Odin Sphere Leifthrasir

Platform(s): PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Atlus U.S.A.
Developer: Vanillaware
Release Date: June 7, 2016

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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PS4 Review - 'Odin Sphere Leifthrasir'

by Brian Dumlao on Sept. 7, 2016 @ 2:00 a.m. PDT

Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is a HD remake of the 2D action RPG with Norse Mythology roots, originally released on PS2 in 2007.

Buy Odin Sphere Leifthrasir

The PlayStation family of home consoles has always had long life cycles, with some of the best and quirkiest titles coming in at the tail end. While this means that the titles have mastered the quirks and limitations of the platform, it also means that a decent chunk of players missed out on them unless the newer console supported backward compatibility. Such is the case with Odin Sphere, Vanillaware's cult classic that didn't quite much of an audience since it appeared on the PS2 in the first year of the PS3's life cycle. Nearly 10 years later, the game resurfaces on the PS4, remastered with the subtitle Leifthrasir.

 Leifthrasir tells a tale of five different characters, all of whom are tied together by a massive cauldron that is said to bestow power on whoever controls it. The artifact is also important because it either starts or prevents the coming of Armageddon, depending on who you believe. You start with Gwendolyn, a Valkyrie who seeks death in battle to win the approval of her father. Soon, her tale has you crossing paths with several other characters, including a forest witch, a fairy princess, a prince, and a knight who is rumored to have sold his soul to dark forces in exchange for power.

The story is told through the framework of a child reading the tales in an attic. The conceit works well since each character's tale is separated into individual storybooks, so there is a focus on one character for long stretches of time instead of constantly jumping between them. This also sets up some interesting scenarios, since the characters often meet one another, and the line between hero and villain flips depending on who you're controlling.

Having said that, this setup also causes repetition to creep in as the overall tale progresses. You won't see it happen in the first book, but once you reach the second book, you'll see the same environments and enemies you've faced before, albeit from the viewpoint of a different character. This seems inevitable considering the nature of the tale being told, but it is worrisome when you notice that the enemies and bosses possess the same attack patterns as before. By the time you get to the fifth book and traverse the same areas, the polish would have worn off, and the excitement is only kept alive by the end story and gameplay systems.

Though the game is labeled as an RPG, Leifthrasir feels more like an action title that became the groundwork for the developer's later titles, like Dragon's Crown and Muramasa: The Demon Blade. Your attacks are limited to one primary attack button and one for spells. It seems simple enough, but positioning and directional presses in conjunction with the buttons provides you with enough moves to make the game feel deep. Sliding kicks, diving attacks, and air combos all flow smoothly from your fingers thanks to a rather uncomplicated setup, so you can easily handle small enemy hordes. Defensive blocks are available, but you'll likely use dodges to get away from trouble since you'll bash on buttons instead of thinking about holding them.

The focus on mostly melee weaponry is balanced out by an equal emphasis on potions. You've got plenty to choose from, whether it's simple healing and poison resistance to attacks like releasing elemental and poison damage for a short range and period of time. While you can depend on your attacks to get through most foes, boss encounters require some potion use if you want to get through them comfortably. You'll find a number of these potions via merchants and on the field, but the more interesting option is alchemy. With the ingredients collected, you can construct your own potions from scratch, but you can also strengthen an existing potion or change it into something different. Potion transformation is an invaluable mechanic and makes the more common potions a little less useless to pick up.

Those who have played the original will immediately notice a major change to the combat system. There's no longer a meter dedicated to governing your moves. In the original version, every attack took up a portion of a meter, with some of the fancier attacks taking up more meter than others. Fully draining the meter resulted in you becoming dizzy until part of the meter recovered. Battles were strategic in nature since you had to get in as many devastating hits as possible before going on the defensive. The banishment of the attack meter drain means that the action is much quicker, and you can play far more aggressively. Equip yourself with the right items, and you'll rarely be on the defensive. Some will appreciate the move to a combat system that encourages chains and high combo counts while others will lament the loss of a more methodical combat system. Luckily, the game has a Classic mode that brings back the old mechanics while keeping the presentation up to modern standards.

