Odin Sphere Leifthrasir: First Impressions

This article was originally published at Another-Castle.com

Vanillaware are probably best known for their 2013 fantasy beat ‘em up Dragon’s Crown which released on both Vita and PS3. My first experience with one of their games was Muramasa: The Demon Blade for Wii which later rebirthed on Vita. One of their earliest games though was the 2007 PlayStation 2 title Odin Sphere. If you really want to go back further, you could trace them back to the Japan only Saturn game Princess Crown which was published by Atlas and made by developers who would later form Vanillaware. Odin Sphere was released so late in the life of the PS2 and after the release of the PlayStation 3 that many (including myself) missed it. Now, all who did have a chance to experience it on PS3, PS4 and Vita when it releases in Australia today.

As someone who has thoroughly enjoyed both Dragon’s Crown and Muramasa, I was very excited at the announcement of Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir. And given how cynical I’ve become about ports, this surprised me a great deal. It would be wrong to call this a mere port though as it includes the original version along with the updated game and from what I understand, technical issues with the original have also been addressed. Given also that it was easily overlooked when it originally released, this is just the kind of game that deserves to be remade and revisited.

These impressions are all based on the first story of the game called “Valkyrie” where you play as the Princess Gwendolyn, the daughter of Odin. As you can probably infer from the last sentence, if not the title itself, Odin Sphere is a game based on Norse mythology. When I think of Norse mythlogy and video games, my thoughts still often turn to the awful Too Human. Thankfully, Odin Sphere‘s enchanting opening score and excellent beginnings quickly extinguished these dark memories of mine.

Given that Odin Sphere predates both Vanillaware titles I’ve played I was impressed with how substantial the game is. Both Dragon’s Crown and Muramasa had a lot to extend them but Odin Sphere seems to be a much bigger game and the story of Princess Gwendolyn is just one of the many multi-chapter stories in the game. The gameplay itself is 2D side-scrolling with a heavy action focus. There is a detailed progression system which introduces new special moves among the regular increases in stats. The ability to customize equipment seems to be initially more simple and confined to accessories which give stat boosts.

The introductory chapters of the game provide tutorials in between story development and the basic mechanics are quite easy to pick-up, especially if you\’re familiar with Muramasa in particular. A notable feature is the way you can plant and grow fruit which when consumed, increases your HP level. Your weapon collects “Phozons” from defeated enemies and some other sources and these are used to enhance abilities and instantly grow the seeds you plant.

One major problem I had with Muramasa was that I often found navigating the different areas confusing, even with the detailed maps that could be superimposed over the screen. Odin Sphere is 2D but the map of each area moves  in a circle making finding where to go much easier. Each section is also more clearly marked without reducing my desire to explore.

What immediately drew me into the game though was the beautiful art design and soundtrack. The former in particular is a signature of Vanillaware’s philosophy and though this game predates their more well-known releases, Odin Sphere is just as gorgeous. The animation during gameplay is also highly responsive and smooth. I also appreciated the options for English or Japanese voice.

These are just my initial thoughts but as the game is lengthy, I thought it best to give my first impressions before I write a full review next month. If my initial impressions aren\’t diminished by further experience, I will have a very positive review coming soon.

Disclosure: A review copy of Odin Sphere Leifthrasir was provided by the publisher.

June, 2016

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