Götterdämmerung like it’s 2007
HIGH Vanillaware’s best game looks and plays better than ever
LOW The changes don’t quite mask some of the repetition
WTF Experiencing Vanillaware’s glorious food/cooking obsession in glorious HD
It’s been nearly ten years since Vanillaware burst onto the scene with Odin Sphere, and it’s hard to overstate how unusual the game was at the time.
Odin Sphere (and GrimGrimoire from the same period) seemed to come from an alternate universe where game artists had never become obsessed with 3D graphics. Led by talent like George Kamitani, Vanillaware went on to make other landmark 2D titles like Muramasa: The Demon Blade and Dragon’s Crown, but for my money nothing quite surpassed their first work. Make no mistake, those other games are good—and even great on their own merits—but for me Odin Sphere stuck the landing on visuals, narrative, and mechanics in a way Vanillaware has yet to repeat.
Now, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir (don’t look that last word up to avoid spoilers!) reaffirms that impression and simultaneously manages to justify this HD re-release by ironing out the flaws in the original. The result is the best version of Vanillaware’s best game; a classic of the last decade returning to become a classic of the current.
Though it sports the trappings of a light RPG with character attributes, leveling systems, and multiple tiers of progression, the game’s heart beats to the staccato rhythm of a 2D side-scrolling brawler built on slashing, jumping, and endless combo chains.
Each of Odin Sphere Leifthrasir‘s five playable characters boasts a distinct fighting style with a host of skills and special attacks to diversify the damage output. Gwendolyn the Valkyrie princess soars on swan-like wings, impaling enemies with her spear. Oswald takes his foes out at close range, toggling a powerful super mode on and off as needed. Cornelius, cursed with a rabbit-like form, leaps on enemies with his greatsword, using its blade like a sharp pogo stick. The forest witch Velvet can swing around on her chain-whip and slash enemies. Fairy queen Mercedes plays her stages like a shoot-em ‘up, firing various forms of bullet and beam from a magical crossbow. Each character plays quite differently, and the joy of learning to master each style outweighs the fact that the enemies aren’t varied enough to make every encounter feel fresh.
Despite the finely-tuned combat, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir‘s real soul lies in its twisting, multifaceted narrative. Players will hack and slash their way through five “books,” each starring one of the playable characters. Their stories interweave, with events intersecting and wrapping around each other, while delivering the plot from each character’s limited perspective. The result is a story—or rather, a set of stories—that unfolds in an operatic sweep, expanding outward to deliver a tale that feels appropriate to the Norse mythic cycles it takes inspiration from. The saga even crosses genre boundaries, evoking romance with Gwendolyn’s tale, casting Cornelius on a noble quest, putting Oswald on a journey of betrayal and redemption, seeing Mercedes rise to take on impossible responsibility, and heading off an apocalyptic prophecy with Velvet. After spending several hours with each character, an endgame chapter wraps everything up in suitably epic fashion, resulting in a singularly cohesive experience.
All of these positives were true in the PS2 original, though, so the triumph of Leifthrasir is in making things easier to enjoy on current platforms.
High-definition touch-ups to the already-gorgeous artwork make Vanillaware’s talent more obvious.than ever. Tweaks to the combat system and extra additions to special attacks balance combat towards aggression, ensuring players will seek out fights and make the most of any opportunity to fill the screen with eye-candy special effects. Most dramatically, though, performance is now silky-smooth, almost never dropping frames and speeding up loading times greatly. No longer will a player’s joy be marred by chugging or slowdown, and that alone justifies this version. Further, one can even opt to conduct a comparison of old to new, as the original version of Odin Sphere (sans PS2-era resolution) is available to play as an option, for the most hardcore of purists. For me the old game was harder to go back to, but the extra effort on Atlus’s part is appreciated nonetheless.
Despite all the extra polish, though, the Lefithrasir refresh can’t quite disguise the flaw remaining in this gem of a game. The structure of the narrative essentially treads similar paths despite the differing characters, which in turn leads to revisiting the same locations and fighting the same enemies. While being able to do so with a different hero makes for a good deal of variety on its own, once a player has fought one dwarven air battleship, he or she has fought them all. This might be a turnoff to players who are allergic to repetition, but apart from this single caveat, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir reaffirms Vanillaware’s maiden effort as its very best, and brings it to a new potential audience.
Disclosures: This game was developed by Vanillaware and published by Atlus. Code for this review was obtained via publisher and it was reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 33 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. It is currently available on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game’s rating is T for Teen, and contains fantasy violence, mild blood, mild language, partial nudity, and use of alcohol. Some character designs are exaggerated and may be considered by some to be risqué. Some non-human (though human-looking) characters are depicted partially or wholly topless. Others participate in relationships that may be considered abusive or non-consensual. Violence is stylized and largely bloodless, though death and combat are depicted as normal and widespread facets of the setting.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: All narrative dialog in the game is shown in speech bubbles, and most game information is communicated visually.
Remappable Controls: All button controls can be remapped, and the D-pad can be used for input instead of the analog sticks (or vice-versa).
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes in the game.
Today he continues to write for a living while trying to turn his fledgling knowledge of Japanese into a marketable skill. He is Managing Editor of Japanese culture site Japanator and is a Contributing Editor for Destructoid. He has written for The Escapist, The California Literary Review, Esquire Magazine, and proudly holds the badge as the premier apologist for Star Trek Online.
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