Odin Sphere Leifthrasir Review
This review was written after playing a review copy of Odin Sphere Leifthrasir on PSN provided by Vanillaware. OmniGamer’s writers happily give their honest opinions despite such acts of generosity, though appreciated.
Vanillaware is an action studio that found its particular voice in 2007 with Odin Sphere on the PlayStation 2, which was notable at the time for its fusion side-scrolling combat and RPG elements along with its beautiful 2D art style depicting a colorful and imaginative take on Norse mythology. They have since refined their craft with their more recent titles, but the aspects that made Odin Sphere fresh two console generations ago came at the cost of several major technical shortcomings and limitations, which is why probably they saw fit to go back to their roots with a remake: Odin Sphere Leifthrasir.
The result is a game with a fresh coat of paint that has a solid foundation and acts as an odd time capsule for how interactive storytelling was delivered almost a decade ago.
As for those who are new to this brand of action-JRPG, the big set up of Odin Sphere Leirfthrasir should be simple to grasp. The game’s narrative revolves around the perspective of five different protagonists, each of whom are royals or heroes from several different distinct kingdoms caught in a war over a powerful artifact that can take over the world. The first plot revolves around the Valkyrie princess Gwendolyn, daughter to the Demon King Odin; the second around Cornelius, a prince who has been transformed into a woodland animal due to a curse; and the final three stories involve a crossbow wielding fairy princess, a knight that made a Faustian bargain with the queen of the dead and a forest witch with a chain weapon.
Each individual’s story has you traveling across the distinct regions of the world to meet with (and sometimes fight) other major characters, and it’s here where the level design connects the dots of what is essentially a 2D dungeon crawler. Each area is a single 2D environment with multiple exits branching out to other parts of the dungeon, some full of treasure or keys essential for progress, others leading to ambushes with a boss battle close by.
Odin Sphere Leifthrasir isn’t just a remaster of a nine-year-old game. The level of detail with the art assets have been touched up to glorious HD, and the improved hardware makes the whole experience run at a smoother framerate and effectively removes the heavily criticized unresponsiveness the original version had. But the game also includes several new boss encounters peppered throughout its levels, which make Leifthrasir akin to a remake. It feels so much like a remake, there’s even a classic mode that allows you to play the original, unaltered version of the game – warts and all. So if you have fond memories of Odin Sphere on the PS2 but would rather have the original in HD than a remake with notable additions, this game has you covered.
The combat itself wouldn’t feel out of place for a beat ’em up. You press one button to attack and hold down that same button to block enemy assaults. Additionally, there are a set of special attacks and spells unique to each character. Gwendolyn can throw around ice lances, and Cornelius summons lightning blasts that draw from a stamina bar and magic gauge. There are also various other tricks, such as attack cancels and juggles, which can be implemented to deal some extra damage to a dragon or overly muscular brute.
Other RPG staples are present here to middling degrees of success. In addition to normal JRPG standards like obtaining incrementally better pieces of armor and skill trees for your special attacks, there’s a novel mechanic where you gain experience points as well as health from eating food with a fancier dish yielding better results. It’s an interesting idea, especially since it entertains the thought that these staunch defenders of good are also foodies. However, there’s also the plant growing feature where you make plants grow by basically feeding them the points you use for skill upgrades. Simply put, the whole thing comes off as tedious. It may have been novel and unique once upon a time, but when you wind up having an inventory full of nothing but seeds you can’t grow (or even want to grow) it feels like something that was trying to be novel for novelty’s sake.
On the subject of tedium, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir has more than enough filler. With one or two exceptions, you will end up facing the exact same enemies, bosses and levels as you play through the five different heroes’ stories, and it can get unbelievably stale. This isn’t helped by the combat, which is otherwise serviceable in small doses. It doesn’t demand a lot of effort to master, and the more difficult battle trials are full of nothing but health sponge enemies. The developers do try to bring some variety with the playable characters’ different combat styles. Gwendolyn focuses more on fast, nimble strikes and aerial acrobatics, whereas the fairy princess Mercedes is about range with her crossbow, but after a few hours that refreshing jolt of variety wears off.
But while the gameplay can be excused as a product of its time, the plot is where Odin Sphere Leifthrasir hits several embarrassing snags. While the game pulls liberally from Norse mythology with certain elements like the Aesir, frost giants, dwarf master craftsmen and even Hel, as a whole, the story feels like a paint-by-numbers fantasy adventure in need of an editor. For all of the beautiful imagery and surprisingly subtle animation on display, characters cannot help but soliloquy about their feelings and engage in melodramatic exchanges that drag on far too long all while revealing nothing about the characters other than surface-level motivations.
This was especially apparent in Gwendolyn’s narrative involving her relationship with the knight Oswald, which involves her effectively robbed of a role of empowerment that she feels strongly about. But during the next level, she casually returns to battle, helps restore this role and then continues to fight but for shockingly submissive and retrograde reasons that only seems to set things up for future narrative payoffs. The rest of the characters aren’t as offensive and the ultimate conclusions to all of their stories are masked decently with a Quentin Tarantino-style non-linear story structure, but when your game is known for its fetching environmental design and you choose to focus more on stilted and forced dialogue to tell your story, it makes the whole experience feel less like a grand fantasy adventure and more like a poorly translated anime with high production values.
Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is a remake of a game that hasn’t aged well in several respects but does offer around 30 hours gameplay. It has the decency to respect the original source material by including its unaltered version in this package, a trend I wish more modern games allowed in an industry that can forget the past far too often. However, the combat can get tedious as opposed to exciting, and the characters would rather talk than express, yet some enjoyment can be found simply in how some enemies and bosses are realized both visually and interactively. If you prefer quantity over quality and just want something to enjoy in small sessions, this Norse-flavored tale will keep you entertained.