Developer: Vanilla Ware
Release Date: May 22, 2007
Although not directly set in the world of Norse Mythology, Odin Sphere is obviously inspired by those legends, with a number of iconic characters appearing, such as the god Odin. However, the characters have been distorted or altered quite a bit from their mythological counterparts. While Odin leads the Aesir and Valkyries, for example, he is considered a Demon King instead of a god and lacks many of his mythological brethren. Instead, the characters are thrown into the middle of the war between the Aesir and the Vanir, two warring nations of incredible power. The Aesir are lead by Odin and the Vanir by the Fairy Queen, and both seek the power of a magical cauldron that would allow them to create an infinite supply of Psypher weapons, powerful magical tools that turn a single person into a force capable of devastating an army.
The story in Odin Sphere isn't told in chronological order but is instead divided into various books, each of which tells the story of a specific character blessed with a Psypher weapon. These characters include a Valkyrie, a cursed prince, a lost princess, a swordsman who sold his soul for power and one of the fairy leaders. Sometimes the characters may meet one another and even battle each other from time to time, but each story is their own. In order to understand the full flow of the war, you can view the complete timeline of the stories from the game menu, with new information being unlocked with each chapter you complete. A minor event in one character's chapter may end up being the primary focus of another hero's adventure, and seeing the Kevin Bacon-ish way all of these characters connect is interesting and amusing.
More than anything else, Odin Sphere plays like a side-scrolling brawler, with your character battling swarms of enemies to advance from sphere to sphere. The controls are fairly simple; pressing Square and different directional buttons unleashes different attacks, such as a guard break or an attack designed to hit enemies high above you. Even guarding is done by holding down the Square button.
The only limitation to your attacks is the POW bar, located directly below your health bar. Each attack uses up a bit of the POW bar, and if it reaches zero, your character is stunned until it refills. Luckily, filling up the POW bar simply requires breaking from your attack for a moment, which causes the bar to naturally refill. Triangle allows you to use special Psypher moves, unique abilities that have a number of effects, such as doubling your attack power or creating a massive tornado to rip through enemies. These attacks are powered by a Phozon bar which you power up by collecting Phozons. (More on them later.) Circle opens your menu bar, allowing you to use alchemic items or eat food.
Although it is primarily an action game, Odin Sphere is not without its RPG elements. Every character has two different kinds of stats: Psypher and Health. Psypher is the power of your character's crystal weapon; the weapon gains strength as it absorbs the souls of defeated enemies, which are symbolized by glowing orbs. Collecting enough of these Phozons causes the Psypher weapon to gain a level, making it more powerful. Gain enough levels, and your character can access new, more powerful Psypher moves. Health, on the other hand, is gained by eating food. With a few exceptions, each food item in the game restores hit points to your character and also gives you Health EXP. Some foods, such as forest berries, are easy to find, but give minimal health-recovering and experience points. On the other hand, going to a restaurant for a fancy meal will cause your experience points to skyrocket but requires the player to collect ingredients for the meal and magical coins to pay the cook. While Health EXP doesn't get you new moves, the improved ability to survive damage is well worth the effort.
All of the above systems come together in the alchemy system, which is the primary focus of most of the game, so learning how to use it is the key to dominating foes. Alchemy revolves around using materials and alchemy recipes to create new items. Materials are "blank" potions that form the basis of alchemy, and by combining items with the blank material, you mold them into a new form. Each form is named from 0-9, and different alchemy recipes require different ranks of material. Once you have the correct type, you combine the material with another item — usually one of a rare type of sentient plant called Mandragora — and create a brand new item. Not only do you get the item, however, but you will get bonus Phozons as well.
If you've heard of Odin Sphere, it is for the graphics, which quite simply set a new bar in 2-D graphics. The sprites are massive and detailed, and the backgrounds are beautiful and full of stunning art. When fighting a giant dragon, you might also be tempted to take a moment to just simply watch the jaw-dropping visuals instead of fighting the flying lizard, so fantastic is the overall visual direction. Even the smallest enemy has a shocking amount of animation and detail, and the main characters are stunning to view, making each character switch a treat just for the chance to see the new animations. The character design is excellent, with an art style that manages to look excellent in motion and with a number of very creative concepts. My personal favorite is the Manticore, a monster found in the forest that is a mix between a lion and the designs of H.G. Geiger. Odin Sphere stands as a testament to the very real fact that 2-D graphics are far from dead.
Coming out at the end of May, Odin Sphere is one of those games that sells itself on graphics alone. Simply looking at any of the screenshots on this page, or the trailer that is even now floating around the Internet, will sell you on it. The beautifully animated heroes and terrifying monsters instantly draw the eye. Although seemingly destined to be a niche title, Odin Sphere has the potential to really attract some attention. All it takes is one look, and you'll be hooked.
More articles about Odin Sphere