Odin Sphere looked fantastic back on the PlayStation 2 when it released in 2007, but almost a decade later on PlayStation 4, it looks even better. A stunning side scrolling action role-playing game from Vanillaware, Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir is a superb remake that oozes quality.
The care and attention that's been pumped into this picturesque title is clear to see right from the off. Your first stop upon booting it up is a delightfully crafted loading screen in which you control a young girl. To start the game or load up your last save, you grab a heavy tome from the floor and plop yourself in a large chair before opening the selected novel and giving it a read. It may just be an extravagant menu, but the whole thing is indicative of Leifthrasir's consistently immaculate presentation.
Much like the gorgeous Dragon's Crown, the release is swamped in artist George Kamitani's detailed character designs. Every personality and creature that you meet during your adventures is a treat for the eyes, and they're all brilliantly animated to boot. The Japanese developer proves that, once again, art direction is key to making a memorable game; you can play Leifthrasir for hours on end and still be taken aback by some of the artwork that's on display here.
This high definition remake doesn't just look good, though: when you're knee deep in action, the controls are responsive and combat is satisfyingly fluid as a result. The bulk of your time will be spent taking on groups of foes in hectic melee-based brawls where combo chains and special moves are the order of the day. In the original release, your actions during battle were limited somewhat by a stamina bar, but here, that's been removed in favour of faster skirmishes with less downtime.
If you've played the aforementioned Dragon's Crown or Muramasa Rebirth, then you'll kind of know what to expect from Odin Sphere's battle system. You can equip four different special attacks to bolster your standard combos, while dodging and blocking come into play when you need to be defensive. Combat can seem a little button-mashy at times, but there's no denying that racking up huge juggle combos and obliterating your opponents with destructive magic spells is horribly addictive.
Adding some welcome variety to proceedings is the fact that the game is split up between several different playable characters, and each one of them boasts their own lovingly crafted fighting style. Each protagonist also has their own part to play in the title's overarching story; now and again, their tales will intertwine, and you just might see events from a different perspective.
It's certainly an intricate and entertaining way to tell a tale, but it can be slightly jarring to finish one character's story at a high level, having unlocked most of their best techniques, and then be thrown to a completely new warrior who's sitting at Level 1. Fortunately, levelling up doesn't take too long, and starting fresh at least means that you have ample opportunity to fully explore each character's abilities.
The narrative itself is chopped up into chapters, with cutscenes playing out at regular intervals. Odin Sphere's fantasy world takes cues from various myths and legends, but it all comes together in an extremely charming way. This is mostly thanks to the elegant fashion in which proceedings are handled; each event is captured like an act from a theatrical performance – the only things missing are the silhouettes of an audience and stereotypical red curtains. It's a tale of adventure and romance told with real confidence, and you'll want to see what happens next more often than not.
The strength of Leifthrasir's punchy combat and charming storytelling is more than enough to keep you glued to the controller, but its prowess in these areas does highlight where it falters elsewhere. Throughout your journeys, you'll constantly be picking up useful items. You'll gather everything from foods and potions to alchemical ingredients and stat-boosting accessories, and sometimes, it's hard not to feel overwhelmed by it all. Inventory management takes some getting used to purely because you always have so much stuff to sort through, and the fact that you can only carry a limited amount of clutter means that you'll be stopping more often than you'd like in order to organise your belongings.
Thankfully, your inventory does become easier to manage as you progress. There are bag upgrades to find which increase your carrying capacity, and you'll eventually end up with numerous alchemical formulae that make use of much of your junk, freeing up a lot of space in your satchel and giving just about every item a defined purpose.
You can blitz through Leifthrasir's main chapters in around 20-25 hours if you're not a completionist, but there are plenty of secrets to find scattered throughout its branching levels. There are tough optional bosses to conquer, powerful skills to unlock, and potent potion and food recipes to discover if you stray from the beaten path, although it's worth mentioning that, sometimes, you'll want to backtrack to previous areas and replay completed chapters to gain a bit of extra experience. Indeed, boss enemies can significantly ramp up the difficulty if you're below the brawl's recommended level, and even though you'll usually have enough healing tinctures on hand to tank your way through tougher fights, big baddies can still tear you to shreds in just a couple of combos if you're not careful.
Fortunately, if you're not keen on grinding to overcome the challenge, there's an easy difficulty option that lessens the damage that foes deal, allowing you to sit back and enjoy the story without having to worry too much about the nuances of combat. Likewise, if you're in the market for some punishment, the hard difficulty option will force you to fight like a champion.
Fully deserving of a second chance, Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir is a glorious remake of a fine RPG. Its stunning art style looks better than ever, and the tale it tells is still effortlessly charming. Little niggles like its clunky inventory system keep it from being picture perfect, but it's difficult not to be left thoroughly impressed by Vanillaware's lovingly crafted fantasy – even after all of these years.