No doubt you've heard plenty about Odin Sphere in the last week, with the gamut of reviews ranging anywhere from ungodly terrible to 100% perfection. As Gamasutra points out, Odin Sphere has proved to be something of an anomaly in gaming review circles. It's a smattering of gameplay from several traditions of the industry's history and, most notably, one of the few sprite-based 2D side-scrollers we're bound to see for a long, long time. So how does this artistic heavyweight stack up for your Destructoid editors? Behold and tremble, dear readers, it's the Destructoid Review!
Before we get started, I got some notes for all y'all. We're changing a few things in our review routine, the most notable of which is our schedule: with any luck, you can look forward to a review a week from Destructoid's dedicated review crew, a crack team of bitter, curmudgeonly gamers hellbent on forcing their tastes and opinions upon you. At present, the squad includes the good Rev. Anthony, DMV, your favorite Linde, Chad Concelmo and Nick Brutal.
Additionally, we've changed up our rating system just a smidge. On top of the standard score to be delivered by each individual editor, we're also offering up our opinions on a buy it/rent it/forget it scale, to give you a better idea as to whether or not a game is worth taking the plunge, or if it merits a little caution -- the kind of notion that might get lost in a simple 1-10 score. We'll also be offering final Destructoid review scores at the end of each write-up, a figure averaged from the editors' individual scores, topped off with some shiny new graphics courtesy of art hero Hushgush.
All that being said, hit the jump and dive into our inaugural trainwreck: Atlus' Odin Sphere!
Brad "DMV" Rice
No one is going to disagree that this game is beautiful -- the way that the characters moved had me spellbound for quite a while, and it still affects me even now when I boot up the game. From that point on, though, it's a series of highs and lows that slowly declines as I went through the game.
Combat was interesting to try out in the tutorial, as the game knew that it was, well, a tutorial. After that, though, it just leaves you on your own to figure out how to beat the enemies. Sometimes it's fairly obvious, like with the first boss -- but it's still challenging and fun. Then, there are times when you just have no freakin' clue how to do it and have to go through about two dozen times of trial and error just to beat the boss.
Now, why is this? It's because the game is a brawler with RPG elements, except it doesn't know how to be a brawler. There are three fundamental areas in which it fails. First, attack and block are the same button. It makes it nearly impossible to go through a battle relatively unscathed unless you use a combination of hit and run and magic, or are just an incredibly lucky bastard. Second, enemies can attack through your combos, and really take a huge chunk off your HP -- which, of course, you can't block. Third, there's a "POW" meter, which will drain as you attack. If you attack too much, then you sit there, stunned, until it fills up again. This will drain way too easily if there's a large horde of enemies attacking (and there usually is), so it makes it really hard to fight them effectively.
The game strings you along in really difficult situations, leaving you to figure out how it wants you to beat a boss. Trial and error usually win out, which is immensely frustrating. The ability to go back to a level once you've beaten it, though, is invaluable, because it's a safe-ground to experiment with making potions and trying out different combat tactics.
The story, once I got past just staring at the characters, was pretty bland. To me, it seems like there was a horrible night of sweaty, drunken, and utterly forgettable sex between Norse mythology and utterly generic (and possibly hentai) anime. To me, it's been disappointing so far. Yet, one thing has set me off on a warpath -- the "true ending." Apparently, to get it, you have to beat every battle with an 'S' ranking on hard, make and eat every food, as well as several other requirements. This is utter bullsh*t. I can't stand the idea of multiple endings where I have to jump through hoops left and right to get it. Silent Hill 2 was fine with its multiple endings, but Odin Sphere has gone into the "I want to stab someone" realm of multiple endings.
While the game is utterly beautiful, it falls short on gameplay functionality with issues on how the combat system works. If you have the patience to figure out how the game wants you to fight a boss, then you'll enjoy it later on once you've got a hang of everything. A mediocre story and ridiculous requirements for multiple endings hurt the game a lot, though. If Vanillaware can patch up the combat system, and lean more heavily in either an RPG or a brawler direction, I won't hesistate to pick up Odin Sphere 2 to try.
