Being such a massive fan of Atlus, I’m always interested in trying as many of their games as I possibly can, even if it means stepping out of my comfort zone. Because of this, I was introduced to Vanillaware, a developer founded by ex-Atlus employees with most of their games published by Atlus themselves. The only experience I’d had with the developer before playing Odin Sphere Leifthrasir for this review was with Muramasa Rebirth which I also loved. That said, I have not played the original Odin Sphere for the PlayStation 2 and because of that, this review will be based off the perspective of an Atlus/Vanillaware fan and a newcomer to Odin Sphere. That said, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is an HD remaster of the action RPG PlayStation 2 classic for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3 and (the version I played) PlayStation Vita and released on June 7th, 2016, in North America (published by Atlus) and June 24th, 2016, in Europe (published by NIS America).
Odin Sphere Leifthrasir immediately starts with you controlling a little girl wondering around her attic. You pick up a book titled ‘Valkyrie’ and your first story begins. This introduces us to the fact that the story of the game is not only told as a story book but is also cut up into five stories. All eventually connecting and overlapping.
The main overarching plot is that the Demon Lord Odin’s kingdom has invaded the peaceful realm of Ringford in search of the Crystallisation Cauldron, which can make Psypher crystals to make him more powerful. Their battlefield is the kingdom of Valentine, which has been reduced to a wasteland as a result of their actions. You start the plot as the Demon Lord’s daughter, Gwendolyn, and as it progresses, unlocking all five different playable characters, you learn more about the lore of the world and understand each of the different nations and their inhabitants. Each of the characters’ crosses paths with each other and impact the outcome of each of their stories, which leaves a strange sense of fulfilment in the player since these characters are so likeable and easy to grow attached to.
With many twists and turns, likeable characters and a detailed setting with tons of nods to Norse mythology, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir’s storyline kept me hooked from beginning to end, which is saying a lot considering the 30-40 hour run time. It’s a deep and connected tale that uses smart methods of creating the player’s interpretation of its world.
This is some of the most fun I’ve had with a combat system for a long time. The action RPG, mixed with hack-n’-slash fighting is filled with adrenaline and requires you to be on your toes in order to rack up the highest combo possible, which you will want to do because it’s as rewarding as it is addictive (and it’s very addictive).
The levels are represented as 2D side-scrolling, but for the combat sequences, the right and left edges of the screen are connected to give the illusion of a circular space which is a unique way to design the map and in some cases give the game a MetroidVania style of exploration. The map of the stages are split into rooms, such as combat rooms, mid-level and major boss rooms, rest areas and general traversal areas, basically just getting from point A to point B. While you can skip over certain rooms if you wish to, in order to gain the most EXP and unlock more equipment, you might want to take your time and explore the entire stage.
While the combat system is deep, you can’t equip alternative weapons. This is because the game uses a tree-branching system to upgrade your skills and abilities. Skills can be equipped to unleash powerful attacks in combat to keep your combos soaring, but they do eat into your PP bar, like in most RPGs. You unlock more skills as the game progresses and can upgrade more of them with the ‘Phozons’ you collect in battle (I’ll get into those in a bit). The abilities are there to enhance your character, making them stronger. These include stat enhancements or certain types of skill being more powerful to use (etc. ice attacks).
‘Phozons’ are small items dropped by defeated enemies that you can absorb to not only upgrade skills, but you can use them combined with seeds you collect in gameplay to grow ingredients that you can use in alchemy. The alchemy system is one of my favourite pieces of Odin Sphere. During gameplay, you will find yourself collecting a lot of ingredients which you can then use after finding recipes to create potions that you can alternatively buy from merchants during rest areas and in-between battles. These saved me an incredible amount of times in the heat of battle for not only healing myself, but a lot of them can do great damage to enemies.
Experience isn’t earned just by defeating enemies in this game. Matter of fact, the game would seemingly rather you not try to collect EXP by defeating enemies. Instead, from eating certain fruit and visiting Maurey’s Travelling Restaurant, a restaurant you can visit at rest areas during levels. Because of this break from traditional levelling up systems in other RPGs, I sometimes ran into battles I was under-levelled for because I was still getting used to this system and found myself under-levelled at further points into the game where I should’ve been at the recommended level just because I hadn’t been paying attention to this system. That doesn’t necessarily make it a bad method of gaining EXP, but I can definitely see it being an issue other users may encounter.
The game controls well considering it’s scope and the quick inputs you’ll be performing during combat. I never felt like control was taken away from me at any point or there was any stuttering removing any sort of control from me. The game also has a very simplistic UI that does it’s job, sometimes when you’re battling enemies, the UI can become a bit cluttered by showing you your combo level, health, PP, map, Phozon count and area map all at once.
In terms of gameplay, Odin Sphere Lefithrasir uses a thrilling combat system with a unique alchemy system and great level design that cements it as one of the more original RPGs I’ve played in a while… Oh yeah, and did I mention that you can play the original Odin Sphere PS2 version within Leifthrasir on all 3 versions too?
This game uses Vanillaware’s unprecedented 2D artwork built upon that of the PlayStation 2 games and fully remade in 1080p on the PlayStation 4. The artwork really drives home the feeling of a storybook come to life and each frame of character animation in combat flows so well to make this one of the most visually appealing games ever, going above and beyond the standard Vanillaware has set for themselves. The backgrounds pop out with their vibrant colour and charm and there are even small details such as small creatures in the distance that you can’t even interact with being fully animated. To top this off the game runs at a near-perfect 60 frames-per-second on even the PlayStation Vita which surprised me, but that said, there are barely noticeable moments during the battle where things can get a slight bit choppy. These moments were very few and very far between, though.
The voice acting has been retained from the PlayStation 2 original, featuring a great cast known for voicing in other Atlus titles such as Shin Megemi Tensei and Persona. They all do a great job bringing their characters to life and even if you don’t like the English dub, the game has dual-audio options to switch to the Japanese dub, which I know a lot of people welcome with open arms. As for the music, it’s orchestrated and each song fits the context of their scenes perfectly. A problem I had with the music is that while there are definitely memorable songs that I love on the soundtrack, there aren’t as many as I would’ve wanted and some of them, while they sound good in context, definitely don’t stick around in your head or are as memorable as I’d want them to be.
Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is a must-have RPG for any fan of Vanillaware, Atlus or JRPGs in general. It’s got an exhilarating combat system with a good amount of depth on top of it’s just overall enjoyable gameplay that always keeps you on your toes trying to keep up your combos, a great English dub from a trusted group of voice actors, an engaging story with lots of lore and likeable characters and a soundtrack with a good amount of memorable songs. With a few minor hiccups, I can still proudly say this is one of the most enjoyable action RPGs I’ve ever played and is definitely worth checking out if you own a PS4, PS3 or PS Vita.
|+ Intriguing story with good characters.||– Slight frame rate dips.|
|+ Great combat system.||– Soundtrack not very memorable.|
|+ Gorgeous 2D artwork.|
|+ 30-40 hours in length.|