2D is dead, long live 2D! That is the battle cry coming from gamers across the land as they manage to get their hands on Vanillaware’s latest PS2 title Odin Sphere. Odin Sphere is an action RPG from the land of the rising sun that that proves that 2D games can be just as appealing, both visually and game play wise as today’s graphical powerhouses. With incredibly detailed environments and gorgeously crafted character models this game really draws the player into its world and with a deep engaging storyline that lasts longer than you might anticipate there is more than enough here to warrant the price tag.
The story in Odin Sphere is broken down into five separate parts that are represented by books. From the outset of the game you assume the role of a young girl who discovers these books in an attic and each one is a journey that will land you in control of different characters. Each story will also intertwine with the others with familiar characters and events. The story revolves around a fantasy land called Erion, which is now in the midst of a war. In typical RPG fashion, and without giving too much of the plot away, the story revolves around a magical crystal that, if in the wrong hands could destroy the entire world. Throughout each story you will unfold more of the mystery and discover the specific role each of the five main characters plays in the overall tale.
Being set in a sort of children’s book type of fantasy the game is chock full of characters and locales that feel like they are lifted from modern-day fairytales. Along the 40+ hour adventure you will come across frosty ice worlds, giant smoldering volcanoes, and of course run across a handful of different monsters and magic. All of this is represented onscreen with some beautifully hand-drawn models that really push the PS2 to its limit, so much in fact that the game even takes a hit when there is more than a little action onscreen. This really makes me wish the game had been created for one of the newer consoles just to eliminate the frame rate problems, but as it is the game is still one of the most beautiful pieces of art I have ever seen.
Of course even the most impressive visuals would be moot if the game play wasn’t there to back it up. Odin Sphere takes a simple premise and spices it up with inventive mechanics and interesting enemies. Essentially the game is a classic beat ’em up with RPG elements thrown into the mix, it’s in the execution where this game truly shines. Fighting basically consists of tapping on the square button to perform moves and combos and you can even perform some aerial combos, but for the most part the move set is pretty limited. While the combat can seem tedious the pacing of the game and the challenge of each enemy will be more than enough to keep you entertained. In fact if the combat was any more complicated most gamers would likely find themselves focusing in on one move set and ignoring the complexities of it anyways.
When you defeat an enemy they unleash a sort of magic energy that you can use to fill up your magic bar. Once full you will be able to cast some truly impressive spells. While most of the spells are pretty to look at their effectiveness is limited. Regardless they do a nice job of breaking up the monotony and giving the player something to fall back on when standard combat simply won’t do the trick. Each level is laid out in a sort of loop fashion that usually consists of you killing a predetermined number of enemies or simply defeating a boss. Even on the easiest difficulty setting this can still pose a challenge so learning all the intricacies of the combat and magic system are paramount.
Outside of the standard combat there is also a substantial amount of item collection and synthesizing to be done. Throughout your quest you will find items such as food, coins, potions, and scrolls that all play a pivotal role. Food for instance can be eaten to recover HP, but it also gives your character XP when consumed. Food can also be taken to different restaurants scattered throughout the game to create different meals that will increase your experience even more. You can also create potions by combining other items found in the game which will save you more often than not from having to restart a section over.
The only drawback to all of this is that there are simply too many items scattered around the land of Erion. Couple this with the fact that your inventory space is limited and you have too much micro managing for a game of this type. This can be somewhat remedied by purchasing new bags that allow you to carry more items, but since money is hard to come by this is rarely an option. The item menu is also a mess consisting of a poorly designed interface that feels more intrusive than it should be. When you bring up the menu is pauses the action immediately and then you have to try and navigate through this overly-complicated system and by the time you are ready to get back into the action you have probably forgotten what was going on in the first place.
As I mentioned earlier Odin Sphere is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Fans of 2D animation will instantly fall in love with the game’s look and feel, but there is more to this game than meets the eye. Outside of the amazing visual treat you are also given an amazing audio experience that screams fan-service. The entire game is voiced and while the English actors do an admirable job, there is an option to use the original Japanese voice-track for true authenticity. In addition to having two outstanding voice tracks the ambience of the game will really draw you into the fantasy world of Erion. From subtle things such as birds chirping to the sounds of the breeze rushing across the background this game delivers an audio treat that is comparable to its visual elegance. Rounding out this outstanding audio package is an orchestral score that fits the theme of the game perfectly; you would be hard pressed to a find a game with better presentation than Odin Sphere on any console.
With so much focus these days on polygons and lighting effects it is nice to see that some developers can still create a gorgeous experience using traditional methods. Odin Sphere is a game that will likely only appeal to the hardcore gamer, but if you give it a chance I guarantee you will find plenty to love in its beautifully hand-drawn fantasy world. With a challenging difficulty, 40+ hours of game play, and one of the most polished packages available on any console to date Odin Sphere is more than worth the price of admission as well as a resounding call to arms that 2D is truly far from dead.