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Skankin' Garbage's Review of Odin Sphere

Atlus has a knack for putting out tons and tons of RPGs, the majority of which are painfully average or worse. When I first heard of Odin Sphere, I thought, "Oh, great, another RPG from Atlus that probably won't be good." Imagine my surprise when I found that nearly every major online publication gave it a great score! With that in mind, I had to see what Odin Sphere was all about. So, I played it, and guess what? I was surprised to find that I was wrong about Odin Sphere: It's MUCH, MUCH worse than 'not good.'

The first thing you might notice about Odin Sphere is that it's beautiful. I'm serious - this game is 2D at its finest, by comprising characters of multiple sprites, giving the illusion of 3D, and creating 2D graphics that are far more detailed than anything I've ever seen before. The music, done by Hitoshi Sakimoto (Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy 12, Ogre Battle, etc.), is masterfully composed - easily as beautiful as the visuals that it emphasizes. It was clear that quite a lot of money was thrown into Odin Sphere. Moving right along...

Odin Sphere is presented as a set of related fairy tales - this is made apparent by the fact that you start the game each time you play by having a child pick up a book and read it. All the books have seven chapters, each with six acts. Each time you finish a book, you can start a new one. The books all deal with the exploits of one hero within roughly the same timeline - after finishing all of them (five in all), a final book wraps up the story once and for all. While this sounds like a GREAT idea - mostly because it is - it's pulled off so overwhelmingly bad that...well, it's overwhelming. To put it briefly, there really isn't much point in trying to give the illusion of a fairy tale, because there are tons of inner monologues in the game, and there is no narrator - any and all narratives are done by the main character of the story, making it feel nothing at all like a fairy tale.

Does this sound a bit nitpicky? Here's why this causes a LOT of problems: For starters, being that all five books take place over the same section of time, the characters interact with each other a lot - you may find that one character is your friend or even your love interest in one book; but turns out being your enemy in another. This might not seem so confusing, but they make no attempt to piece these nuances together gracefully. For example, Cornelius, the main character of the second book, is in love with this girl named Velvet, who happens to be the main character of the fifth book. Although you see a lot of Cornelius interacting/pining over Velvet in his book, you almost never even SEE Cornelius in Velvet's book, because the game doesn't bother repeating scenes. When trying to piece together the haphazardly-viewed events from five different stories, this becomes very confusing, and even annoying.

Secondly, further driving the point of annoyance home is that the game doesn't try to help clue you in as to what point in the timeline you are witnessing as you play. The keywords here are 'as you play': at any time, you can view a story chronicle, which shows at what point each act of each chapter takes place in relation to all the stories. While this is convenient, it doesn't really become useful until you're into about the third book or so, because you have too little of a story foundation for it to be effective. Even then, not being able to tell where you are in the timeline as you play makes things terribly confusing: For example, in one of the characters' stories, several entire chapters take place between the time of two acts of this character's story. Even though several hours of story have taken place between this character's two acts, all YOU see is the 'Now Loading' screen, which makes it feel like it happened almost immediately afterwards. As a result, finding your place in the story at any given time is very difficult.

The third point is something I briefly mentioned earlier: There is far too little foundation for the story. Because the game jumps unpredictably forward in time, from the perspective of only one person at a time, you are thrown several names, ideas, events, variables, etc. but you can't make much sense of them for a *very* long time. For the first two books, you know something along the lines of "Okay. So, there's a cauldron, and it blows shit up, and it blew up a kindgom once. Now, some kingdoms (maybe more than two?) are fighting over it/control of land. I'm not sure who exactly knows how to use the cauldron and who doesn't, and what anyone's motivations are - who is just trying to dominate the earth? Who is trying to protect it?"

These questions come to light almost halfway through the game, so for the first half, you're just sifting through a montage of scenes, all - to the best of your knowledge - of questionable, perhaps dismissable, importance. Besides, how much can you really care if you've been made to wait so long? Mystery works when you have information to intrigue you, but when EVERYTHING is shrouded in mystery, you can't really get excited about it - you don't have anything concrete to be excited about!

The fourth, and perhaps final blow suffered due to the game's tragically poor fairy tale presentation, is the individual focus of the stories. It is no secret that the focus of Odin Sphere's story is the plot, rather than the characters; however, three of the five stories have little of any importance to the plot; Instead, they are all very character-focused, allowing the plot to simply happen randomly AROUND them. The characters are never particularly interesting, either - the three more character-based stories can all be summed up in the same way: "I can't gain acceptance from my parents, so I'll seek love and acceptance in the arms of another." Poorly done, annoying, and completely banal and irrelevant - it almost makes it seem like none of the things happening around your characters has any relevance to them. Of the remaining two stories, the most interesting one - Mercedes's story - winds up being equally pointless, as the big plot point revealed in the fifth book renders virtually the ENTIRE PLOT inept. Sure, it helps you see WHY some characters, kingdoms, etc. were acting as they did, but it's right up there with Star Ocean 3's infamous "You're in an MMORPG!" plot twist.

