|Genre||Beautiful, repetitive action RPG|
|MtAMinutes to Action||8|
|Buy from Amazon|
If there’s ever a time to start completing your PlayStation 2 collection, now is that time. A bunch of solid PS2 titles are still being sold in the numerous brick and mortar businesses that like to hock videogames. Each one will most likely cost less than $20.00, and given the number of games filling bargain bins to the brim, there’s good reasoning to dig around.
For example, Odin Sphere. A stylized, 2D action RPG based on Norse mythology from Atlus, it won’t win any "games as art" debates, but it could probably put up a decent fight for "games with great art." How will it play though? Let’s give it an hour.
(minutes are in bold)
00 - The start screen materializes into view, and a woman is singing, "oooooh ahhhh ahhhhhhh." A forest scene with a low shot of the moon pans by horizontally while artsy piano music plays in the background. I press start and select a new game. It asks for difficulty preference: easy, normal, or hard. I pick normal since that's how I'm feeling as of late.
01 - Another choice: language for voiced dialogue. Japanese is very tempting, but I'd kinda like to know what is going on so I pick English. The screen switches to a dusty room filled with books. There's also a couch, cat, and blonde-haired girl hanging out. She yawns if you don't move her right away.
02 - I pick up the book called Valkyrie, which brings up stats for someone named Gwendolyn. Not sure if it's the little blonde-haired girl. She looks more like a... Sally. Y’know, from Peanuts. She reads the book, starting a cutscene.
03 - Valkyrie, Act 1 begins...by loading. Ah, good ol' Playstation 2. I did not miss your loading all the time. Right, moving on. A slew of armored warriors fly down to the ground to charge against some battle-ready dwarves/gnomes. We get snippets of two armies fighting. The animation is very impressive.
04 - Gwendolyn, a royal soldier with blue flowers in her hair, finds her sister terribly wounded on the battlefield. They talk in comic-like speech bubbles, but there's accompanying voice acting. Excellent quality despite some heavily cliché lines, especially when you consider we’re already on an exuberant death scene. Her sister gives her a spear (psst: it's magical!). They play catch-up and then it's Sad City when Griselda buys the farm.
06 - New scene. A shadowy knight is slaughtering everyone on King Odin's side. His name is revealed to be...Shadow Knight. Sigh. Really, Atlus? Gwendolyn comes to the rescue, but he kicks her valkyrie butt swiftly. Also, for no real reason, he then lets her go.
08 - Act 2 time. It's also called Gwendolyn tutorial. Um, okay. At least I'm now in control of her! I save my game and start moving around the field. It's set up like a 2D side-scroller, but she moves with such speed and fluidity that I’m initially taken aback. I run through a bunch of simple commands: jump, attack, jump and attack, and so on. All basic stuff that feels like it doesn't really need explaining.
09 - Enemy troops have arrived! I quickly take them out with a few swipes of my spear while also learning about the POW bar and phozons.
11 - More fighting and learning. This time I get to play with magic and cast a cyclone spell. It whooshes forward to destroy all in its path. I accidentally walk into it and get damaged. Oopsie.
12 - Picking up stuff now: notes for the archives, a mulberry, and a mulberry seed. To pick up an item, you just have Gwendolyn stand over it and press down on the D-pad. Now she’s learning about the process that is growing a mulberry seed into a full plant. Seems complex.
13 - More enemy troops have arrived! Instead of sucking up the phozons to upgrade my weapon and keep it in tip-top magical status, I let them get absorbed into the mulberry seed. It sprouts two mulberries for me. That's kinda neat, and I love the sound effects the plant makes when they are ready to be plucked.
14 - Okay, more enemies have shown up! It's like a swarm party and Gwendolyn is not invited. This time, the stage is timed. A message pops up overhead: destroy all enemies to clear the level. Yes, ominous master. Whatever you say. Ommm…
15 - Stage cleared! Racked up some points, but the side-bar screen goes by pretty fast that I couldn’t study the specifics. However, I got an "A." Didn't realize Odin Sphere had reverted back to grade school. A treasure chest falls out of the sky. I beat it up until some money, more archive scrolls, and mulberries pop out of it. Hope Gwendolyn isn't allergic to, y'know, berries. Exit out.
