Review: Odin Sphere Leifthrasir (PS4/PSV/PSTV)

2016 Golden Minecart Awards:

  • Game of the Year (PS3)
  • Best RPG (PS Vita)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • PlayStation 3
  • PlayStation Vita

Extras:

  • PlayStation TV Compatible Yes
  • Cross-Buy No
  • Cross-Save Yes
  • Cross-Play No
  • Cross-Chat No
Flag_of_the_United_States.svg
Title: Odin Sphere Leifthrasir
Format: Blu-ray Disc / Game Card / PSN (PS4 3.56 GB) (PSV 1.92 GB)
Release Date: June 7, 2016
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Vanillaware
Original MSRP: $59.99 (PS4), $79.99 (Storybook Edition PS4), $39.99 (PSV)
ESRB Rating: T
Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is also available on PlayStation 3.
The PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita download versions were used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Amid the backdrop of five warring nations that are slowly fulfilling prophesies about the end of the world, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir tells the love stories of five princes or princesses from those nations.

Some of these characters are driven by love, while others seem to find it along the way and each of the five individual stories are interwoven with the others as their world inadvertently marches toward oblivion.

Leifthrasir is, of course, a remake of the PS2 classic Odin Sphere, from developer Vanillaware. Vanillaware’s claim to fame is their adherence to 2D graphics and gameplay, and Leifthrasir features an update of its predecessor’s graphics and gameplay for more modern systems.

Gameplay:
I actually wasn’t aware of Vanillaware myself until much later than Odin Sphere. After playing Muramasa on a friend’s Wii and getting Dragon’s Crown on the Vita, I did end up picking up Odin Sphere on sale.

At the time I found it very difficult to get into. Compared to their later games, Odin Sphere feels a little archaic, especially in the way it controls. Ultimately I ended up not playing much of the game.

Fortunately then, Leifthrasir makes numerous changes to the gameplay of the original, putting it much more in line with Vanillaware’s later offerings. The remake does contain several aspects of the original, both to make it feel more like said original and to help differentiate it from the later games.

Odin Sphere Leifthrasir_20160515081840Odin Sphere Leifthrasir_20160520223535

Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is a side-scrolling 2D beat-em-up so characters are restricted to a 2D plane of movement (left-right and up-down) while mowing through groups of enemies. As stated before, the story takes the player through the tale of five different playable characters, each with their own unique playstyle.

That said, the general controls are the same for each character: Square is the character’s main attack, Cross is jump, Circle gives access to special moves and Triangle opens the inventory. The main attack and special moves differ if the player is holding a direction down as well, for example down-Square might perform a sweep attack.

… the levels are cylindrical …
Coming from the slightly stiff feeling of the original game, I absolutely loved the combat in Leifthrasir. It’s very fluid and incredibly easy to perform flashy looking combos. Even just linking together a few normal attacks into an aerial attack and then into a special move provides a satisfying and visually impressive combo.

This game also does some rather unique things with its level layouts. For one, there’s a lot of branching in the levels as the player progresses. An area might contain doors to several other areas, giving the player a couple different paths to reach the boss, or just a bunch more rooms to gather loot from, given the way I was playing.

The other unique thing is that the levels are cylindrical. Most all of the battle levels in the game take place on a plane that loops back on itself, such that running constantly in one direction will eventually bring the player back to the starting location. This can help gameplay, for instance letting the player circle around to get behind a boss, plus it’s just a pretty cool design.

Odin Sphere Leifthrasir_20160522112026Odin Sphere Leifthrasir_20160520225257

In combat and out, the player also has access to a diverse array of items. Potions are a big one, having a variety of effects from healing the player to summoning a cloud of toxic gas. Food also heals, plus it gives some bonus experience points and even a permanent increase to max HP.

There are several ways to combine items. Alchemy lets you mix potions with ingredients to make other potions and can be done anywhere, even mid-battle. Cooking, on the other hand, mixes different food ingredients and gives larger healing, XP, and max HP bonuses. However cooking can only be done in certain areas through a certain NPC.

… issues with repetition …
There are a few systems and currencies in the game for things like upgrading skills. For the most part those are pretty standard systems that I don’t need to get too deep into. Suffice it to say, the game gives you many skills, both passive and active, to level up and help mold the character to your play style.

One cool feature I did want to highlight though, is the timeline. Ostensibly this section in the game’s menu is for rewatching story scenes, however it places all the events chronologically. Because of this, I found it to be an indispensable tool in helping me keep track of how the five characters’ interwoven stories played into one another.

