Odin Sphere

Rated: T for Teen (for fantasy violence, frightening images, and mature artwork.)
Platforms: PS2
Current Price: Around $10.00  

The 2-D side-scroller has largely become a relic in today's gaming society. Nowadays, to get recognition most games depend heavily on the quality of their 3-D visuals or how expansive they can make their worlds. Odin Sphere proves the exception to these ideas, even four years after its release. The game is a masterpiece of console beauty and brawl, and for someone with shallow pockets, it remains an epic 2-D experience that does not go out of style.                 

Story  

As the title suggests, Odin Sphere is a story loosely based on the tales of Norse mythology, in particular the world ending battle of Ragnarök. The beginning portion centers on a war between Odin's Aesir and the fairy Vanir for control over a powerful artifact known as "the Cauldron". As the game progresses, the story branches out to follow the exploits of its five playable characters, each with their own unique background and magical weapon. There's Gwendolyn, Odin's Valkyrie daughter, Oswald, a shadow knight from the Nether Realm, Mercedes, the fairy princess, Velvet, the forest witch, and Cornelius, a prince transformed into a rabbit-like Pooka. The overall story is a vast and intertwining web of plotlines, but the game manages to keep a smooth pace while spotlighting the different characters and their struggles.  

The only downside to this engaging story is that by crossing paths with other characters you will be forced to fight the same enemies again, and again, and again. After slaying the same dragon for the third time, it's no surprise that things may start to get old. Still, the game manages to keep things a little fresh by giving each character their own style of fighting. This means that while one boss might be easily dispatched by a powerhouse like Oswald; the same enemy might require a little more finesse when using another character, such as the chain-wielding Velvet.                        

Gameplay  

Though at first glance the game may appear as a standard button-masher, Odin Sphere proves to be much more. Battles are fast and addictive, with each stage rewarding you for avoiding damage and making a quick completion. Each character wields a different weapon called a "psypher" that grows stronger by absorbing the power of defeated enemies, but your weapon alone won't be enough to carry you through the game. In-between levels, players will have the opportunity to grow fruits and cook foods that can be used to upgrade their characters' health bar. What emerges is an odd Farmville meets Final Fantasy experience, but it does add a subtle trace of strategy to the game.            

Items in Odin Sphere can also be combined to form powerful concoctions that aid in battle, such as a potion to reduce damage or a spell to wreak havoc on your enemies. It's a system that's fun to play with, and encourages gamers to experiment with different item combinations. The only flaw in the gameplay design is that slowdowns in movement will occur whenever a battle gets too congested. It's not fun when it happens, but ironically enough it may save you from death more than once.      

Presentation  

While the story and gameplay are fairly impressive, artistic presentation is where Odin Sphere really shows its stuff. The game is breathtaking. Levels are multi-layered with lush, bristling artwork that will leave most gamers feeling stunned, and the character models look as though they belong in the pages of a book rather than floating across a screen. Those who manage to tear themselves away from the artwork will also notice the game's beautiful score. The music fits well with its mythical surroundings, shifting from solemn choruses to playful melodies when the situation demands it, and it gives color to the already vibrant world. Lastly, the game comes equipped with some talented voice acting. The writing can be corny at times, and some players may be tempted to remove the audio altogether, but most will find the dialogue lends itself to the storybook experience.
  

Whether you're a hard-core gamer, or simply a fan of good art, Odin Sphere is a rare treat. Its mix of gameplay styles will appeal to a large audience and will ensure hours of gameplay for the penniless gamer. This is one game that proves you can only get better with age.

*This article first published 8/17/2011