Another addition to the combat is more mini-bosses. These creatures aren't entirely new, but they inhabit areas that were previously occupied by small mobs of regular foes. The change isn't significant enough to make the game harder, since the mini-bosses are quite easy to defeat, but it gives players pause when they enter a new area and see something more powerful than expected.

Even though one's attention may gravitate toward the action, Leifthrasir still sports a few RPG elements. Killing foes gets you XP and items called Phozons that let you power up abilities. The same abilities are gained via artifacts found in the world, and it isn't long before you can access a healthy amount of skill trees to unlock new abilities. You're limited in the number of items you can carry, so storage boxes become a lifesaver when you don't want to drop an item and have to backtrack for it later.

One of the more distinct elements deals with food. As in many other games, food is used for healing, so you'll quickly get into a habit of carrying it around as well as some potions for healing. Unlike other games, food has the added effect of giving you XP and a small bump in HP. Thus, even when you're at full health, you'll be encouraged to eat so you can level up at a quicker pace. While you can find food in the field or from merchants, you're encouraged to grow it yourself. You can grow plants from seeds using Phozons or hatch eggs to raise chickens. The more interesting option is to have a Pooka chef whip up something for you. You'll have to explore the world to get the ingredients and recipes for each dish, but the large XP boosts make it worthwhile.

The inventory system now has pages to rifle through instead of being one big list, so it's easier to find what you need since the pages are sorted by category. Phozon collection is now automatic, but one of the bigger changes is the addition of the mobile restaurant. Instead of going to a Pooka village to obtain cooked food, you can hit up certain spots around the world and ask the cook to come there instead.

It all comes together to give the player a more streamlined experience, but that's something you'll only notice if you've played the original or play the Classic mode. The changes don't make the title any easier, but you can choose to go easy or make things more difficult with the variable difficulty setting. Instead, those tweaks just take care of the minutia the original version saddled you with. Everything else remains the same, with the game firmly balanced between an equal amount of cut scenes versus gameplay. It's a formula that worked well in the past, and it holds up just as well now.

Those who own multiple PlayStation systems will be happy to know that the game features cross-saving between the PS4, PS3 and PS Vita versions. Having it show up on the Vita is nice, since the handheld is currently a JRPG fan's go-to. The appearance on the PS3 is also nice but funny when you consider the system is in its twilight years. While the feature is appreciated, only die-hard fans will check it out, since no Cross-Buy is present. With the game priced rather high for all three platforms, taking advantage of cross-save capabilities is a very expensive proposition.

Graphically, Leifthrasir looks brilliant, but it still isn't that different from what PS2 players saw a decade ago. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, since the artwork from the original still shines without much touch-up. The character designs are more inspired than most other games in the genre, and the watercolor scheme is certainly eye-catching. The same can be said for the animations, which are just as fluid now as they were back then. At first, players may think that the only benefits to being on the PS4 are the bump to full 1080p and the use of widescreen, but give it an hour or two, and you'll see that game performance is also helped by the newer hardware. The original game was known for choking when multiple characters were on-screen or when a large boss fight occurred. Here, the hardware handles all of that and provides a solid 60fps.

Likewise, the sound remains just as good as it did when it originally released. The music has an epic anime feel that rivals RPGs with bigger budgets. The score runs the gamut of emotions, but even the silliest of tunes sounds great. Meanwhile, the game features English and Japanese vocal tracks, and both sound wonderful. Fans of either dubbed or subbed anime will recognize some of the vocal talents, and their performances greatly enhance the title, especially since every line of dialogue is fully voiced.

Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir takes a good game and makes it incrementally better. The tweaks to the overall title, including better inventory management and more emphasis on combat, opens it up to those who weren't enamored with the original. The option is there for those who want to play it as it was originally intended. It provides lots of gameplay time, which is something of a rarity in console titles nowadays, though there will be a few who take offense to the fact that a good chunk of content is recycled a few times. It does all this with a presentation that still manages to impress after all these years. No matter which of the three platforms you own, you owe it to yourself to add Leifthrasir to your library.

Score: 9.0/10

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