As a year in gaming, 2008 was...
A year packed with too many good games
A pretty good year
Not too bad, but not the best
A bit disappointing, to be honest
Well, hopefully 2009 will be better...
Odin Sphere
Developer: Vanillaware, Ltd.
Publisher: Atlus
Platforms: PlayStation 2
Genre: Action RPG
Players: 1 Player
Available: May 2007
Rating: Teen
Dave Halverson
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Every cover story we do for play is special. Whether it’s a sure fire blockbuster, one of our many niche covers, or just plain out of left field, every game that appears on the cover of Play does so for a specific reason. We don’t always choose the most obvious games—you already know about those. A big part of what we do is try to expand your horizons beyond the beaten path—terrain that however scenic is all too familiar and on occasion dotted with pitfalls. Be that as it may, after five years of issues I can count the covers that I feel made a real difference on one hand, and of those this is now the most significant. Odin Sphere is a lot of things. Does it represent the next level of 2D gameplay—that very same gameplay that I’ve been crusading for since it crept away a decade ago? Yes, it does…finally. And initially I thought that was all it did. Little did I know that Vanillaware had a lot more in mind when they set out down this long forgotten road. On the assumption that graphics alone wouldn’t be enough to propel the genre forward, I suppose, what they’ve shaped is an entirely new breed of action RPG. One that evokes the emotion and splendor that only hand-drawn visuals can, built upon layers of gameplay devices that make playing Odin Sphere like strumming a fine instrument. It’s my job now to convey to you what that experience entails to the extent that you’ll do anything to get your hands on it. Take a look at these visuals and realize that this is PS2. Now imagine what hand-drawn 2D might look like on PS3 or 360. If for no other reason than graphics alone, cast your vote for 2D. It only takes one hit to set gaming’s lumbering marketing machine in motion.

A Beautiful War

Assuming the role of Gwendolyn initially—and don’t let her looks fool you; she is a fierce Valkyrie warrior—you’re cast into a bitter war. The powerful magical relic “Cauldron” that King Valentine has used to sustain a lasting peace over the lands has been compromised and war has broken out between the Fairy Kingdom of Ringford and the warrior nation of Ragnanival, ruled by Demon Lord Odin, who sets forth a plan to conquer Ringford and claim the Cauldron once and for all.

But things are not as they seem and alliances fall to pieces as the game gets underway. Rival Nations hold dark secrets and the lines between righteous and wretched become painfully blurred. What may sound like a token fairy tale wastes no time spiraling into a twist-laden epic with Gwendolyn in its epicenter as events transpire that could bring about any number of outcomes. Over the course of the game you will be privy to five such tales told in-game, skillfully written and masterfully voiced, each as riveting and dramatic as the next. Gwendolyn’s struggle alone carries the weight of most entire epics, but by game’s end—in order to get the true ending—you will have seen the war from every side; through the eyes of five characters all with separate plights, and fought some of the most towering bosses in the history of 2 or 3D. But it gets better...Just before press time we recieved word that Atlus would be incorporating dual voice tracks. As it stands the English is first rate, but the Japanese is simply amazing, so this is truly a dream localization. Odin Sphere is on course to become one of the greatest action-RPGs of all time.

Field of Prey

The action in Odin Sphere can only be described as natural. Don’t look for any button prompts or evolving combo trees; this game is smarter than that…much, much smarter. The main characters’ move sets are unmitigated simplicity. On the ground Gwendolyn attacks forward and upwards and blocks or she can take to the air for a hovering attack, or float about the ceiling barreling down like a torpedo onto the prey below. The feel—a level of contact that only 2D can muster—is spectacular and like all the best side scrollers the patterns will put your reactions to the test. Blocking is key, as is memorizing the attack patterns of enemies that change with each passing area. As wonderful as the action is, however, Odin Sphere is equal parts RPG, and so it represents but a trickle in a stream of tactics. You must also become horticulturist, alchemist and gourmand if you hope to survive. Seeds and roots, potions and protein are key to your quest. Each area in the land of Erion consists of a constellation of rings—circular levels you must clear that are filled with waves of indigenous creatures linked together by shops and mid bosses, leading to a final confrontation. Depending on how well you perform in a given level, the chest that drops will bear an equivalent amount of items such as various seeds, material bottles, coins, and ingredients. You can also unearth indigenous herbs and roots by jumping on areas where you hear a faint squeak underfoot, sending the root below scampering away for you to swipe and put in your bag… There are traditional shops—buy lots of bags—selling your basic ingredients and restoration items such as milk and cheese, but to master the game you must master the items you forage.
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Verdict Odin Sphere has it all: Great story, characters, action, role-playing, length, design, innovation, and a stunning dual language localization. 10
out of 10

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