in order – Valkyrie (Gwendolyn, The Pooka Prince (Cornelius), Fairy Land (Mercedes), The Black Sword (Oswald), and Fate (Velvet). Now, I’m going to assume that most people are like me, and after Gwendolyn’s awesome story, were just DYING to play Oswald’s story (which was strongly connected to Gwendolyn’s). Instead, the game jumps to Cornelius, the only character that we DIDN’T meet during Gwendolyn’s story. Well, that was fine, Cornelius had an interesting story too. So interesting, in fact, that I couldn’t wait to play Velvet’s story. Surely her story came next, I mean, their stories obviously contained deep links. Nope! The game proceeds to focus on Mercedes, THEN Oswald, THEN Velvet. The game really went out of its way to seperate the most connected portions of the story. In the end, I wasn’t really upset about the order. Rather, I realized that the stories were told in just the right way to keep the player begging for more from beginning to end. Still, I never could shake the feeling that the game was just messing with me…
Odin Sphere has fantastic characters. They all have tons of depth, even down to the support characters and enemies. You see many familiar faces across all five books, so you learn more and more about the entire cast as you proceed. Just because a certain book focuses on a certain character doesn’t mean that others won’t be developed, in fact it’s just the opposite. The amazing part is that the game manages to hide several twists until the later books, something that seems like it would be rather difficult to accomplish. Each of the stories is complete in its own right, yet the later stories are always adding more to them. While all of the characters do get their share of time in the spotlight, I think that most people would agree that Gwendolyn is the game’s star. Her story feels the most “complete” of any of them. Some of the other stories feel like they jump around the timeline a bit more, whereas the only big jump in Gwendolyn’s has a clear reason behind it.
Odin Sphere’s structure makes it the kind of game that is best played quickly. Even as a gamer who often likes to achieve ridiculous levels before beating games, I beat Odin Sphere in 30 hours. My levels for Power and HP were also around 30. For me, that is insanely fast. The reason is that I wanted to know the story so bad that I didn’t have an extra moment to spare. In fact, I think that the story might be hard to follow if the game were played over several weeks. I beat the game in about 3 days, and even then I had trouble making all the connections in my head. Thankfully, the game has a built in timeline so you can see which events coincide with others and what certain characters were doing during important events. This becomes very useful once you have completed the whole timeline. Another nice feature is the ability to rewatch any of the story scenes at any time during the game from the story menu.
I have mentioned the five book structure, but that’s not where the game ends. After completing these five stories, you unlock the sixth book – Armageddon. This is the book that brings everything together, all of the stories come to a single, conclusive ending. And maybe, just maybe, if the prophesies are true, you may find one final tale waiting for you. Odin Sphere’s ending was one of the most satisfying in a long while. It was about as conclusive as a game ending can be and I wouldn’t be lying if I said part of the ending brought me to tears. Odin Sphere doesn’t just feel epic, it truly is an epic. It’s so easy and so fun to get wrapped up in the story of Odin Sphere. The characters and the story are unique, powerful, and unforgettable.
This is my main reason for wanting to write this review. I want to offer up some praise to what might very well be the best game localization to date. Let me start with a simple fact – it takes courage to include a Japanese audio option on a US game. By doing so, you are offering up your English script to scrutiny and criticism. You risk revealing changes made to the script or mistakes in its translation. By including the Japanese, you give many players the option of hearing a language that they likely do not understand, forcing the text itself to stand alone without the support of voices in some ways. What it means is that Atlus had a lot of confidence in the script that they produced, and frankly, I don’t blame them for it.
In discussing the quality of this translation, there is absolutely no need to discuss accuracy. Quite frankly, the localization left me in awe – never have I seen an English script of this quality. Where the Japanese script used generic words like “shinigami” for the reapers, the English version used “Halja”, an archaic word to match the Norse origins of the mythology. This is no straight-forward translation, Odin Sphere goes out of its way to match the setting, seeking specific mythological terms in many cases. Likewise, the psypher weapons that are simply referred to as “maseki” or “demonic jewel” weapons in the Japanese are given proper names in the English version. It’s very clear that the translators paid a lot of attention to the setting even when writing standard NPC dialogue. The style invokes archaic fantasy without ever feeling forced. The result is an English version that has truly surpassed the Japanese script, reinterpreting lifeless terminology using relevant mythology, replacing empty terms with vibrant references.
The translation of Odin Sphere made me wonder what a guy needs to do to work for Atlus. There are a lot of companies out there, but from the games I’ve played recently, I honestly don’t believe that anybody out there is doing better translations than Atlus is right now. They are producing faithful localizations without letting the game sound the least bit dry. Their attention to detail and efforts to read into the intent of the original dialogue have produced amazing results. I’m glad that I played Odin Sphere, if not for the amazing game itself, then for for the lessons that it taught me about translating.
I can’t seem to put this game down. I beat it in 30 hours, but I still wanted more and put in another 15 just playing around before I knew it. If I haven’t yet used the word “setting” enough for you, let me reitterate this one last point. Everything about Odin Sphere goes back to its setting – it is a powerful mythological fantasy supported by a strong cast of characters, simultaneously independent and interdependent. With moving music, powerful dialogue, and stunning visuals, Odin Sphere is unmatched in its ability to draw the player into the world. This might be my all time favorite PS2 game. It’s battle system is enough to please most action RPG fans, simple yet very fun. If you haven’t played Odin Sphere, you really owe it to yourself to give it a try. It’s a shame that the Greatest Hits version will ruin the amazing boxart, but no matter what you have to do to play this game, don’t miss out on it. Atlus, thanks for bringing us this masterpiece.