16 - Act 3. Gwendolyn is back home at her father's castle. By the way, King Odin...he's a HUGE man. He stomps when just walking over to her. Love how he looks though; so detailed, and his long, white beard moves softly when he talks. It’s oddly hypnotizing. She updates him on the battle and how their soldiers were forced to enter a battle of attrition (whatever that means). Oh, and Griselda is dead. Her father, being heartless and a fan of masochism, wants to launch another attack RIGHT AWAY.
17 - A "save your game?" option comes up. With King Odin off the wagon? Yes please!
18 - Chapter 1, Act 1. Still in King Odin's castle, which I guess is now functioning as a hub world. Gwendolyn can walk left or right and talk to people. She meets another HUGE guy named Lord Brigan. He's crazy detailed and is like your worst nightmare of a Viking warrior on steroids. Everyone is talking about interesting stuff, but I kind of want to just stab things now. The last guy is a traveling vendor, but I don't want to spend any money yet.
21 - World map screen. In the corner: Map of Erion. Good to know. There's only one place available to go, and it is called Raging Battlegrounds. I'm guessing it's not a trendy goth club.
22 - Chapter 1, Act 2. There's a small scene with Gwendolyn...and the bird from Twitter. It speaks to her in a very creepy kid voice, but that's because it is her conscious, and it is saying her innermost thoughts out loud. Very odd moment to say the least.
23 - Chapter 1, Act 3. Back in the action. My directions are: repel the Vanir and head for the Cauldron. Whatever that means. Hope I get to slash and stab. I do. Killed three soldiers...and the level’s over. That's it? I wasted a mulberry seed then because there was not enough phozons to grow full mulberries. Boo. Got an "A" though.
25 - Next level. Which looks just like the previous one. The backgrounds, while beautiful and atmospheric, don’t change from screen to screen. Flying enemies though! They enter with a swoop and Danger! Danger! music. I take them out quickly, but get hit with some arrows. Scored a "B" and got a vial of napalm, a mulberry, and a map from the end-of-level treasure chest.
27 - Butterfly spotted! That's what our ominous master tells me, at least. It is full of phozons, and I suck it dry to fill my spear’s power up. Now I have to fight a bunch of ground enemies. It is suggested I take 'em out with a cyclone. I do, once, but then the spell has to recharge so I use some dive-and-slash tactics for the remaining enemies. Got an "A" for the level. Do these grades really matter? Does it affect the treasure I get? Will the ominous master ever answer my questions?
28 - Heading to the next level, which is labeled a shop. No enemies to fight. The shopkeeper totally belongs in Discworld's Ankh-Morpork. I buy two mulberry seeds and a hot cross bun for 15G.. I like how there's different coins and monetary amounts to pay for stuff with, but doubt it's really necessary. I save my game and prep for the next level, which is shown as a giant blue "B." That probably stands for...bass. Yup, smells fishy.
29 - Immediately, the ominous master tells me how to win: use napalm to defeat enemy. Thanks, didn't want to figure anything out on my own. Anyways, the mini-boss is a big, armored horse knight. Knight horse. Knorse? Whatever. Look, I don't know what it is, but the @$#%ing thing stabbed me in the chest before I knew it and took off 45 HP.
33 - This is a back-and-forth kind of fight. Use naplam, use cylone, stab, defeat reinforcements, and start all over. Used up a ton of health food, and got a "D" score in the end. Don’t tell my parents. Now Gwendolyn is a level 4 though thanks to eating way too many mulberries. Food gives you EXP rather than killing enemies. It’s a concept I can’t get.
34 - Onwards to the next level! I quickly plant a mulberry seed at the beginning so it can suck up all the phozons. Strategic planning is key.
35 - Fight, fight, fight. Slash, slash, slash. Got an "A" for that level, as well as a vial of painkiller from the treasure chest.
36 - Via the map, I see I have the option to either head down to a purple B level or to the left to a shop and the promise of more non-boss levels. I go down as I am getting a bit bored with just fighting the same creatures over and over.
37 - Chapter 1, Act 4. We’re at Vanir HQ; a soldier is reporting to a fairy princess witch. She talks about Odin for a bit and then orders her troops to attack from both sides. Luckily, Gwendolyn shows up to challenge her. Why? Why not.
38 - A sorcerer appears, snickers, and summons…a dragon!
