Review: Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir resurrects one of the best 2D Action RPGs
A Vanillaware masterpiece
Platform: PS4 (reviewed), PS3, PS Vita
Previously Released: PS2
While I would hope that Odin Sphere needs no introduction, as it was one of the most unique games I played on PS2, the reality is that it was quite a niche game. Its unique art style which Vanillaware established in a previous game titled GrimGrimoire, was even more gorgeous here, and featured five playable characters, each with their own personal storylines.
I remember loving it when I first played it back in 2007, thinking of it as a near flawless game. Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir is an updated version of the original 2007 game. In this day and age of remasters and remakes, Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir is a shining example in this area, as it's essentially a whole new game, at least in many of its mechanics.
What was old is new
Had I not re-familiarized myself with the original, I probably wouldn't have remembered the sluggish, more stamina based combat. Every action would take away stamina, forcing your character to stop and take a breather, leaving them open to attacks. While it was a more strategic take on combat, ensuring the game doesn't become a button masher, Leifthrasir is certainly more action based. But I'll get to the combat a bit later.
Everything else is also streamlined. Gaining a good combat grade is easier now that you can actively see the grade as you're fighting. Combining items is a breeze and even things like planting seeds and harvesting them is changed up, since you can now release Phozons yourself, instead of relying on them from enemies.
Distinct characters, distinct storylines
Part of what makes Odin Sphere such a great game is how it subverts the notion that 2D beat 'em ups should be short affairs. Beating each character's story mode will take somewhere between 6-8 hours, depending on how thorough you want to be with exploring each stage.
It also proves you don't need fancy 3D cutscenes for stellar character development. Odin Sphere deals with some depressing storylines and is able to convey each character's emotion on its 2D plane.
All of the characters also interweave through each other's stories, meaning you get to see the entirety of each conflict from multiple point of views. Sure, you do retread levels you've already been in, but given how different each character plays, it makes those retreads worth it.
Aside from the different weapons each character wields which fundamentally changes how each character behaves in combat, they also have access to a variety of skills and magic spells that you can acquire and level up as you play, with each easily accessible either through button presses, button combo inputs, or even simply selecting them from a menu while the game is paused.
But seriously, that combat
Those that enjoyed Odin Sphere's original more stamina-based combat might scoff at Leifthrasir's more action-based combat, but there is a lot of nuance to it. Now, your stamina or POW gauge only goes down when executing various skills, meaning you can hack and slash your way to victory in each fight. But that doesn't mean it becomes a mindless button masher.
If I could equate the combat to another Vanillaware game, it would be closest to Muramasa: The Demon Blade: Much like Muramasa: The Demon Blade, the combat revolves around "flow," chaining attacks together to basically juggle your enemies around, and watching your combo meter go up in the hundreds. You'll go from ground based attacks, chaining it with a skill that knocks your enemy up into the air, where you air dash around them, knocking them even further, laying down one more combo attack before smashing them down into the ground and following that up with an extremely satisfying ground pound.
However, with that said, the combat is a lot easier this time around. I never had a hard time getting an S ranking in a lot of the fights, and never got anything lower than an A ranking. So if you want a challenge, don't play on Normal, since it's a little too easy.
And out of combat?
Leifthrasir ensures that even when you're not in combat, you're still engaged in other activities. There are plenty of alchemy recipes to find and concoct which help out either defensively with various stat boosts or health restoratives, or offensively, allowing you to summon giant whirlwinds or volcanic blasts out of the ground.
Planting fruit and eating food is also a fantastic way to ensure you're always keeping yourself at a proper level, since everything you consume earns you XP. You can either harvest your own fruit or animals, or simply bring ingredients to a traveling chef that will whip up delicious looking 2D food in an instant, for amazing health and XP boosts.
Gorgeous and smooth
It's no secret that Vanillaware are masters at gorgeous 2D graphics, and they still hold up today, even though the original game came out in 2007. The art is reworked for 1080p, which makes it stand out that much more, and the animation for everything from the individual characters to enemies still look incredible.
It's also worth noting that the game performs masterfully at 60fps, which the original Odin Sphere had big issues with. Now, even with the screen filled with enemies, you won't have any issues keeping that combo going as the framerate stays consistent throughout.
Leifthrasir also includes the full original version of the game, even playable in its 4:3 format, giving you essentially two games to play in one convenient package. If you do have interest in checking out the original, I would suggest doing so before playing the updated version. The difference in gameplay mechanics could turn you off after experiencing the revamped and much more fluid style of the updated game.
However, even those not interested in checking out the original should at least play the tutorial, to see just how much work was put into the reworked version, and just how different the game as a whole is. It truly makes you appreciate Vanillaware for their efforts.
Pricey, but worth it
The PS4 version of Leifthrasir will cost you a full $59.99, which for a remaster sounds rather expensive. Especially since the fantastic Valkyria Chronicles released for only $29.99. With that said, Leifthrasir is almost like an entirely new game, with new mechanics, and even new story elements. Not to mention it also includes the entirety of the original game packed in as well.
The PS3 and Vita versions are cheaper, going for $49.99 and $39.99 respectively, so if price is an issue and you have access to those versions, you could go that route.
Despite the price, Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir is a fantastic game, and I almost couldn't believe that one of my favorite games on the PS2 got the treatment it did. If you're unsure, you could always try out the demo, but trust me, this is one 2D Action RPG that's totally worth it.