The enchanting artwork and fast paced game-play of Vanillaware are back on display in their latest release with Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir, an enhanced port of the PS2 classic Odin Sphere. I’ve never played the original Odin Sphere but always wanted to, having taken note of its beautiful art and exciting combat from trailers and the like way back when. The opportunity to not only finally play this game, but also play the new and improved version of it is quite exciting.
Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir is part 2D action game and part RPG, mixing elements from both genres into an undeniably unique experience. The story of the game revolves around five characters. Each character more or less has their own story and path in the land or Erion, but they are all connected in one way or another. You’re given perspective by controlling representatives of various factions, like the princesses of two opposing nations.
The stories touch on various themes like love, betrayal, pressure to succeed, hopelessness, destiny and much more — all of which are quite entertaining when taken in chunks. A great end chapter goes a long way to tie everything up neatly, but I still found the overall narrative kind of difficult to follow towards the last piece of the game. The game promotes replay in various ways and I think one of them could be just absorbing the enormous amount of details about the world, characters and events in all of the stories.
Like all of Vanillaware titles, the instant draw to Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir is its incredible art and visuals. The rich detailed art style brings to life lush green forests, colorful sprawling city streets, beautiful castles beneath kaleidoscopic skies, dark ruined catacombs and so much more. From start to finish, the fantastic scenes of Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir nail the whole storybook or wonderland feeling that it goes for. This marvelous style extends to the diverse characters, enemies, attack animations, food and everything else in the game.
The format of the campaign allows you to see in detail the various playable characters and all of their nuances. Ultimately, I can’t choose a favorite between the dutiful, dapper and regal Gwendolyn or the sophisticated, sultry and mysterious Velvet. Even the skills screen, where you level up and customize your characters, is beautiful. It’s a lovely puzzle of detailed icons and vivid color. So much time and effort was clearly put into something so potentially mundane as the skills screen, yet there are so many charming flourishes and details in Leifthrasir.
Simply put, Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir is stunning and an absolute visual treat. It is a game that could probably snag many anime or manga fans with its visuals alone, although thankfully the rich substance of the game makes it much more than just a pretty face. The game’s lovely soundtrack also contributes to the atmosphere. Orchestral and rich, the music delivers excitement, drama and whimsy in well-timed doses. I especially enjoy the theme that plays while you’re having a meal in the rest areas. It makes you feel so relaxed and pampered. (If only I could have a taste of that chicken au gratin…)
Between fully-voiced story scenes (in English and Japanese), gameplay is part exploration and part combat, with some relaxation here and there. You proceed through the beautiful environments in 2D, but the stages are far from straightforward and some can be rather complex. You will frequently need to obtain keys of some sort to proceed through certain areas, but the game has more variety here than you might be expecting.
It’s useful that from the map you can see what areas have which items, but I suggest just visiting all of the areas. Some stages also have challenge areas with multiple bosses, pushing you to either level grind (which you otherwise would likely have no reason to do) or revisit the areas later on.
The game’s alchemy system similarly promotes exploration with its mandragora, which players can snatch up from hiding in random places throughout the environments. The primary use of these little buggers is for making potions that range in usefulness, but are also a bit later for making some of the best food dishes.
That’s right; just like in Muramasa and Dragon’s Crown, this game has tons of delicious looking dishes and scenes with characters eating them. Where Muramasa had the mouthwatering Japanese cuisine and Dragon’s Crown had dishes that looked mouthwatering (despite being made from beasts and monsters), Odin Sphere features mostly French and Italian cuisine.
You’ll undoubtedly become hungry as you watch the characters scarf down rounds of omeletes, french onion soup and herb roasted shrimp. I’d say this game has the edge thanks to featuring illustrations on the recipe and seeing the “real thing” served at one of the game’s restaurants. Also, food is mandatory in this game since it very quickly becomes the only way to raise and maintain your character level.
When you’re in town, you can use coins you find while exploring to buy meals straight up, but the rest of the time you’ll need to provide the ingredients, which will have you scrounging around for items like shrimp, cheese, and cocoa. Speaking of those recipes, that’s just one of the kinds of collectibles you’ll be searching for throughout the stages.
Other types of collectibles provide interesting insight into various characters, places and events. Missing them all your first time through would merit another replay, especially for trophy hunters. All in all, the real value of these little collectable nuances is that they add to the overall game world and the grand feeling of the game.
Combat is fast, exciting and familiar. Although they have different styles of play, the control schemes for each of the characters is similar and you make big combos from light attacks and special attacks fueled by the “POW” or “PP” resources. POW is infinite and regenerates endlessly whenever you pause in attacking or resort to light attacks. PP-fueled attacks are stronger specials in some cases, however PP does not regenerate and can be difficult to come by, ultimately leading to a dependency on POW based attacks with some characters. Nevertheless, you can mix up some big, satisfying combos with each character.
With each character, you unlock skills not just early on but all the way throughout their specific campaign. At first it seems like the characters have more skills than they could realistically use regularly, but less so when you consider how flexible the game is with button mapping. You can use the souls of your fallen enemies to strengthen your skills, but given the large number of skills, you won’t be able to level them all up fully.
When I caught a boss in a Whirlwind, Killer Cloud, and Blaze all at once, I couldn’t help but smile as I watched his health drain away. There are potions to summon additional gold, transform foes into toads and so much more.
The game is absolutely packed with content. Each of the character campaigns are roughly 8 hours apiece and there is the considerable final chapter. On top of that, there are multiple difficulty settings, with the most challenging only being unlocked after an initial play-through — yet another replay incentive. On top of that, there are multiple endings and a new game plus mode that scales the strength of the enemies up to match that of a high level character.
This is important, because in your initial play-through the strongest enemy in the game is just at level 50 and the level cap is 99. By eating the right foods, you can become way stronger than the final boss in your first play-through, but you’ll have a long way to go before you can clear new game plus. There’s also a classic mode which lets you play a near perfect port of the PS2 original, save for the visuals. You will very quickly find that the newest version of the game is better, but this is still nice to have.
Ultimately, as with Vanillaware’s other titles, Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir is a high quality product. It’s quite clear that a tremendous amount of care and consideration went into virtually every component of the game. From the gorgeous visuals and expressive music, to the diverse character affairs and deep combat, to the mountain of game-play systems, content, replay value and sprawling, fully realized game world, this game is brimming with beauty, nuance and detail. It’s an excellent gaming experience, and a must for fans of Japanese RPGs and/or action games: or fans of mesmerizing artwork.