Verdict: Rent it!
Everything you need to know about Odin Sphere can be summarized in two bullet points.
1. It is the most beautiful and immersive 2D video game ever made.
Verdict: Rent it!
Lemme tell you, gang: it's really, really difficult to hold Odin Sphere responsible for its faults. It succeeds so well at some of its ambitions -- ambitions that, for the most part, have been altogether abandoned by the industry at large -- that you're almost willing to overlook its shortcomings as a form of reward for its efforts. For creating what is undoubtedly the most beautiful 2D game ever crafted, I want to shower Vanillaware in cash and virgins. If any game is set to revitalize the imaginitive visual style that Koji Igarashi, current producer of the Castlevania series, claims is much too costly to pursue on a console, Odin Sphere is it. In the face of such success, it's a shame that the rest of the game doesn't stack up quite as high as the awe-inspiring visuals.
My colleagues have already talked up many of my pros and cons, so let me dig a little bit deeper into Odin Sphere's most debated feature: the combat.
Odin Sphere's complications are chiefly rooted in the combination of the various elements of gameplay that it seeks to incorporate. This isn't to say that these elements are implemented altogether poorly -- they just come up a little short. As Brad and Anthony have already mentioned, combat in Odin Sphere has a variety of faults which, originally, I had accepted as the sort of "flavor" of this particular brand of action RPG -- like the percentage charge in Secret of Mana or the ball-breaking difficulty of God Hand. I was getting creamed on a fairly regular basis, so I had to ask myself: is this a failing of design, or do I just suck? It's a little bit of both.
Odin Sphere implicitly asks the player to abandon some of their expectations of the beat-'em-up genre by incorporating a few choice elements into the works -- namely, the heavy emphasis on item creation and use in combat and the POW bar, which Brad had mentioned earlier. As veterans of the brawler genre, our instincts would lead us into battle with both barrels blazing, slamming that attack button for all we're worth, hurling ourselves into the fray with reckless abandon. This strategy, while useful in brawlers like God Hand and The Red Star, won't get you far in Odin Sphere -- and the game doesn't give you any indication that your approach isn't just off, it's damn useless. It's a hard lesson, and one you'll have to learn on your own, if you're as intimate with the brawler genre as we are.
The revelation goes something like this: near the end of the game's first main storyline, Gwendolyn's saga, it finally occured to me that this isn't so much a brawler wrapped in an RPG; it's an RPG wrapped in a brawler. I slowed my onslaught tried to pay attention to the movements and tells of the enemy sprites -- anything to help me anticipate their attacks. I planned my assaults, worked in a divide-and-conquer strategy, and suddenly the combat became much less frustrating. Sure, the enemy could still bust up my combos with a well-timed strike, but with a bit of effort, I found that I could prevent them from ever getting an opportunity.
Once you get the swing of things, Odin Sphere proves to be a spectacular game. But a game that expects you to conform so rigidly to a particular style of play just to succeed -- hell, just to avoid mind-numbing frustration -- is bound to lose points in anybody's book, especially mine. I like games that offer myriad paths to victory, multiple ways to play. There are several ways to play Odin Sphere, but only a few of them will keep you from breaking the game in half.
At its heart, Odin Sphere is an action RPG that suffers from a crippling identity crisis. It aspires to be a complex, inventory-driven RPG while also shooting for the halcyon realm of quality beat-'em-up. In theory the combination of these elements sound quite tantalizing, and in practice -- well, it is. It just takes a little more time and effort to get engaged than you might originally suspect. Vanillaware had a particular brand of gamer in mind when they made this game -- should you submit to their expectations, Odin Sphere should prove an enjoyable and worthwhile experience.
Verdict: Rent it!
Destructoid Review Final Verdict
Final Score: 6.2