odin sphere

I’d wager as many people in the states have heard of the original 2007 ODIN SPHERE as those who can pronounce the name of its remake, LEIFTHRASIR (read: few). The absolutely gorgeous ARPG pushed the PS2 past its limits, but ended up being too ambitious for its generation. Now, ODIN SPHERE: LEIFTHRASIR gives developer Vanillaware another chance to fully realize their vision, and they’ve crafted an experience that is as refreshing as it is bold.

ODIN SPHERE kicks off with a cold open, dropping you in the shoes of young Alice and her cat Socrates perusing an attic library. Approaching a bookshelf, you discover a dusty storybook that tells the tale of Gwendolyn, a Valkyrie fighting for one of the five mythical kingdoms of Erion. Through the power of imagination, Alice is then transported into the role of the spear-wielding warrior herself in a series of hack’n’slash stages, meeting several other heroes along the way. Once Alice has read her fill, however, she’ll return to reality and shelve the tome, only to retrieve volumes on the other characters mentioned in the previous tale. By reading different stories, Alice can bring to life five separate and wildly different fighters. Each hero provides a different take on the grander narrative, RASHOMON style, and will often come into conflict with each other in the form of boss battles.

odin sphere chain

12 chain? I only count eight

The novel (hehe) presentation is only matched by the breathtaking visuals. ODIN SPHERE is rendered entirely through 2D illustrations, yet rather than simple sprites or flash models, the game utilizes a unique brand of layered animation. Each body part of a character appears as if it were independently articulated, moving almost marionette style, while the magnificent environments feature dozens of layers of scenery in both the foreground and background. This lends an almost pop-up book sensation to ODIN SPHERE when in motion, an effect that only Vanillaware seems to be capable of producing. The truth is, the art style in this game is so stunning and surreal that neither words nor photos can do it justice, so it’d be best to just see it in motion.

It doesn’t hurt that the combat in ODIN SPHERE is fun as hell. Each of the five heroes has a tailored playstyle, and though they vary in attributes like speed, toughness, and preferred weapons, they all share a similar reliance on magical abilities. Spells can be mapped to customized inputs for easy use during battle and can either launch powerful attacks, augment combos, or offer resistance to enemy attacks. Combined with the versatile fighting system, players can unleash apocalyptic amounts of destruction on hapless goblins and knights, resulting in fights that usually end with combos going into the triple digits.

odin sphere corpse

Even the corpses are pretty

Experience gathered from slain foes can be spent on leveling up skills and attacks to bolster a character’s moveset, but can also be used to grow the various ingredients found in each level, such as seeds and eggs, which can then be consumed for additional effects. This latter mechanic combines with the robust alchemy system to allow for the creation of a multitude of potions, from simple healing drinks and fireball spells to gigantic room-clearing bombs and charms that can transform objects and items. Mixing components and discovering their uses is a hefty task in ODIN SPHERE, but one that provides as deep an experience as the combat itself.

But perhaps ODIN SPHERE’s greatest attribute is the insane attention to detail and characterization of the world and each of its denizens. This is a game that is overflowing with enchantment, from the most central concepts to the tiniest facet. Characters build up experience with each kill, but can only spend it after eating a cooked meal at a restaurant. Idle animations will see the heroes lay down their arms to stretch or frolic with the wildlife. Even the main menu of the game is presented as a mini stage where a player-controlled Alice interacts with objects pertaining to functions like level selection or settings adjustment, all while being able to play with her adorable cat. ODIN SPHERE is never content to look like a game, but rather a work of art.

odin sphere zootopia

ZOOTOPIA was a lot more violent as an anime

As is often the case, ODIN SPHERE’s rock-solid visuals and gameplay are tempered by a milquetoast narrative. Though the conflicting perspectives of the five protagonists provides an intriguing storytelling device, it doesn’t change the fact that the main plot of the game fails to venture beyond basic themes like “absolute power corrupts” and a thinly-veiled allegory to the danger of nuclear weapons. Dialogue is hammy to a fault, and some characters’ delivery of it is cringeworthy at best.

Though its story provides some troublesome anime tropes, ODIN SPHERE: LEIFTHRASIR provides an unparalleled presentation in the medium, as well as being able to innovate a long-established genre past the point of recognition. The story mode will provide nearly 40 hours of gameplay to most players, and double that for those who want to discover all of the game’s secrets. ODIN SPHERE manages to remain just as charming by the time the credits roll as its first few opening frames, and that alone is a feat too few games can copy.

Verdict: Recommend

Reviewed on PlayStation 4, also available on PlayStation 3 and Vita.

Ed Dutcher is the Video Games Editor here at Crossfader. The last time Ed had a meal that wasn't microwaved, George W. Bush was president. He only learned to read so that he could play Pokemon.

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