|System: PS2||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Vanilla Ware||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Atlus USA||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: May 22, 2007||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Tom Becker
May 21, 2007 - Norse myth is some of the most varied and dramatic of the mythological canon. Eyes are plucked out in exchange for eternal wisdom, giants mate with humans, and the fate of the universe can hinge on a poorly-aimed sprig of holly or the attractiveness of your feet. Yes, it's a wild and wooly tradition and it gets a new spin with the latest RPG for the PS2, Odin sphere.
Like a lot of Japanese games, Odin Sphere starts with the basic mythos of a foreign culture and runs with it. The rigid distinctions between one character and the next, domains of gods, giants, and men, alliances, and events are gone. Some of the imagery and names are intact, but Odin Sphere reinvents Norse mythology from the ground up.
The game takes place some time after the dominion of King Valentine, ruler of the land that bears his name. The key to King Valentine's power was a magic cauldron, a classic prop in Norse mythology, which allowed him to overtake neighboring kingdoms and make them submit to his will. A long period of peace and prosperity followed, but it ended abruptly. The kingdom has become a wasteland, and the powerful cauldron is abandoned and ripe for the taking.
The world of Odin Sphere is divided into three factions: the fairy kingdom of Ringford, the warrior-god kingdom of Ragnanival, and the human kingdom of Titania. The humans are neutral but tensions are rising as Demon Lord Odin, king of Ragnanival escalates his people's war against the fairies. The ruler of Titania is an addled old man named King Edmund, who looks suspiciously like the Mayor of Townsville from The Powerpuff Girls. In a twist on the Grima Wormtongue-King Theodin dynamic from The Lord of the Rings, King Edmund is manipulated by the evil court sorcerer, Urzur. As the warring kingdoms grow closer to the conflict which will bring about Armageddon, Urzur is happy for the king to sit by and watch. Urzur believes in a prophecy which states the world will end in a series of five disasters and all who survive, himself included, will rule over the new age. This is where the player enters the world of Odin Sphere.
The player can control five characters in the game. Gwendolyn is a valkyrie princess. A warrior, sorceress, and daughter of Demon Lord Odin, she often is obscured by the shadow cast by her powerful sister, Griselda. More of a wallflower than her sister, Gwendolyn will have to distinguish herself if she is to save the world. Cornelius, the prince of Titania, wakes one morning to find himself in a strange land and transformed into, of all things, a bunny. This is no run-of-the-mill lab animal, however. This is more of the stands-on-two-legs, plate mail gauntlet-wearing, sword-wielding sort of bunny. His love for the princess Velvet drives his quest to return home, but he fears she may not be into his new "look". Cornelius is the impetuous youth of Odin Sphere, quick in action, whether for good or ill.
Mercedes is a fairy princess of Ringford and the successor to the queen. Always eager to prove herself to her mother and despite her age, Mercedes takes the throne when her mother suddenly dies. Untested but resolved to be a good leader, Mercedes tries to rule as her mother would. Oswald is a human shadow knight who wields a blade of darkness. Abandoned as a child, Oswald was taken in by the nephew of the fairy queen Elfaria and raised to be a warrior. He grew into a cold-blooded, steely-eyed warrior whose only goal is to serve his adopted father, whatever the cost. Oswald is easily the toughest and most lethal of the characters in Odin Sphere. The final character is named Velvet and, no, she's not a stripper. She is one of the surviving princesses of the fallen kingdom of Valentine, and the object of Cornelius' affection. After the magical explosion that destroyed her kingdom, she fled to the forest of Elrit and took on the persona of the Forest Witch. The plot gets a bit confusing as Velvet is another of Odin's daughters, but she blames her father for her mother's death. Keenly aware of the coming Armageddon, Velvet is trying desperately to find a way to avert the disaster. It's the sort of complicated plot and back story one can expect from Japanese RPGs.
Visually, the game harkens back to all sorts of other RPGs, especially the Final Fantasy series. Even though it was developed for the now-outdated PS2, the graphics have been very favorably reviewed, and gamers have been buzzing about the heightened detail and complexity of character animation. There are plenty of screenshots and videos available online, and they look good, even compared with next-gen game graphics. It looks a lot more like animation than it does a typical video game which works well for the fantastical plot and gameplay. The game is also fully voiced in Japanese and English and the player can choose between the two and subtitles for each. Not only does it look good, developers seem to have made dialogue a priority as well.
Technically it's a side-scrolling game, but has more in common with turn-based RPGs. Fans of the genre will have no problem getting into the interface, between the use of magic items, weapons, spells, and the mixing of various ingredients to create new items. The developers aren't inventing the wheel here, they're just making it look like a million bucks.
Much of the industry buzz and reviewing of Odin Sphere offers great praise for the visual component of the game. Between the complex plot and characters, the straightforward, familiar gameplay, and dazzling graphics, Odin Sphere looks like a very strong RPG, sure to please fans of the genre.
CCC Freelance Writer