Odin Sphere Leifthrasir_20160522004206Odin Sphere Leifthrasir_20160520215941

The first ten or so hours of the game were fantastic. Playing through Gwendolyn’s story, I was learning the combat, figuring out combos, and generally having a grand time. I had some minor issues, mostly with the story as Gwendolyn falls in love in a way that struck me as a little forced, but I was all ready to sing the praises of the game.

However, both previous Vanillaware games I played had issues with repetition and it seems to run in the family. Once the game switched over to Cornelius’ story, I found myself not nearly as entranced by the game as it had me running through similar areas, fighting the same enemies and most of the same bosses as in Gwen’s story. And then going through them again in Mercedes, Oswald, and Velvet’s stories.

Fortunately, though the areas have the same name and similar rooms, the layout of the individual rooms differs in each story. Some of the stories have a unique boss here or there, but they each all share a lot of bosses too.

… more interesting as the game goes on …
For all the characters who prattle on about how strong the Queen of the Underworld is and how she’ll never let anyone enter or leave, the five main characters seem to have no issue all beating her and freely traveling.

On top of the repetition, whenever the story switches to a new character, the player is forced back down into a Level 1 character without all the upgrades and items they spent hours obtaining.

These do come back into play in the game’s final act, after you has completed all five stories though. You can also go back and play the other characters but there is little point except to grind or search for any missed secrets.

2016-05-26-0628432016-05-17-223127
Vita version screenshots

One saving grace is that the characters do play differently from one another. Not hugely different, save maybe Mercedes who is probably the biggest outlier in the group, but each has a few unique aspects and their own set of attack patterns and skills to set them apart.

Also, the stories tend to get more interesting as the game goes on and as it begins to fill in the gaps. It’s just frustrating that a game with some fantastic combat gets this bogged down by the repetition. It doesn’t ruin the experience, but I was certainly less enthused about Odin Sphere at hour twenty-eight than I was at hour eight.

As a side note: I’ve only really been talking about the “refined mode” of the game. Odin Sphere Leifthrasir also contains a “classic mode” which uses all of the same gameplay as the original, just with the updated graphics. The modes are completely separate though, so save files cannot transfer between the two.

… a wonderful melody of elegance …
Visuals:
As mentioned before, one of Vanillaware’s calling cards are their strict attachment to 2D graphics. Odin Sphere is of course no exception, being entirely realized with 2D. And if anyone has an objection to 2D graphics in modern games, make this one a special case because Leifthrasir really is a stunning game to behold.

I didn’t really mention it before but the conceit of the game is that the story is being read by a little girl who is pulling books off the shelf in her attic. To fit in with that, there’s a very storybook feel to the game’s graphics.

Backgrounds have a watercolor feeling to them, often using soft edges to keep them muted yet gorgeous. Meanwhile, characters and effects pop and exude visual flourish in a way that makes it apparent where the action is without seeming at odds with the backgrounds. It all melds in a wonderful melody of elegance.

Odin Sphere Leifthrasir_20160515221825Odin Sphere Leifthrasir_20160515221410

The true testament to the graphics is how little they had to update the PS2 game. Booting up the old version on my PS3, thanks to the PS2 classic version, the biggest differences seemed to be that the newer one is more vibrant and sharper, thanks to the higher resolution. The remake is a marked improvement but damn, the original is still brilliant.

On the Vita, the game still looks stunning, especially on the older OLED model with its rich color palette. Given how Dragon’s Crown tended to chug on the Vita at times, I was afraid of the performance going in, but my fears appear to be unfounded. Although I mostly played on PS4, the few hours I did test on the Vita had no discernible performance issues.

… Japanese and the English are included …
Audio:
The soundtrack is strong in a supportive way. While it wasn’t something I was actively noticing most of the time, when I was listening for the music I could tell how well it supported the rest of the game. Like the graphics, the music fills that storybook quality that the rest of the game is aiming for.

Voice work is pretty good all around. Both the original Japanese and the English are included in the game, with the ability to switch between them at any time from the options menu. I was also pleased that all of the text was voiced, from what I could tell.

Odin Sphere Leifthrasir_20160518064417Odin Sphere Leifthrasir_20160516075353

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is singleplayer only with no online component.

Conclusion:
Odin Sphere Leifthrasir does a lot right. The graphics are sublime and the combat is frantic and fun. For the most part I enjoyed the story and seeing where it would go with each of the different characters. Unfortunately, the game does get a tad bit repetitive as it grinds to a halt and resets the player’s progress every few hours.

The fault doesn’t keep me from still being excited to recommend the game, but it does introduce a caveat into that recommendation. This game is a lot of fun, just expect to have to redo old levels and bosses several times before it’s done.

Score:
8.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Vita’s built in screen capture feature and the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Flag_of_the_United_States.svg


Flag_of_the_United_Kingdom.svg


Flag_of_Canada.svg

 

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook