We’ve seen a fair share of HD remasters over the last few years, re-introducing many “modern classics” to today’s gaming audience, allowing them to be playable on the current console generation without backwards compatibility.
However, when it comes to these chances to revisit old games, many are seen as a mere retread on history, often times not offering anything new besides a prettier face. There are plenty of exceptions of course, like new playable characters and gameplay modes, but generally speaking, HD remasters leave a much smaller footprint on gaming culture than the games did the first time they were released.
Rarely do we ever see an HD remaster used as a means to help a flawed masterpiece reach its full potential. This is exactly what we have on our hands today with Odin Sphere Leifthrasir, the second chance for an amazing video game to reach its epitome after the limited technology of its day held it back.
Thanks to the vastly superior consoles of today, the masterminds behind the cult-classic at VanillaWare have gone back to address a good many of the problems caused by the PlayStation 2’s limited capabilities.
In doing so, it also turned out a much deeper and all around “better” game that is sure to wind up more beloved than ever before thanks to this amazing re-release.
Where many paths and errands meet
Odin Sphere tells a Nordic-inspired story of war, love, and betrayal through the perspective of five separate characters. Undertaking each chapter will open up a new vantage point on the unfolding events of a destructive war, each delivering a sympathetic look at all sides of the conflict.
Gwendolyn, the princess Valkyrie, follows in the footsteps of her elder sister to lead the Demon King Odin’s armies. However, she also wishes to be seen as more than just as a tool for her father’s militaristic ambitions.
Cornelius is the prince of a foreign land cursed to live out his days as a rabbit in the depths of the Netherworld. He manages to escape and stumbles across a conspiracy involving those who would take advantage of the war to steal power from his father.
Mercedes inherits the title of Queen of the Fairies after her mother falls in battle to the Demon King’s forces, and many doubt the young and inexperienced girl will be up to the task. She battles to save her homeland from being drained of its magical resources while fending off a rebellion caused by an ambitious cousin.
Oswald is a sellsword who curses himself for the sake of gaining more power. However, when he finds that princess Gwendolyn has fallen for him, he begins to rethink his nihilistic outlook on life and fight for better causes.
Velvet is one of two survivors from the ruined kingdom of Valentine, lost after a horrible incident involving a war with the Demon King and a mysterious object of ruin called The Cauldron. As a daughter of the Demon King and half-sister of Gwendolyn, she is a princess without a country and takes it upon herself to see that the destructive sins of her homeland are not repeated.
Each story builds to an inevitable Armageddon, the great battle that will bring about “the end of days.” Clues and elements connect each story, and recurring characters, the war between the Demon King and the Fairies, the Cauldron, and the importance of dragons become all the more clear with each passing event.
Of course, revisiting familiar areas, tackling boss fights for a second or third time, and starting a new character back from Level 1 can get a bit repetitive, each chapter logging in at about 5 hours, but Odin Sphere provides enough story quips and combat styles to make all five main journeys infinitely revisitable.
Slideshow no longer
Now, how about the improvements? I’m not overly versed in the original Odin Sphere, having only dabbled in it over the years, but without question, the driving force behind its failure to reach full potential was its crippling slowdown.
The PlayStation 2, bless its barely beating heart, never rose to technical achievements that its rivals were capable of, and fantastic games that even came out during the console’s twilight years, like Odin Sphere, were forced to make many sacrifices along the way, rarely matching the ambitions their creators started with.
Still, if the PlayStation 2 could make Odin Sphere’sgorgeous high-resolution character art and luscious backgrounds at least function, then no doubt the PlayStation 4 and PS Vita are certainly up to the task, right? Well, I can’t speak for the PlayStation 4 version just yet, but as for the Vita, roughly 95 percent of the game is playable without the fear of performance issues. Only one boss fight stands out in my mind as devolving into slideshow status, but with the amount of nonsense exploding on screen during that battle, expecting no slowdown at all is getting a little greedy.
Yes, those that fear a PlayStation 2 level of slowdown have nothing to worry about here. It is a slick game that runs like a dream, and this was obviously the original vision VanillaWare had in mind when it sat down to make Odin Sphere in the first place.
VanillaWare also retooled Odin Sphere’s combat system to make it both much deeper and must more accessible. Abilities can now be mapped to easy button combinations, allowing for pulverizing combos that can rack up into the 300s in hit counts. Even simple moves like gliding and tossing out potions is easier than before as well, bringing a sense of freedom and ease to what was originally a very stiff system. Deep, but very, very stiff.
Of course, that gorgeous screen resolution and mind-bending frame rate make the combat feel all so much better.
Odin Sphere feels like an entirely new game with the boost in visuals and added levels of depth to techniques and button-mapping, and it’s all for the better. In fact, if you want a solid comparison to put your mind in the right place, it would be best to turn to the likes of Devil May Cry and Bayonetta with this game clearly standing on top of the pile of the 2D alternatives to their hardcore 3D style of action.
This is a fully realized action game in 2D, and it succeeds in areas where countless have failed before.
Who needs new games? The PlayStation 4 is best served making old ones better
Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is an instant buy, and once I toss it onto my PlayStation 4 to finish the final two stories, I daresay it might be my favorite game for the console. It was already a fabulous little gem on the PlayStation 2, but with the massive overhauls delivered by Atlus and VanillaWare, it has finally reached its full potential an entire decade later, evolving into the masterpiece it was always destined to become.
More than just a technical marvel as well, Odin Sphere stands out as a genuine work of art with brilliant character design and world-building. Bless the beautiful sounds and tunes that back up the impressive visuals as well, delivering a flawless package.
And of course, you have to love the characters and the different viewpoints each of them bring to the events at hand. Each begs for you to take their side and see the conflict through their eyes, and their tragic falls and sympathetic moments will make it only all the harder to confront them as potential boss fights in another campaign.
Repetitive nature aside with having to restart so many times, it’s a flawless action game that rarely overstays its welcome and periodically changes its formula enough to justify a 30+ hour running time.
My only regret is that I didn’t play Odin Sphere enough back in the day to truly appreciate the overhaul that VanillaWare has given it. If a casual fan like myself, who only respected it from a distance in the past, can feel so enlightened, then I boil with jealousy thinking of what true fans are going to feel.
They are in for a real treat, and everyone should buy a copy of this game immediately. Even purists can enjoy it with a “Classic Mode’ built right in! I can’t recommend Odin Sphere Leifthrasir enough.
Disclaimer: We were provided a review copy of Odin Sphere Leifthrasir for the PS Vita and played 15 hours of the campaign before writing this review.