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LTTP: Odin Sphere

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LTTP or late to the party pieces are opportunities for us to catch up and write about games we missed out on the first time around. They may contain spoilers.

I toiled with VanillaWare’s Odin Sphere quite some time. It’s one of those games which I was skeptical of despite glowing reviews. Let me cut to the chase: Odin Sphere is not a good game. It’s a border line “okay” game with a handful of painful flaws. I picked up the game months after its North American release through a Boxing Day deal, but even then I don’t believe it’s worth the $29.99 CAD price tag. Well enough with the intro; let’s get down to it.

Phrases such as “beauty is only skin deep” and “don’t judge a book by its cover” come to mind when I look at Odin Sphere. The game is undeniably beautiful in appearances with lush and brilliant 2-D visuals filling the screen to its brim. If there’s any trait which sets Odin Sphere apart from the rest, it would be its visuals; you can’t find any games which look like this anymore. While other games may have visuals like this for their artwork, Odin Sphere uses it as its staple.

Unfortunately, despite being a 2-D game, Odin Sphere still manages to bring the PlayStation 2 to a crawl — an unacceptable ‘snails on molasses’ type of crawl. Some may argue that these slowdowns are actually helpful during some of the huge boss battles where flying debris and enemies are gunning for you, but I just cannot tolerate such things. Odin Sphere bogs down and I cannot help, but wonder why VanillaWare would let it pass their quality assurance group in such a state.

Odin Sphere tries to pull off the side scrolling action RPG, however it’s nothing more than a side scrolling hack and slash with so called “RPG elements” needlessly tacked on. The game’s story is split into five long chapters which run through most (if not all) the levels Odin Sphere offers. In order to complete the story, you must tread through the same areas with each of the game’s five characters. The justification for the game’s repetitive nature is lame and does nothing, but reinforce the fact that the game was artificially extended with filler.

Each of the characters are distinct in appearance and fighting styles, but the novelty of each quickly subsides. The hack and slash system is rather simple. You can perform simple one button combos along with high and low attacks — that’s it. There are special moves which require ‘phozons’ (collected from enemies), but they didn’t add much. I was expecting a lot more out of Odin Sphere’s combat system which is a shame because the potential is there.

The “RPG elements” I referred to came in several forms, but they all manage to interfere with the game’s flow in one way or another. A prime example is the ‘POW meter’ which determines how often your character can attack before they become fatigued. I do not see the necessity for such a meter aside from forcing the player to retreat and recharge, in other words: extend the game. There were items which allowed for more liberal spamming of the attacks, but they were uncommon. Other RPG elements include the dialog exchange areas where you do nothing, but talk to characters and have them flesh out the story to you. These were usually found in between worlds and felt very disjointed from the game.

An alchemy system allows for mixing of ingredients into useful potions for buffs and healing. These ingredients can be found in shops and on the battlefield. There are also seeds which you could plant duringbattle which absorb precious phozons in return for food and other ingredients. Have you ever seen sheep grow from seeds? Play Odin Sphere and you will see plenty of silliness like this. I will admit that I enjoyed the alchemy and seed planting, however on more than one occasion, I wasted seeds thanks to lack of phozons available.

Surprisingly, all dialog found in Odin Sphere was voiced and delivered quite well, albeit melodramatic. I was very pleased by the voiceover decision since it brought a lot of needed enthusiasm into what would otherwise be an unimaginably dull story. Hey, somebody has to sell the story! To be frank, the story was nothing special . That’s too bad because, I would have gladly forced my way through the game if the story was compelling enough.

So there you have it. As pretty as Odin Sphere is, as soon as its beauty and charm ceased to impress me, I had to drudge through until I could take no more. I stopped playing Odin Sphere just before the end of the 4thcharacter since every time I looked at the game I cringed and sighed; it was no longer fun. What pains me more is the fact that Odin Sphere’s problems would have vanished if they had dropped the RPG elements and converted the game into a side scrolling hack and slash. Shoehorning the RPG elements into the game proved detrimental. By funneling the game’s story and characters through a flimsy story and an extremely basic combat system, Odin Sphere turned from something charming into something only the most forgiving could enjoy.

Verdict:
For Fans Only

For more information, check out the Odin Sphere official website.

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