Posted by K-Off on 11 June 2016 with categories: Anime Reviews, Game Reviews

Oh my. This game was just utterly, utterly incredible when it came out, so despite disliking the usual remasters (ahem, Valkyria Chronicles), I was pretty stoked when I learned I’d be able to play this again on better hardware. It came out really late into the PS2’s lifetime in 2007, so at the time, I like a lot of others thought it should’ve been on the Playstation 3, as Tales of Vesperia had also been transferred to the PS3 despite being developed for the PS2 – and two console generations later, here we are with Leifthrasir.

In case you don’t know what Odin Sphere is about, it’s simply a 2D fairytale action JRPG that puts you into the shoes of 5 characters in individual stories each with their own background and self interest, with nods to well-known fairy tales. We start off with Gwendolyn in the first book, during the great battle against the Ringford Army, when her sister is killed and she herself is defeated but spared by Oswald, the shadow knight. As we move on from her story, through Cornelius, Mercedes, Oswald, and Velvet’s, we see these individual stories slowly come together by the sixth book to create an interesting spin on the “party members banding together to save the world” RPG trope. Here, some main characters are even enemies with each other, and not in the Tales sense where they’re mysteriously hostile at first, only to turn out to being the good guys (ahem, Sheena). No, some straight up try to murder each other out of self-interest no matter how good their intentions are, and I love it because it shows a gray morality usually handled black & white in other fantasy JRPGs. There’s a reason why some aggressive kingdoms act the way they do, and while it’s certainly not insightful or original for that matter, it’s a breath of fresh air. As a result, the climax is very well done, and the ending is just as explosive and does an excellent job of laying the story to rest (so long as you get the seventh book) since characters undergo tangible conflicts. Individually, each story by themselves are pretty standard fairy-tales. However, what made Odin Sphere’s plot just that fun to play through is how interconnected each story is and the subterfuge that goes on back and forth between the main characters, even if it isn’t on a very deep level.

But the creators needed to be smart and make some bigger changes to the abundance of reused assets, which was originally my biggest criticism of the original PS2 version through its impact on the story progression. Everything, and I really mean everything, from enemies to locations, are recycled all the way to the end of the game with each book. As a result long sessions are painfully frustrating to do when I’m only a few books in and I can’t look forward to what will come next simply due to the repetitive nature of the game (despite this game not being very grind-heavy at all). I knew I had dozens more of the same enemies and same locations to look forward to, and it’s a shame how much this affected my enjoyment of the story. This was slightly alleviated compared to the original with the addition of new mini-bosses, but redundant nonetheless. This is definitely a game to enjoy in short bursts, not for the 14 hours that I sat down through on my days off, which was my own fault to an extent. 

Anyways, combat is based on speed, strategy, and planning. As I’ve mentioned, this is why a lot of heavy grinding is not required, although it may not feel like that at first for beginners. A key point of the combat is learning to predict enemy patterns, and matching not only your combos with special attacks to take advantage of your momentum, but with block breaking, evading, aerial attacks, etc. And speaking of momentum, the stamina bar is now gone as far as normal attacks go, there’s instead just a magic bar for special attacks. Whether it’s for the better or worse without it, I previously just constantly stacked stamina boosting potions with elemental bottles in order to avoid downtimes to get my devastating combos, and while I did enjoy this in 2007, I appreciate the decision to make combat less of a chore and more of an experience for 2016. I’m certainly not going to hate on the game for making long combos easier to do. There still are usually those moments where certain enemies are exceptionally vulnerable and easy to kill, and while it was much more strategic to wait for these right opportunities to take them down in the original game, here the game encourages something akin to button mashing – which sounds bad, but it’s really not a problem since obliterating your enemies with destructive magic and insane combinations are still just so satisfying. So, don’t be afraid to cast spells and use items, especially as you continue to get better alchemy formulas. If you’re always sitting at full phozon gauges, you’re not using nearly enough of your destructive potential. In general, I’d suggest trying for a strategy that allows you to do optimal damage, without taking much yourself by incorporating these elements. Don’t be so concerned with how much time you’re taking, but more about the quality of your actual fighting. Heavy grinding shouldn’t be necessary as you get better at predicting and dodging attacks from stronger enemies. Oswald and Cornelius barely have to dodge moves once they get into higher HP levels, they can just tank through attacks easily, whereas Mercedes will almost always need to dodge since her HP never gets very high. Each character has a unique set of skills that become available when they level up or by unlocking phozon prisms. But you can only have so many skills as there are more abilities than there are phozons, which are required to level up every ability – on top of the fact that these are rather necessary in order to grow foods that will boost character stats (though you can also get certain foods elsewhere). Choosing how efficiently you wish to utilize your phozons is something to keep in mind, as this is also the part where level grinding comes in. After all, if you really do want to level up quickly, the food system is still a relatively abusable way to do so.

