A Not Review of Odin's Sphere

I had a more formal post planned for today but the internet was out and it's my birthday so, forgive my self-indulgence. I have been completely obsessed with Odin's Sphere Leifthrasir since I started playing a few weeks ago.  I think it's about as close to a perfect experience as a game can get. A fact which puts it squarely next to Breath of the Wild, but goes about it's near perfection in an entirely different way. And it's far less popular, which is a shame.

Odin's Sphere Leifthrasir is a 2016 remake of a game which came out in 2007, and is just about the most beautiful game I've ever seen. Vanillaware's 2D, hand-drawn art style always look fantastic, but there's something outstanding about Odin's Sphere. Each landscape, each portrait, each character, platter of food and blade of grass seems worth looking at. I know that sounds weird but stay with me for a moment.

In Odin's Sphere you play through a storybook style adventure to save the world. Sounds very generic? But, the twist here is that you play through this epic adventure as five playable characters: Gwendolyn, the warrior princess, Cornelius, the prince turned into a subhuman, Mercedes, the fairy princess, Oswald the Dark Knight, and finally, Velvet the Witch. All of which belong to their own factions which clash frequently as they try to protect their own interests. You begin as Gwendolyn and through her eyes alone, the world seems rather simple, good and bad are easily identifiable. But as you play on as there other characters, you discover things aren't as they seem.

And while that sounds very interesting, through the majority of the game you'll be fighting the same enemies, in the same general landscapes, with the same tools but, as different characters. So, the art matters. The slight variations in the scenery of the forest level in Mercedes' campaign as opposed to Cornelius' is the difference between a slog and the excitement of seeing the same location from a different perspective. And the line between the two is so razor thin that it is incredible that the game can pull it off. I haven't finished Odin's Sphere but I am excited to see the Underworld for the 4th time. That sentence sounds absurd, as, usually, retreads drive me up the wall but the sheer force of the art keeps this feeling at bay. But it's not just the art that helps this game get away with murder it's also impressive game design.

For one thing the combat is sublime. It's based around a combo system which is easily understandable, difficult at times but fair, and deeply satisfying. Each character comes with their own weapon, fighting style, skill trees, and passive abilities. You can build each character out in the way you want. For instance my Gwendolyn is built as an all arounder, reasonably durable, reasonably mobile, hits reasonably hard and switches comfortably between magic damage and physical damage. Whereas my Mercedes is a incredibly mobile glass cannon. She does ridiculous damage, tearing through fights that took me 10 minutes as Gwendolyn in five because of her powerful crossbow but, I can't get hit. Ever. This variation in fighting style was daunting, initially, because I enjoyed the character I started with, but as I went on I discovered that each style, though very different from one and other, feels familiar. The learning curve is somehow low. But really fuck all of that because the best thing about the whole game is the method of earning experience.

It's the best I've seen. Without getting too terribly in depth, you eat food to level up. Combat generally gives pretty minimal experience; but through combat you gather seeds, which can be planted to grow fruits, and sheep (dead ass serious). You can also obtain other ingredients like yogurt or milk by buying them or opening chests.  You then take all of these ingredients to a pig-man-chef's traveling restaurant and, if you have the recipe, he'll prepare meals with the food you bring him. There are also a few other restaurants which use coins earned through during well in combat as currency.0  

 I'm serious about the sheep plant.                                                                                                                                                                                               credit: Atlus 

I'm serious about the sheep plant.                                                                                                                                                                                               credit: Atlus 

But the true magic in the exp system is in the attention to detail it shows. Each dish has been individually drawn. Your character uses a spoon for the onion soup as opposed to a fork when they eat gnochi. And each character has their own mannerisms. Gwendolyn uses a napkin to dab any crumbs off her face after she eats, Cornelius uses the back of his hand. Everything about it just feels good. It's like cooking in Breath of the Wild but way better. And I've talked about this mechanic twice in two days so if you have any doubts about how satisfying it feels, check out literally any review of Odin's Sphere Leifthrasir. Everyone finds this level of detail really charming. The entire game, though it breaks many rules about resource recycling, is just charming.  It charmed the hell out me. If you have a PS3, PS4, Vita or know someone with one. Try and get this game. It's worth seeing. Really.