It’s been a while since my last “not-review,” but it’s for a good reason. I’ve been doing a lot of self-reflection, not only in gaming but in life. Recently I stumbled upon an archive of about 200 or so blog posts from my first blog ever, and I’ve had an incredibly unique experience going back over them. Not to mention that Odin Sphere is a weighty game, and it overwhelmed me, but in the best way possible. It is truly a masterpiece of story-telling and demanded my entire focus for the time I spent with the game.
Odin Sphere originally released on the PlayStation 2 in 2007. George Kamitami is the creative mastermind behind most of what goes on at Vanillaware (the studio responsible for Odin Sphere), and he wanted to create a spiritual successor to his first-ever game, “Princess Crown.” After the studio put out Dragon’s Crown, they considered making a direct sequel to, but instead opted to re-release Odin Sphere for current-gen systems (PS3, PS4, PS Vita). This release would also be the first time Vanillaware released a game with ATLUS as the publisher.
Odin Sphere’s brilliance stems from its unique way of delivering the story. The game focuses on the individual stories of 5 main characters, each that add weave and wind more information into the larger tapestry of the main story. Due to the complex nature of the story, a timeline exists for you to reference quickly and clear up any confusion regarding when a specific event took place. The story begins with Gwendolyn, a Valkyrie that lives in the kingdom of Ragnanival, of which her father Odin is king. As the story progresses, you are introduced to a flurry of unique characters, little of which provide much backstory. There is a war over this thing called the Cauldron, Odin states the Fairy kingdom is trying to seize it for nefarious purposes, but all you know is what you see in front of you. As the story deepens, as you begin to flesh out the world with the unique cast of characters, you learn more and can form your own opinion surrounding the morally gray conflict in which this world finds itself.
A big worry of mine was that the game would begin to feel repetitive; however, due to the unique nature of each character, this was not a problem. Each of the characters have combat styles that keep the gameplay feeling fresh and new. Gwendolyn strikes with a spear, and her attacks are focused on keeping enemies in the air. Oswald has a “shadow” form he can transform into, which increases the damage output of his already overwhelming volley of strikes. Mercedes can fly, and her bow favors long-ranged combat. Velvet uses a set of chains (similar to Kratos “Blades of Chaos” weapon) that focus on long-range, but also provide an array of up-close options. Cornelius has a sword, which was the least “fun” of the crew, but still some satisfying aspects once I got the basic hang of his moveset. The biggest challenge was at the end of the game when you are required to play as all five characters in quick succession. I struggled to recall some combat abilities associated with characters I haven’t played as for 20+ hours, and with Cornelius, I mostly reverted to just smacking enemies with the sword.
As ever-present in Vanillaware games, food was a primary mechanic introduced early on. You were able to grow and harvest different berries at any time, using them to regain not only health but also experience points. What was surprising was the sheer amount of experience to be gained by eating food. As I quickly learned, ignoring food led to being under-leveled, and made the game a more unpleasant experience. Once I had access to the various restaurants in-game, it felt like I finally had a grasp on just how much emphasis they placed on this system. Some dishes being worth over 30,000k EXP, which even at the post-game would boost you a whole level, if not almost two. I enjoyed this mechanic because it was a fresh take on grinding. I didn’t have to grind enemies endlessly to gain EXP, but instead, I went on the hunt for various ingredients to recipes I’d collected throughout the game. When I did take on the post-game challenges, I was able to boost my level by 10+ just by cooking food. It was much faster and much more satisfying than traditional EXP farming.
I was awed by the ending of the game. The culmination of each story thread coming together in the way that it did was beautiful. Not one single tidbit of lore in Odin Sphere went overlooked, not one question went unanswered. I’m glad that I went back to play this game. I started it in 2018 and dropped it shortly after beginning due to some unknown reason. As I’ve shifted my focus away from “hype train” gaming, and taken a slower and more systematic approach to how I choose to play games, it’s opened up for a wider swath of titles to enjoy. I am so glad that I experienced this story, and I would urge you to do the same if you get the chance. Vanillaware should be releasing 13 Sentinels in the west within the next year or two, and I can imagine that a lot of their inspiration for that game came from here. Odin Sphere is a timeless game, not only in graphical style but also in its overall presentation. It’s a game that can be enjoyed by anyone.