Now that’s the elephant in the room, with some frustration in 2007 around the seeming unfairness of exp system, but there are no noticeable changes going into Leifthrasir. If you were pissed off about this in 2007 you won’t be very pleased here. To recover health, you still must buy, loot, or grow food by planting seeds which grow after battles.  Food contributes experience to your character’s level, thereby giving them more total hit points.  Furthermore, not only can you simply eat your harvest, you can save it for ingredients in more beneficial cooking recipes if you’d like. Similarly, you regularly pick up base alchemy materials which you can then combine with food and other objects to create useful potions. At first glance, the game does seem to reward the players that want to exploit the mechanics. For example: If you’d like more weapon experience from your alchemy, you can micro-manage the hell out of your inventory, selecting when and where to use up even the most useless items in potion combinations. For HP, get some yogurt mousse, just put in the time to farm high-yielding fruit and spend your money on better recipes. Exploiting the system to the best of your abilities is a rather standard part of an RPG, but this just does not take into consideration just how unnecessary all this is in Odin Sphere.

I’ll say what I stated before – you do not need to do any of this all the time in order to play the game. Yes, grinding is undeniably necessary at some point; I’m not telling you to “git gud” or anything silly like that. But Leifthrasir, just as it was on the PS2, allows for skill based play with a slight emphasis on planning. To illustrate, make sure you’re not using characters blindly, like trying to use Mercedes to rush difficult enemies, getting frustrated, and wasting time/phozons into grinding HP when she doesn’t need it at all. Put it into grinding only moderately, otherwise I recommend investing them into fleshing out your skill tree while staying on top of your alchemy. As I said, learn enemy patterns, and attack accordingly. Not to mention it’s actually less work to become a skilled player, as you go right back to square one with each new character book anyways. So, making sure that your skill as a player is the one that improves will save you time grinding for levels, cut down your playtime considerably, and will keep you alive in harder difficulties. You can either make your playthrough as quick or as difficult as you wish it to be.

In the end, I could talk infinitely at length with greater detail about the gameplay here, it’s amazing just how much I have to talk about from a remaster of a Playstation 2 game. But there are tons of other things I could talk about. Aside from the gameplay, the visuals really do complete the package as the framerate is flawless on the Vita, and it’s just pure eye candy to see the hand drawn environments in high definition. On the Vita the game runs really well, but the controls here are a little clunkier on a handheld compared to how I remember the Playstation 2 dualshock due to the ferocious button mashing so I’d recommend you go use a trigger grip if you own one. Otherwise, the game is certainly polished. I’m highly impressed with the remake, what worked in 2007 continues to work today albeit with minor changes. But on a side note, they decided to leave Classic Mode to appease the purists, so I’m certain to revisit this game in that mode but only after a few months, since as I’ve mentioned the repetitive levels and recycled enemies hurt this game’s replayability. But with a story that manages to remain relatively fresher than other contemporary games and changes to combat that combine the strategic play of the original with a modern fast-paced style of play, I couldn’t recommend this any more strongly for anyone who owns a Playstation 3, 4, or a Vita.

-K-Off-

Storytelling: 7/10 Slightly let down by somewhat repetitive locations and enemies, but otherwise an experience that stands out from the crowd.
Gameplay: 8/10 Repetitive at times, but the improvements feel fresh.
User Interface: 10/10 Better inventory management
Production values: 10/10 Looks and feels amazing on the Vita.

Suggestions:

Muramasa: The Demon Blade (Wii, Vita)

Legend of Mana (PS)

Tales of Phantasia (GBA)

5 Responses

  1. AidanAK47 AidanAK47 says:

    Vanillaware do have a nasty habit of recycling too much. Muramasa recycled enemies as well and dragons crown practically made you repeat all stages more than twice over. Gameplay can get a bit repetitive on both of those. I do love the artstyle of their games though.

    • Avatar Vonter says:

      Yeah, I don’t know if I’ll prefer if these games were linear beat em ups. I didn’t liked the back and forth in Muramasa. Since the backgrounds while very detailed there’s no transition from one background to the next. You can be in a lava cave that somehow connects to a nice looking city that then connects with the city at night in just the next section.

      Seems I’ll have to be in the mood, since the gameplay feels nice, just it’s the progression looks to be lots of back and forth.

  2. Avatar GooeyGal says:

    Wait, so it’s a remaster, not a remake? I was hoping it would be a remake or a sequel because I didn’t like it on the playstation 2.
    I hated the character progression and how it would send me back to level 1 just when I finally started to get all my skills. It deflated my sense of accomplishment everytime I finished an arc

    • K-Off K-Off says:

      It’s an anti-grinding game to an extent because of its unique progression system. It’s more interesting to play multiple characters, each with their own unique skills and stories, rather than beefing up a single bloody Rambo all the way through. In that way the game rewards skill rather than time wasted into grinding.

  3. Avatar Rathje says:

    I still have my PS2 in reasonable working order. And I still own this original game – right next to my copy of Dragon Quest VIII. PS2 has a lot of good titles on it. Never felt the need to upgrade (especially since I went the PC route for other stuff).

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