Because of the poor focus of each individual story, as well as the plot point that leads to the final book, it's very hard for me to decide whether or not Odin Sphere would have done better to have forced you to move between each character in a fixed chronological order (i.e removing the fairy tale element completely), or by just simply rewriting a majority of the game's story in order to fit the game's presentation (i.e embracing the fairy tale element more hollistically). Either way, the story and presentation are so critically flawed in so many ways that it can only be described as dysfunctional. Nitpicking on all the individual plotholes (which there are some big ones - I would know, because I wrote a few down as I played the game) would be beating a dead horse; the game's story breaks down waaaaaay before you even get to the details.

Now, with all I've said about the story, what's to be said about the actual gameplay? Well...repetition is the name of the game, here. And, not in a very good way, either. I'll try and be brief:

Odin Sphere plays as a 2D side view action RPG. Every chapter of a story, you go through a dungeon - there are eight of them in all. The dungeons are comprised of battlefields that spawn sets of enemies - each battlefield having a varying level of difficulty. As you beat all the enemies on a battlefield, you're allowed to move on to the next one - at times, you might have several paths you can take. When you finally reach the end, you fight a boss, and then you're finished until the next chapter.

This is EXACTLY what you'll be doing from the beginning of the first story, until the end of the fifth story (the last book is just a series of boss fights! Whoopee). Since there are only eight locales in the entire world and seven chapters in each book, you'll be revisiting places A LOT, and fighting the same fights, and even the same bosses (which, by the way, are often instigated with little to no reason at all, adding pointlessness to boringness), over and over again. There are ocassionaly some bosses that are unique to a book, but it's very uncommon.

Making the game all the more repetitive is the playable characters - virtually all of them play the same. Sure, some of them have minor differences - Gwendolyn can hover, Cornelius can do a spin attack, Oswald can turn into a demon, etc.), however, the core strategy in playing the characters remains the same. All the characters fight by getting close and doing the same combo over an over again. For that matter, they all get virtually the exact same set of spells, too. Only Mercedes - the only interesting part of the whole game - plays differently, as she is an archer and can fly.

Beyond that, there's this neat system called the 'alchemy system', where you combine items called 'material' with plants to make items. This is a really cool idea, and there are tons of possible items you can make; however, you'll find as you progress through the game that you don't need to make very many different types of items, and that it's a terrible waste of time.

That all being said, this game has a steep learning curve. Before you get used to the game's physics, and get a hold how the alchemy system works, you'll find the game incredibly frustrating to play; however, the moment you find out how to work the game's system, the game immediately becomes nothing more than a mindless chore to play. The only thing that breaks the monotony are the occassional absurdly-unfair bosses, by means of either having attacks that are one-hit KO's, or by means of game slowdown (which there is unfortunately quite a lot of in Odin Sphere), which causes the game to drop inputs, force you to get hit by objects more times than you should, and sometimes even causes you to move slower than objects that you can usually outrun!

One last thing that I simply can not omit from my review about the gameplay is the way the final story works: It is a series of five bosses - you choose which character fights which boss, and the character can not partake in combat again. The most fucked up part of the game lies within this book - your characters go into battle EXACTLY as they ended the last battle - items, levels, stored magic...Everything. If you didn't have the foresight to be prepared for this by power-levelling, or by saving items for after the last boss, you can fix that by REPLAYING THE CHARACTER'S ENTIRE STORY. And, if you don't go back, you won't be saving yourself from any frustration - you'll just be rolling it up into a few concentranted, cuss word-inducing minutes.

Odin Sphere stands for damn near EVERYTHING I hate about RPGs rolled up into one game - shitty presentation, a contrived plot-based story with one-dimensional, lame characters, a boring and repetitive combat system with a few challenges that can be rendered inept with simple power-leveling. It then takes all of these flaws and exacerbates them to absurd proportions. It is a game that is all shock-and-awe, and no substance. It would be a lie to say that Odin Sphere contained no good ideas; however, every single one of them was a waste. The only thing about playing this game that gave me any satisfaction was the part at the end of the game when I wrote this review. I beat the game somewhere around the thirty-five hour mark, but I hear it takes people about forty to fifty hours. So, how about it? If you want to waste forty to fifty hours of your life while being very angry in the process, try Odin Sphere. Otherwise, the only people to whom I can reccomend this game are bored, masochistic gamers who works as editors for some sort of game publication site/magazine. It'll give you something to talk about. I knew what my verdict about this game would be after playing it for twenty minutes, and the only difference is that it has changed from future to present tense: I hate this game.