RPG Review #34: Odin Sphere

NuMetalManiak Just look at my catalog by now. I really need to find something else to do besides playing RPGs and Zelda all the time. Nah. Anyways, this is my first foray into an Atlus and a Vanillaware game: Odin Sphere, a very tough action RPG for the Playstation 2. It got a few rereleases, most in Japan, but the newest rerelease, Leifthrasir, was just released literally yesterday for PS4.

Gameplay: Did I just say Odin Sphere was a very tough action RPG? I MEAN IT. No really, this game is incredibly difficult, regardless of the fact that there's difficulty settings. I played on Easy if you didn't catch the drift, but it wouldn't have made much of a difference. The way it works is, you're one of five playable characters in separate stories, each journeying to several locales in the world of Erion. The settings sure play a factor, and the graphics of the game are one to marvel. UNFORTUNATELY, they are a cause of lag at times, and combine that with the enemys fought and the fighting mechanics, and it's a slugfest. The game actually gives players all the lives in the world to take on the foes at hand, and as a player I desperately needed them.

So how frustrating can it get? Well, most normal enemies aren't extreme hassles, but there are quite a few nuisances included. The problem is that the enemies love to appear in large swarms. Gameplay is entirely 2D, not isometric Zelda-2D though, more like side-scroller, but the edges wrap and the individual areas of a level form circles. There's a few indicators, such as the somewhat-detailed overhead map in the right corner, and the stat gauges at the left. There's different EXP gauges for the Psypher (character's weapon) and HP, which increase their max capacities upon either absorbing Phozons (gained from alchemy or defeating enemies) for the Psypher or by eating foods (planting seeds and livestock, yes planting livestock). POW is near the HP meter, and it gets used up with each attack, culminating in character fatigue if the character uses it too much. A real problem since enemies don't succumb to this.

In a given area that hasn't been explored yet, the character has to kill all enemies to proceed, sort of like certain dungeon rooms in Zelda. The area's are ranked by star, and there are at least two miniboss levels, two shop levels (without enemies), one main boss level which is the goal, as well as one five-star level which is incredibly difficult to win. Aside from the main boss and shop levels, the player is scored after winning it, an S rank at best, but that is very hard to obtain especially since time taken and damage taken can subtract the score. The rewards are greater with the rank too. Those sub-bosses are tanks that almost never get knockback upon getting struck, and have been a lot of grief for me.

So how does one survive Odin Sphere? Lots of experience and such. But grinding here isn't like other games anyways. The Psypher's can use stored magic, with the one I used most was Cyclone for swarms of enemies, but it's got to be recharged with Phozos. Apart from that, there's growing plants using Phozons to increase HP, and the concept of alchemy is also explored. It seems complex, but some math understanding helps to create the essential potions for me to win those damn boss fights. Or the ones for certain areas, like the Netherworld where it's so dark you need a Shine potion as well as the one for the ice and fire settings, used to avoid consistent damage from cold/heat. The game does give its tutorials too. But MAN is it hard as hell.

Gameplay Grade: B-

Characters: All of the five playable characters in the game are introduced one by one in each book and you play several chapters with each one before the sixth book.
Gwendolyn: Daughter of Odin and a Valkyrie, she's very well rounded. Good HP count, alright speed. Her notable aspect is her ability to glide after a double jump, which is somewhat faster than running on land. The dive attack though, man, that is the best thing she's got apart from her regular combo.
Cornelius: Prince of Titania transformed into a Pooka, which is a rabbit-creature. As much as I hate to admit it, he's my personal favorite character. Only slightly weaker than Gwendolyn and without the glide. But I love his spin attack. It's not a Link spin attack, but it's amazingly fun to use and Cornelius can bounce across enemy ranks as well. I enjoyed Cornelius a lot.
Mercedes: Fairy Princess turned Queen of the faires of Ringford. Not my favorite character by a longshot, but her unique weapon is a crossbow that uses ammo instead of POW (it's like those games that have infinite ammunition but a reload mechanic for her). The main reasons that I don't like her is that she is very slow on foot, vulnerable at close range, and has bad HP growth. She is the only one that can fly indefinitely though, which is where Mercedes is fastest.
Oswald: Shadow Knight. He's the fastest character in the game and like Gwendolyn can have a tank of an HP count. He can faze in and out of "Shadow Form" which makes him even faster and stronger. For some reason though, he's very prone to knockback which is always never good.
Velvet: Princess of Valentine. A versatile character, her Psypher is her chain which has a number of attacks, including a homing one which is nice. She can also Spiderman swing with her chain. Velvet's a bit on the slow side and can take a long time to get used to, plus her base power is not that good, but I like her anyways.