39 - Chapter 1, Act 5. This dragon is very dragon-like. Claws, wings, nasty snout, spiky tail, and large and in charge. Not Metroid-huge, where it might span two screens, but big nonetheless. I down a vial of painkiller, which is supposed to reduce damage to me. Enemy reinforcements arrive to shoot arrows at me. With so much happening on screen, it was bound to happen: MEGA SLOWDOWN.
43 - Ding dong, the dragon is dead! Not gonna lie here…it wasn’t easy. Now a scene. Odin orders Lord Brigan’s troops to kill any survivors and sound the horn to celebrate. We learn about the crystallization cauldron and are treated to some awesome artwork. The cauldron is a great mix of medieval and sci-fi, looking anciently relic and alien at the same time.
45 - Without warning, the cauldron's light/power fades. Oh no! Back to a scene with Gwendolyn looking for her father. A mysterious woman in red shows up. She’s rocking a very seductive outfit. I’m saddened that I noticed this immediately.
46 - Would you like to save your game? Sure.
47 - Chapter 2, Act 1. Gwendolyn is back at the castle. I walk around and spend this time catching up on the last gossip and news. I buy the same items as last time and exit out to the world map.
50 - And we’re off to the Deep Forests of Elrit, which brings us to Chapter 2, Act 2. Is this a book, a play, or a videogame? Odin and Lord Brigan are arguing. Eventually, the muscular man-monster decides he's going after the witch in red. Gwendolyn is going to try to find her first.
52 - Chapter 2, Act 3. Ahh, a lush forest scene. Very different from the previous levels which were all on a battlefield. No action yet…but we get an alchemy tutorial. There's more to learn at this point? Ugh. I make an antidote pretty easily. My mission is: capture Velvet, the forest witch. The enemies in this level are some poison-spewing frogs. Thank goodness I just made an antidote.
54 - Oh joy. Part 2 for the alchemy tutorial. Please just let me play the game. Now I’m learning about mandragoras, which are mobile plants used in cooking, as well as catalysts in magic spells. Evidently I have too much stuff in my bags and have to drop items to make room for the tutorial crap. Honestly, that was pretty confusing. Use material and material to make material 1, and then use material and material 1 to material 2, which you then use with another material to make…a vial of napalm. Seems unnecessarily complex.
57 - Bears with knapsacks! BEARS WITH KNAPSACKS. So adorable, but I gotta slash ‘em up. They were actually pretty tough foes, even taking naps to regenerate their health. Can barely (pun intended) take any of the loot at the end of the level though. My bags are full. Limited inventories can suck a lemon.
59 - Seeing what’s next via the map, I save my game and (mentally) prepare for a mini-boss battle.
60 - It's a giant, scary manticore. Three mouths are better than one, I suppose. It looks pretty ferocious, but alas, the first hour of Odin Sphere is over.
Minutes to Action: 08
What was awesome: I can’t stress this enough. The graphics are amazing. Odin Sphere is all about the art style, and every scene/character counts. From the bunny servants to the soaring soldiers to the larger-than-life bosses, the attention to detail and color is phenomenal. It’s even fun watching characters breathe, their chests huffing and puffing, and when one considers the absurdity of that statement they’ll realize just how stunning the game looks.
What I liked: When there’s only a few enemies on screen, the fights are fluid and fun. Gwendolyn soars into the air and drifts across the screen until she’s ready to do a dive attack. It all looks and feels great, and you really feel every whack of her spear. I also enjoyed the use of in-game cutscenes, which meant never taking me out of the gaming experience.
What I didn't like: The alchemy is a nice try, but it ultimately felt convoluted and polar to the hack-n-slash gameplay. Unfortunately, it’s pretty vital to staying alive, and that can be problematic for those that just don’t care or get it. And speaking of the gameplay…it gets old. And it gets old fast. Most of the first hour is training/tutorials, but it quickly becomes apparent that it’s the same run, jump, stab, loot every time. Recurrent would be the best adjective to use here. If only there was more to do between fighting and cutscenes.
Would I keep playing? No. Truthfully, the only reason I’d play more Odin Sphere is to see more Odin Sphere. That sentence might not make much sense on your first read, but it’s true. The story and art are its best qualities worth experiencing. I’m just not interested in planting five hundred and thirty-six more mulberry seeds to get through it alive.