Square-Enix is one of the most influential and important publishing companies in gaming history. Responsible for two of the most successful role-playing franchises ever, Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, their place in the annals of brilliance has long been established. So any game bearing the Square-Enix logo on the cover should make any role-playing fan drool in anticipation. Add to this a development by Atlus (a company responsible for the some of the best games never released in the Western world) and you’ve got pants-creaming material.
Odin Sphere is a deceptively simple game, on the surface a throwback to the old-school action-role playing classics like Zelda or the original Dragon Quest games, but deep down a whole new take on the genre. The game has an intriguing set-up, first throwing you into control of a young girl in an attic who reads through five various ‘stories’ with only her cat to keep her company.
These stories tell the legend of the land of Erion and the various leaders and factions present within, all of whom are at war and fighting over the key to either saving or destroying the land forever. Each book tells the story from a different perspective and each adds layers to the others, meaning that each hero character has a different but equally important part to play in the whole.
Although the storyline is pretty complex, players have access to a summary of key events and plot devices to make sure that they can still pick up the game and get back into it no matter how long they might have spent away, and with over 35 hours of gameplay, this feature is a godsend.
Like the rest of the game, the action sequences themselves are also relatively simple on the surface. The majority of the action takes place upon circular stages (hence the sphere of the title) which loop around so that they have neither beginning nor end. What this means is that stages can be used much more strategically by the player. An example of this is found when you plant an experience and health providing tree, which takes a certain amount of time to grow and then bloom, but one which you will eventually loop back around to harvest even while in the midst of battle.
Each mission usually consists of a series of stages that are linked together and branched so that they can be completed in different ways depending on what kind of strategy the gamer employs. There are four different types of stages: battles stages (which have different difficulties assigned to them), sub-boss and boss stages and finally shop stages (where players can buy different items and prepare for the next battle).
These missions are all very well designed and each is different enough from the previous mission to prevent any sort of monotony creeping in. At the end of each stage, rewards are doled out and grades are given, the better the grade the better the reward, both in experience terms and in actual physical rewards themselves.
Combat is designed to compliment both the design of the levels and the amount of
detail in the world. Linking combos together and judicious use of spell casting is the key to progressing through Odin Sphere, certain combos unleash super powerful attacks which do huge damage and can prove the difference between winning and losing. But each storybook hero is limited by a POW meter which will only allow a certain amount of offense before the hero is stunned and left vulnerable to attack, meaning that timing is everything.
Odin Sphere is a great compliment to the game designers and the amount of thought and effort that they would have put into it. Each character and stage is designed so beautifully and with so much detail that it’s easy to imagine the game having a life outside of the Playstation 2. Rarely have characters had so many layers and depth to them, even in the next gen systems, it’s hard to imagine what Atlus will be able to accomplish given the power of the Playstation 3 and its storytelling ability.
Any fan of the role-playing genre owes it to themselves to track a copy of Odin Sphere down, as it may just turn out to be the last, great role-player for the Playstation 2.