Odin Sphere Leifthrasir Review
In an era where remakes and remasters of older games run amok throughout the gaming landscape, Vanillaware and Atlus revisit one of their earliest collaborative works on the PlayStation 2 for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation Vita. Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is essentially a reimagining that heavily draws from the systems in Vanillaware’s Muramasa: The Demon Blade first released on the Wii.
Odin Sphere is an action RPG presented on a 2D plane with gameplay reminiscent of beat ‘em ups. Characters move left and right to traverse stages throughout a region. Its narrative hook starts off with a little girl named Alicia reading a series of books in her attic alongside her lovely black kitten, Socrates.
Each book presents the story of one of five characters: Gwendolyn, a chivalrous valkyrie; Cornelius, a prince struck with a mysterious curse; Mercedes, a fairy who looks up to her mother; Oswald, an enigmatic knight bathed in darkness; and Velvet, a “witch” who aims to right the wrongs of the past.
Players first start off controlling Gwendolyn and must complete her story before Cornelius’s book is available for Alicia to read. Then, his story must be completed to unlock Mercedes’s tale and so on. This game utilizes the distinct perspectives of each main character in an intuitive manner for exposition purposes.
The main premise of the story revolves around the world of Erion – a land of fantasy inspired by Norse mythology. Several factions populate it from Demon Lord Odin’s realm of Ragnanival, Queen Elfaria’s kingdom of fairies at Ringford, Inferno King Onyx’s fiery Vulcan race in the Volkenon Lava Pits, and of course, the adorable rabbit-like creatures known as Pookas that inhabit Pooka Village, among a few others.. Each group interact with one another in a grand plot filled with political intrigue, betrayal, tragedy, and triumph.
What makes Odin Sphere’s manner of storytelling particularly interesting is that each character shares their own insight on what another character may not have been there to witness. When Oswald set off to complete a certain task, what was Mercedes doing at the time? How did Velvet fall into that trap that Cornelius heard of? Something is always happening behind the scenes and the game does a spectacular job intertwining multiple tales at once.
While the story remains untouched, I would like to emphasize its impressive effort into the characterization of not only the main characters, but also the entire supporting cast. The development of the protagonists, how they affect each other, and how their actions change the world around them are well-paced without compromising the design of the split-story frame.
Whether you play in English or Japanese, the voicework in both languages do a phenomenal job bringing out a convincing performance overall. It was great to hear that the original voice actors have reprised their respective roles.
It has been about 9 years since Odin Sphere launched in North America with its European release following a year later. The game introduced the vibrant, unique artstyle of George Kamitani to the masses. Its incredible visuals of what a painting would look like in motion brought an endearing tale to life with a wonderful cast of characters. Unfortunately, Odin Sphere pushed the PlayStation 2 to its limits during certain encounters and is infamous for its slowdown – nearly freezing the system.
Odin Sphere Leifthrasir goes beyond rectifying those technical problems and comes in two modes to experience it: Refined and Classic.
Classic Mode is the original PlayStation 2 game with the new high-definition assets created for the remake. The game looks as stunning as ever, sporting a much cleaner, detailed picture. Classic Mode provides the option to play the game either in 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratios providing players the option to replicate the PlayStation 2 experience without pushing their platform of choice to a crawl.
Everything has been left as is in Classic Mode outside of the updated visuals, aspect ratio option, and other optional miscellaneous tweaks to the gameplay.
The real highlight of Leifthrasir is in its brand-new Refined Mode. Exhibiting a plethora of changes and enhancements from the original game, it’s practically an all-new game.
Right off the bat, the most significant change players will notice lies within the basics of combat. In Odin Sphere, each attack would consume the POW Gauge; if it ran dry, a character would need a few moments to catch their breath to regain their stamina. Now, standard attacks do not consume POW at all, except for Mercedes due to her special circumstances.
This allowed Vanillaware to spice up the flow of battle by including directionally sensitive attack patterns similar to what’s found in Muramasa: The Demon Blade. I found the decision to remove the POW restriction off of basic attacks to be incredibly liberating; it really nailed my initial hope of opening Odin Sphere’s combat to be more aggressively dynamic.
Thus, all five playable characters have a handful of brand-new attacks that now correspond to pressing a directional input while the attack button is held down. Gwendolyn charges through the air diagonally upward multiple times and Cornelius spins into a ball pointing his sword outward, along with a host of other new moves for the others.
These vastly expanded movesets combined with a zoomed-out camera perspective have increased the pace and tempo of combat to take place on bigger fields and it is a welcome change.
Another huge alteration seen in Refined Mode that I loved is that all the characters now possess a Skill and Ability Tree! Thanks to the way that a certain power source, Phozons, now function, players are able to store Phozons (instead of just absorbing them to automatically upgrade your weapons, called Psyphers, in the original version) and invest them into improving their skills.
Since these skills were never part of the original game, there is a ton of potential to building each of the five characters in accordance to an individual’s play-style. I was able to make it so my Oswald was able to stay in his unique Berserk form almost all the time, and there were skills and abilities that solely focused on improving his capabilities in this mode.
Several skills now consume a percentage of the POW Gauge upon activation though some of them consume Phozon Points (PP) instead. Skills are usually obtained as a result of some battles indicated on the Area Map though some are hidden away with a hint on where to find them.
Meanwhile, abilities are upgraded via Ability Points from leveling up a character. The difference between abilities and skills is that abilities are more focused on improving base systems while skills lean more toward combat and offensive capabilities. These can range from augmenting how much HP recovery items can heal or giving you a discount in shops.
Both the Skill and Ability Trees are absolutely fantastic additions that breathe new life into each and every single battle. They encourage creativity and shift the focus of Refined Mode into building each character however you see fit; the only right answer is the one that you are comfortable with.
