Odin Sphere is a style of game that seemingly begs to be ignored by the mass population. It hits every major point that will cause the general consumer to look away. It doesn’t have realistic graphics. It’s 2 Dimensional. It’s also rather complex and difficult. Setting aside the ignorance of the masses for a moment, Odin Sphere is hands-down the most beautiful game to appear on the Playstation 2, and is also one of the best games to come out for the system.
Odin Sphere’s amazing imagery, rock solid gameplay, amazing soundtrack, and captivating storytelling all fit seamlessly together to form an experience that is going to be talked about amongst enthusiasts for decades. In truth, it can be said that from this point forth no gamer may call himself cultivated who has not played Odin Sphere.
That’s all very general though, let’s break things down, so that you may better understand why you need to play this game. First and foremost, because it seems to be what people like to talk about most: Graphics. Like I said before, this game is unbelievably good looking. All the graphics are done on a two-dimensional plane, but are combined with around 7 or 8 other 2D parallax layers, and interwoven to create one very alive and vibrant environment. It’s complicated yes, but all you need to know is that the graphical style is absolutely perfect for the subject matter. Everything in the game actually somewhat resembles a marionette show. Herein lies the game’s only problem; the graphics are actually far too good for the PS2 to handle. Slow down is common here (as great looking sprites are a quick way to wear down RAM), but it doesn't bother the gameplay very much. In some levels though -- especially against bosses -- things slow down worse than I’ve ever experienced in an RPG. I would like to give you an accurate count on how slow the frame-rate gets in these moments, but I was never very good at fractions. That’s right, there are a few (very few) points in the game where the frame rate slows to less than 1 frame per second (momentarily). You won’t care too much about it though as the game envelopes you in its captivating world and narrative -- not to mention the combat system itself is very fun.
The story I’m referring to is impossible to relate in a brief synopsis. There are five interwoven narratives that all twist and wind amongst each other. In every storyline you’ll take the helm of a new character whose tale will help shed light on the world of Odin Sphere and the motivations of the central characters. This way the stories play is bound to be seen by some as a weakness, but I came to find it as a great asset. As a result of the characters meeting each other and seeing the same people and places...many of the areas and bosses end up being “recycled” for multiple uses. This is something generally frowned upon in gaming, but I found that it helped greatly in providing continuity within the world. It makes you feel like you have a better sense of the characters and their place in what is going to happen. It makes the mythology of the world understandable and the characters memorable.
Gameplay is what it’s all about though, right? If it’s not fun, then what the hell are we doing anyways? Thankfully, Odin Sphere does not disappoint. On the contrary, it will both entertain you with it’s beat ‘em up, surface, and challenge you with it’s deep RPG underbelly. It’s a bit different from most RPG’s...experience is gained, but in only two areas: Hit points and power. You can level up your power by infusing your sword with the souls of your defeated enemies, or you can use those souls to fertilize seeds that you have sewn on the battlefield, thus growing fruits, that when eaten, will level up your hit points. Sound complicated? It’s not. It’s very user friendly when put into practice. The fun part comes in the somewhat deep cooking section. You can choose to not eat the fruits you grow on the field and store them away to cook later. If you do this, you can combine them together for massive experience points, but while forfeiting their immediate benefits like a health boost during battle.
In the background of all this, is perhaps Odin Sphere greatest success, it’s sound. Yes it’s even better than the jaw dropping visuals. Everything that makes noise does so absolutely perfectly. The score was written by Hitoshi Sakamoto, the famed gaming composer behind the PSX's famed Vagrant Story
. Every scene has exactly the right amount of musical tension or elation based on the on-screen events. The songs range from epic battle music, to cheeky, fun and light hearted melodies. The voice acting is superb as well. Every line is delivered as thouh it were a Shakespearean (or Eward de Vere) play. Most games try to be ultra realistic and be like the movies, but Odin Sphere knows better. It side-steps the embarrassment of making a game try to sound serious and take a big risk, but the script and mythology are so well thought out that it all makes perfect sense.
Despite it’s minor flaws, nothing stops Odin Sphere from attaining it’s true identity. It is a classic...and if the gaming world could learn a few lessons from this then we would all be enjoying much better games. Still though, faults are faults, and if you’re the type of person who simply cannot stand slow down, Odin Sphere will frustrate you. If you can get past that though, you will find a game that is both surprising in it’s length at around 40+ hours, and breath taking in it’s beauty.