There are so many other characters that aren't playable, but keep reappearing in the stories, ranging from Demon Lord Odin, General Brigan (looks like Dr. Eggman/Robotnik on steroids), the numerous dwarves, valkyries, fairies, and soldiers, the three wise men (total jerks), the dragons Wagner, Hindel, and Belial, King Valentine, Queen Odette (large breasts), and King Onyx. You'll probably meet and fight all of these guys a few times, but pretty much any of the main characters are tough as boss fights! Grade: A

Plot: There is no plot, it's just some little girl reading a bunch of books that appear after one is completed. The End.

Okay, joke aside, first book, Valkyrie. All about Gwendolyn. Her sister dies, she takes her Psypher, and tries to please her father Odin. Upon realizing her half-sister, she pulls the traitor card and ends up being the bride of Oswald, and a certain ring is a central MacGuffin for the final book. Gwendolyn eventually rescues Oswald, but kills Odette, Queen of the Dead, setting the stage for the sixth book. Strangely enough, most of Gwendolyn's book is chronologically last in the whole story.

Second Book: The Pooka Prince. Takes place well before the others. Cornelius is a proud prince of Titania, and is transformed into a Pooka by unknown means. He escapes the Netherworld with some help, and wants to see his lover, Velvet again. But he also wants to break his curse and be human again. Cornelius learns it was Velvet's brother Ingway who laid it on him, as well as a bunch of bad stuff about his family and such. He at least confesses to Velvet at the end of his book and she still loves him.

Third Book: Fairy Land. All about little bratty princess Mercedes in the fairy kingdom. Odin kills her mother, and she inherits the crossbow, but very much ill-prepared so much that a civil war had to ensue before she can really lead the packs. Along the way, a frog helps her out, and funnily enough, it's Ingway, who's kinda like Shang Tsung with the ability to morph into characters and such. Mercedes eventually garners enough courage to lead her people to victory over Odin.

Fourth Book: The Black Sword. Details Oswald's story, who was adopted into the fairy land and is capable of slaying dragons with his Psypher, Belderiver. He is unfortunately lamented by his own blade, and an arc word, "object" comes into play a lot. Quite obviously this is what Oswald doesn't want to be treated as. He switches sides in the war and ends up falling in love with Gwendolyn, rescuing her from Onyx (note this is well before Gwendolyn rescues Oswald from Odette).

Fifth Book: Fate. Velvet is the main character here, and the only one who actually knows a thing or two about Armageddon. Velvet deals with her stubborn brother Ingway, as well as her apparent father Odin (she's Gwendolyn's half-sister), plus the prophecies of Armageddon. The chronological order in her book is pretty dynamic, should I say.

Sixth Book: Armageddon. Pretty much everyone who isn't a playable character or a major villain is killed in this book, if they haven't been killed already. The way to get the good ending and have characters to survive is to beat five bosses in a certain playable order, using experience from the other books. The way it works, Ingway's dark secret, Darkova, a Cerebrus-like beast, goes first, then King Gallon, a complete abomination, is released as the second one. King Onyx of the fire lands is the third, then the Cauldron, an insanely vile piece of machinery, is the fourth prophecy. Finally, Leventhan, the last dragon, awakens from it in full glory as the final one. Do the bosses with the proper characters according to the prophecies to ensure the good ending. If that happens...

Seventh Book: Wheel of Fate, is shown. Just the closing scenes of the good ending, and the surviving characters. Grade: A+

Music: Well, I'll be honest, after repeated attempts at the levels, I pretty much forgot about the music at times. Not a whole lot of good points, and with the lag, the music suffers too. I hate the sub-boss theme for the record. Kinda generic as far as the other tracks go. The vocal tracks are fine though. Grade: C-

Overall Grade: B-

All I can say is good freaking luck for those willing to try this. There is a whole lot of repetition, tough fights, confusing arcs, stupidly difficult areas, lag, and the urge to perfect each stage for the good rewards. Grinding may or may not save you if you play Odin Sphere. It's better if you try each stage again. But if ask me, it's like a 2D, more colorful version of Dark Souls. Yep, I said it. This was truly a hard game to conquer.