While skills have replaced the Psypher Level mechanic in the original game, character levels now effectively communicate a player’s stats. Leifthrasir is more upfront about its RPG element by showcasing a character’s numerical statistics and how equipment will affect them. Experience is still collected from eliminating foes and eating food, but the latter has been extensively reworked.
The foundation of the food system in Odin Sphere largely remains the same here – plant seeds and feed them Phozons to grow and harvest them. With the ability to store Phozons, players can now release them at will to harvest them at safe spots, instead of planting them in the midst of battle in the original game so the Phozons released would drift towards them. Previously, collecting Phozons would only contribute toward enhancing the Psypher Level.
Eating food is typically a more effective way to earn experience over relying on grinding in Refined Mode. They also serve as a method to raise a character’s maximum HP. While the Pooka Village, still intact from the original game, is still a good way to spend special currencies on delicious delights, a new Pooka chef also appears during resting spots to cook up yummy dishes as long as you have the proper ingredients.
Luckily, the inventory system has also been revamped so ingredients and seeds have their own exclusive slots while your “main” inventory carries your food, potions, equipment, and such. Players no longer have to buy bags like in the original. Instead, they can increase the initial 32-item limit by completing battles that reward a bag which increases the item limit. Each shop also has an Item Box to store stuff as well.
Alchemy has also seen improvements; amalgamating food, ingredients, and other miscellaneous items together to form new potions have a more efficient interface to craft them quicker. Plus, potions can be made more potent by increasing their grade through merging with other empty bottles, food, and items.
It may seem overwhelming at first, but it felt quite rewarding being able to make the most out of all the items in my inventory to clear up space and never leaving an ingredient behind.
Other minor adjustments send in Odin Sphere Leifthrasir are a facelift to its HUD and aesthetic improvements to accessing collectibles. These new refinements reinforce the atmosphere of the game, especially how the text archive is presented like a library.
Plus, combat ranks are now actively displayed during battle opposed to only revealing it after a battle is over in the original. Players now exactly know what rank they will be rewarded with after an enemy encounter is finished; gone are the days of fearful guesswork because you got hit a few times leading to missed rewards throughout the revamped maps.
Stages are laid out very much like Muramasa. There are entire new maps which consist of familiar circular stages seen in the original along with rectangular rooms stretched both horizontally and vertically that allow for light platforming segments to make use of a character’s unique mobility tool. Mercedes, for example, can fly around with her tiny wings and Velvet is capable of swinging around with her chain Psypher.
One thing that bothered me in the original Odin Sphere still persists here. While the core concept of playing multiple characters to experience a conflict from other sides and angles is a fascinating idea, it inevitably leads to a repetition in environments.
Every character will be visiting the majority of the same areas filled with the same enemies and mini-bosses. Though the map layout is different for each, there still is not enough environmental variety to break up the monotony of traversing the same area for the third, fourth, and fifth time. Little is done to differentiate enemy encounters from one character to another. Mercedes is the only person that had significant changes in a few battles due to her flight mode. It makes sense to be consistent in its world design, but it does get a bit tiring after awhile.
Music continues to be a big part of what makes Odin Sphere charming. With a new theme song, the talented members of Basiscape return for Leifthrasir’s score and have done an amazing job once again luring players back into Erion. I personally adored the new tracks in the game’s crucial final chapter; it made it that much more climatically engaging.
On top of that, Leifthasir’s sound design maintains a consistent pace of rising and falling action from when enemies are closing in to the little victory tune that plays as battle results fill the side of the screen. Explosive spells make a satisfying boom while fierce cyclones swish about freezing enemies into icicles. I did find the constant chain rattling on Velvet’s Psypher to be a tad irritating when moving around with her after awhile.
In terms of difficulty, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir offers a healthy amount of versatility depending on how challenging you want it to be. Players can switch between Easy, Normal, and Hard modes on the fly that alter enemy’s HP and damage values; harder difficulties will also make them withstand more hits before they can be staggered.
Those who seek an even greater challenge can tackle the Heroic difficulty only available in the Xtra New Game that unlocks after the game is beaten and it cannot be changed once selected. This locks a character’s HP value to a low number and no amount of eating will raise it! Master your play-style and learn enemy patterns or you will find yourself dead in a single blow. Luckily, Xtra New Game carries over all your levels, skills, and abilities so you will have your full arsenal at your disposal right at the start.
Leifthrasir will roughly last players around 30-35 hours to finish with each character’s arc lasting about 6-7 hours. There are alternate endings depending on how players approach the final fights, while additional scenes can be unlocked based on certain requirements.
Cross-saves between the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation Vita versions are supported to transfer save data from one platform to another. While the PlayStation 4 version is without a doubt the superior version of the game running at 1080P in 60FPS smoothly, there is some very tiny framerate hitching when a huge spell is making contact with a bunch of foes simultaneously. It is very slight and practically unnoticeable most of the time, but it does happen at rare occasions.
Rest assured - the other versions also perform technically well! Portable players should have no fear playing the Vita version; it runs at the same 60FPS with only minor slowdowns when an excessive amount of effects are on screen – nothing that comes close to it being unplayable and certainly nothing like how Odin Sphere ran on PlayStation 2. It is a spectacular game to play on-the-go and also supports PlayStation TV too.
With lessons learned from its original release along with the experience of other titles under Vanillaware’s belt, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir surpasses what I tend to expect from a remake these days. It expands, streamlines, and enhances almost every aspect of Odin Sphere with the utmost care without leaving behind individuals who loved the original experience. This is the best case of a video game remake done right.