I recently got the chance to sit down and work my way through Vanillaware’s classic remake Odin Sphere Leifthrasir to review. However, I feel the need to preface the review by saying I didn’t play the original too extensively, and what I did play I don’t remember well.
Therefore, I can’t really say too much of what is different from the original. The game does include two main modes, though – Refined and Classic. Classic retains the new HD graphics and overhaul, but keeps the gameplay mechanics of the original PS2 version of the game.
I spent my time with the game playing through Refined, and have barely scratched the surface of New Game+. Now, with that out of the way, let’s talk about Leifthrasir.
To begin with, let’s talk about Vanillaware’s breathtaking art. After the original Odin Sphere, Muramasa, and Dragon’s Crown, we’ve all come to expect a certain style and beauty to be found in Vanillaware titles, and the updated version of Odin Sphere certainly doesn’t disappoint. The game is stunning in HD, with character and enemy sprites all animated wonderfully throughout the game. Even with the relatively simplistic 2D sprites, the amount of movement they put in during cutscenes is great.
Furthermore, the game’s backdrops and design fits right in with the world the whole game paints, and is lovely to take in. With its roots very loosely planted in Norse myth, the game’s world and lore is fun and interesting, making for a great stage for the story to unfold.
Discussing story in this particular game is a treat as well. While there is certainly a storybook and maybe even fairytale property to it, there are certainly some adult themes tackled here and there. Overall, the story is rather light, though, and is fun to make your way through. The best part comes from the intertwining of five main characters’ stories to create one sprawling narrative with tons of intersections. Seeing each individual story unfold among the others is just fun, and the stories don’t feel forced to interplay, but do so very naturally.
And, of course, the whole storybook theme is reinforced by the game’s set-up. Outside of the story, a girl named Alice is actually reading the storybooks in her attic with her cat. As the story moves on, she finds more books that contain more of the story, and it’s through this hub that the player decides which parts to play, or replay.
Before we move on to gameplay, there’s a few other minor things to touch on. The game’s music is phenomenal. While the overall variety leaves something to be desired as you’ll be frequently hearing the same track over and over again, the tracks themselves are very well written pieces and are a joy to hear. I’ll have to admit here to playing the game with the Japanese audio, which sounds great. Plenty of well-known voice actors take the leading roles, and they all sound good. I can’t speak to the English voice acting as I didn’t actually play any of the game with it on.
Without further ado, let’s get on to gameplay.
The very basics of the gameplay comes down to a 2D side-scrolling beat ‘em up with a hearty helping of RPG elements added in for flavor. The combat is incredibly fluid and fast-paced, but it never feels button-mashy. In fact, you’ll often find yourself planning your combos as you perform them as opposed to leaving it to muscle memory as you can with many other action games.
Combat is definitely the stand out part of the game. While the RPG elements like skills, magic, and progression do add a lot to the formula, Odin Sphere could survive easily without any of it. The combat is tight and the controls are responsive, with every basic attack falling into its place quickly. You’ll find mix-ups quick and easy, adding low, guard-breaking attacks and rising attacks into standard combos with no effort at all.
It’s from here that the addition of skills and magic add more flavor to combat, giving the player more options for attacks and combat styles. I do recall that in the original game basic attacks consumed a bit of POW – this concept has been entirely removed for normal attacks (with the exception of Mercedes) leaving the POW bar completely for weapon-based skills. PP is the other stat, which functions apart from POW, and is used for magic-based skills.
The POW gauge refills over time, leaving players with plenty of options during combat even during longer encounters. PP doesn’t recover by itself, but you’ll likely have enough of it to go around as long as you don’t spam magic-based skills. Over the course of the game, every character will develop their own set of skills apart from the others, and each one will have a rather wide arsenal of possible skills.
While you can map four total skills to the circle button (similarly to the Tales… series, with O, ↑O, ↓O, and ←or→O), you can also access your entire skill list in the heat of combat with L1 and pick any of your available skills to use. This is incredibly useful as you’ll find yourself with tons of magic and other attacks that are more situational, but not worth setting to the shortcut.
