Vanillaware's original PS2 release of Odin Sphere was a bit of a sleeper hit, for a number of reasons. Released back in 2007 near the tail-end of the system's lifecycle, it pushed the system to its utmost limit at times with graphics that while exceptionally detailed would often times caused the game to heavily lag and chug in its frame rate. In addition, while there was a lot going on mechanics-wise, the game perhaps had a little bit too much going on at times making things harder for the player than it out to have been.
So even though the game already received a PS2 Classics re-release on the PS3, fans were overjoyed to hear that the original developers were delivering a remake of the original in the form of Odin Sphere Leifthrasir. And for those who never played the original or want to know what all the hype is about, it's safe to say the developers delivered.
Odin Sphere in a sense takes inspiration from Norse mythology, although its used more as a groundwork for Vanillaware's own mythos than re-using the existing mythology. Players control five characters, Gwendolyn, Cornelius, Mercedes, Oswald and Velvet, playing through each character's story in order and unlocking the following character's story upon completion. At first it seems like everyone's fighting one another, although things eventually lead to an overarching narrative with a central antagonist.
I personally clocked around nine hours for Gwendolyn's initial story, with the other characters being slightly shorter as I had more of a handle on the combat and other mechanics by that point in the game. I got into the PS2's lifecycle late in the game (and thus Odin Sphere), so most of the narrative was new to me in this entry, so it was entertaining piecing together what happened where as I got further into each character's narrative. The game also includes a helpful visual timeline to further help players visualize this information as well, which was a nice touch.
If you've played Vanillaware's other recent titles, such as Muramasa: The Demon Blade, you'll find Odin Sphere Leifthrasir's new combat mechanics very familiar, as the developer molded the new combat mechanics to be similar to that game's approach. If you pick Classic Mode, you still get the original combat mechanics in the original, un-touched mechanics, but the default mode is the new Refined mode which essentially makes this an all-new game.
Attacks in the original would consume part of the POW gauge, but in Refined standard attacks don't consume any POW except for Mercedes due to how her attacks work. This allowed Vanillaware to tie directional attacks when players combine attacks with different directions, which makes the combat feel a bit more faster and fluid compared to the original. I'm not the best player combo-wise, but after experimenting near the end-game once I unlocked most all of the skills and abilities I was able to pull over some pretty decent combo chains.
Another modification is that characters now have Skill and Ability trees, which use Phozons to upgrade them --- players of the original might remember that same energy source being what powered up their weapons. In addition, certain skills now consume part of the POW gauge instead of Phozon Points (PP). Some of these skills are automatically obtain by completing an area or beating specific mini-bosses, but others require figuring out a puzzle or riddle given by a hint in the Psypher Skill screen. As far as Abilities go, they tend to range from combat-related upgrades to increased benefits while eating food or shopping. All in all, it makes for a great way for players to develop the characters how they want based on the traits they prefer.
While you can increase your level by just fighting enemies, the game's Refined mode has a better, more optimal way to gain experience points: eating food. The Pooka Village from the original still exists, but there's also a new Pooka chef that appears every so often in each map that can cook up food from the recipes you collect "” given you have the right ingredients.
Speaking of ingredients, the inventory system in Odin Sphere Leifthrasir got a pretty major revamp in this remake. Seeds and ingredients have their own slots separate from items, equipments and consumables, and instead of the bag system from the original there's a new mechanic where you steadily increase your max inventory amount as you progress throughout the game by beating specific enemy rooms. Once you get to a specific section in the game, there's also an inventory box that opens up that allows you to store items for later use without taking up space in your current inventory. Finally, you now have the option between a radial menu or a tabular layout which shows everything at once.
There's some other quality-of-life improvements in the remake that should be noted as well. Your current rank in battle is now visible while in battle instead of finding out once you finish the battle, which makes finding out if you're doing poorly much easier than finding out at the end. The UI in general got a nice HD facelift with nice skeuomorphic touches especially in the archives section which I really enjoyed.
Also, the map layout in general got a major rework which should be very familiar to anyone who played through Muramasa: The Demon Blade as it gleams heavily from that title in that sense. That said, it still doesn't help to fix the issue some players had with the original where after going through the same area for the fourth or fifth time it felt tiring. Characters like Mercedes who has her flying abilities mixes things up, but it's still a central issue nonetheless.
Difficulty-wise, one thing I did notice while playing through the game under the standard Normal difficulty is that it appeared that the developers didn't fully rework the difficulty around the bevy of new mechanics that are available in the new Refined mode. I never really had much of an issue outside of a few fights late in the game, whereas switching to Hard mode felt like more of a "normal" mode to me.
For the most hardcore out there, though, there's also an "Xtra New Game" and "Heroic" option available once completing the game with all of the characters. The latter locks your HP into a low value that can't be increased by eating food, while the former carries over your levels, skills and abilities from your previous playthrough.
For this review, I had the chance to test both the PS4 and PlayStation Vita versions of the game. While the PS4 version is easily the standout version with its 1080p/60fps output, the Vita version still felt like it kept at that same 60fps but with a slightly lower resolution which isn't really noticeable at all on the smaller screen. The only slowdown I noticed was occasionally when either a lot of enemies and effects were on the screen, usually during a brief segment of a mid-boss or boss battle. That said, it's exceptionally brief at only a second or two at the most and most players likely won't even notice it.
Also, regarding platforms there's a useful cross-save option, so you can easily switch from one version of the game to another without much issue.
Graphically it's a visual treat, as the HD power of the systems allows Vanillaware to really bring out the soul of the game that felt held back at times on the PS2. There were times I just stood in awe and watched the animations play out in the backdrops of the stages. The music is similar in scope, with the original game's tracks returning alongside some new tracks. Voice acting-wise, for the English dub there's some names in here you'll probably recognize and their performances are spot-on in Leifthrasir. But if you prefer the original Japanese voices, there's that option available for you as well.
Due to the time it was released, most RPG fans probably missed out on the original release of Odin Sphere for one reason or another, and even with the PS2 Classics release on the PS3, there were parts of the game that didn't age well for one reason or another. In an era where most developers and publishers are content with simply pushing out a HD port of their classics, it's refreshing to see such a storied developer release a remake that keeps the essence of the original intact but fixes almost all of its issues. It's easily one of the best PS4 remasters thus far and shouldn't be missed by Japanese RPG fans.
|Players can keep the new HD graphics but still play using the old controls if they wish.|
|The quality of life improvements really do a lot to help fix issues from the PS2 version.|
|Outside of some minor brief slowdown, the major slowdown issues the PS2 version had are non-existent now.|
|After going through the same area for the fourth or fifth time, it does get a bit tiring.|
|The normal default difficulty could have been a bit more balanced for the new Refined mode.|
|The new maps are nice, but like the first point brings out, it still doesn't fully alleviate the core issue.|