Skills are unlocked both through simply progression, as well as finding them on the map in some locations. Further, they can be upgraded with Phozons, which will operate as what is essentially experience points. However, it’s worth noting that upgrading skills with Phozons means that those Phozons can’t be used toward levelling up.
Overall, I have to say that combat was enjoyable, and never really got too stale. While repetitiveness goes without saying in a 2D beat ‘em up, Vanillaware was definitely able to shove a lot of it away with the addition of skills and progression. The experience spanning five characters with drastically different playstyles also helped to alleviate the monotony that would occur if you played as the same character for too long.
Let’s revisit the use of Phozons for a bit, as it was one of my initial gripes with the game. You’ll collect Phozons throughout the journey and they’ll come very easily to you, but they are used in more than one way. First, as mentioned above, you can spend Phozons to make your skills more powerful.
Second, you can spend them to grow food, which is how you go about the more traditional levelling up. While I initially felt that the game would be better served by separating skill points from your exp pool (admittedly, mostly because I was torn on what to spend my points on at first), I got over that fairly quickly.
It never felt like spending points – regardless of what I spent them on – ended up being the wrong choice. Whether I spent almost everything I had on skills, or put them all into food for levels, or split it roughly down the middle, it always felt useful. It helped down the road when I wasn’t so worried about spending Phozons right or wrong, but rather just spent them on whatever I felt like at the time. Of course, they can be grinded out as well, which sort of alleviates the problem altogether.
Aside from combat, the other big pillar of gameplay comes in the form of items – but more specifically, alchemy and food. Throughout the game, you’ll come across a huge variety of potions and poisons that have all kinds of effects from healing to casting spells when thrown. Odin Sphere’s alchemy system also allows you to take those same potions and mix them with others or with ingredients to alter or enhance their effects. Playing around with the potions is a great way to keep your survivability up, as well as deal significant amounts of easy damage during harder fights.
Food also plays a huge role in the game, as it acts as your way to access traditional level ups. You’ll find seeds scattered about the game world, as well as in shops. These seeds can be planted and then fed Phozons to make them bear fruit. Harvest the fruit and eat it, and your character will gain EXP and a permanent boost to HP. For the early portion of the game, this is basically the only way to level. However, about half way through the first character’s story you’ll be granted access to both Moree, a travelling chef, and the Pooka Kitchen, which are places for you to get full meals.
Moree requires you to have ingredients and a recipe for the food he cooks, while the Pooka Kitchen only charges you in Valentine coins, which is a separate currency for this purpose only. These meals give you far more experience than any individual fruit, and will also confer larger HP bonuses, making this the ideal way to level once you have access to it – but that doesn’t mean you should neglect growing fruit.
While balancing all of the options you have may take a while to get used to (and there’s a lot more to it than you may expect from what appears to be a simple game at a glance), it’s very rewarding as you progress further. The complexity and depth is there if you choose to engage it, but for those looking for a quick romp through the story will find it easy to ignore as well. Of course, harder difficulties will nearly require you to know your stuff and play the deeper game a bit more.
While I’m on the topic of difficulty, I’ll address it more formally – and I’m pretty happy with it. ‘Normal’ is certainly on the easier side of normal, with the ‘Hard’ option being more appropriate for what feels like a good challenge. That said, there are a few levels of difficulty above that for those who are interested that are sure to give you a real challenge. Vanillaware really found a great balance in the difficulties here.
I think I can confidently say that Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is about as masterful as a remaster can get. The standard graphical upgrades and such are all here in spades, but there are tons of additions and fixes beyond that leaving us with a great game that’s certainly better than the original. And beyond the game just being a shining example of what a remaster should look like, it’s a damn good game on top of it all, and certainly one of the best games of its kind in a long while.
Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir was reviewed on PlayStation 4 using a digital code provided by Sega. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.
The Verdict: 9
- Odin Sphere re-imagined with more RPG elements and more to do
- Absolutely breathtaking visuals at every turn
- Great story, as well as a great way to tell the story
- Great music
- Tight combat, with responsive controls
- The entire original version of the game is also included as Classic mode
- Wide variety of difficulties allow for easy experience of the story or a good challenge
- Phozon management can be tricky at first
- Combat can get monotonous if you play for too long without moving forward
- Levelling system can be confusing to newcomers