In the world of Erion, there are five young warriors whose fates are tied to the very fabric of their respective lands’ existence. While one may be the protagonist in one place, it’s equally likely they’ll be the antagonist in another. Their fives stories weave the tale of Odin’s Sphere, and for the most part it’s one hell of a thing to behold.
The game starts with a girl and her cat, alone in the attic with her grandfather’s books. She finds one on the floor and picks it up, taking a read. The story is that of Gwendolyn – the first of the five young warriors – and it’s with her that this all begins. Moving from Gwendolyn, to Cornelius, to Mercedes, Oswald, and finally Velvet we see five sides of this tale – the culmination being where they all intersect at once.
In each of the stories you’re driven by the character’s desires, orders, or loyalty to attempt to right a wrong which has befouled them. Whether it’s breaking a curse, saving a loved one, or getting revenge; everyone’s got their motives. You’ll learn their stories, experience their homelands, and venture out – collecting life energy known as phozons to power up, and gaining experience through food or battle. You’ll have to fight tooth and nail to be victorious, but your strength and abilities will grow along the way (as will your knowledge and your inventory). Once you accomplish your main goal, the story moves on to the next character’s point of view and so on – only the end (sixth) book allowing you to choose between them.
As for the gameplay itself, it’s a 2D action title on a platforming-style plane. Basically you use your attack button (square), jump button (x), dodge button (right trigger), and special move button (circle) in combination with directions on the d-pad or analog stick in order to execute moves. You’re pitted against either swarms of enemies or single (powerful) enemies as you progress, and you’ll have to mind a gauge for your hit-points (HP), POW (power), and phozon gems – so it’s not something you can button mash your way through either.
Aside from the aforementioned methods of combat and maneuvering you also have the ability to invoke non-assigned special attacks (ones normally executed with circle) via the left trigger listing, and the ability to use items from your inventory (brought up with triangle) to attack, defend, buff, or otherwise defend yourself.
But that’s not all.
The game also includes a hearty food system with the ability to plant and grow food using seeds and phozons, an expansive alchemy system which allows you to mix items together (with or without a recipe), and even vendors and merchants to buy things from and/or cook for you. It’s got plenty of systems and menus for you to learn and keep track of, and doing so will ensure that you get by a lot easier.
Looking from the actual usable elements to the other elements that denote strength and progression, you have the skills menu (including phozon prism abilities and extra buffs), the equipment menu, and the level system.
The skills menu offers two kinds of upgrades; the kind that require you to find or win phozon prisms to unlock – only to be enhanced further with phozons after, or the kind that are purchased via skill points and are single purchase unlocks in a skill tree. The former are the most numerous and easiest to get a lot of without trying, while the latter are harder to unlock as skill points are earned through leveling.
The equipment menu will allow you to augment your abilities with up to three items that you’ve purchased, earned, or found. These items must be equipment (ie; a magic bracelet) and aren’t pulled from the other factions of your item storage. Common enhancements include an increase (either in number or regeneration speed) in POW, HP, or EXP earned – though there are many different enhancements out there it seems.
The level system relies on charging the user a constantly growing bit of experience to up your abilities, with experience earned from items consumed (ie; food), dishes eaten (from vendors), enemies defeated, and areas completed. Many areas will even have a level suggestion for entering them, meaning you should be at least the displayed level before entering that area.
So now that I’ve explained how the different parts work, I’m sure you’re wondering how it comes together – and the answer to that is quite well for the most part. While each piece on its own can be considered very solid, the way certain things are integrated (like how the ranking for each area interrupts play by taking over and halving the screen) could definitely be handled better. There’s too much “updating you” on obvious things and not enough “letting you play/watch” in my opinion.
Looking to the graphical prowess of Leifthrasir, it’s impossible to call this game anything but beautiful – the art simply stunning to behold on both the Vita and the TV. It also runs very well for the most part, but there is a reproducible situation in which it doesn’t; when there’s simply too much going on. Whether it’s present on screen directly doesn’t seem to matter; as long as there is a high amount of action going on in the area you’re loaded into, it’ll contribute to lowering the frame rate – with shiny bits like specials, free-floating phozons, and fire contributing the most to the slow down.
That said, the game never becomes unplayable, and simply doesn’t seem as fluid when things get chaotic. I’m not sure what frame rates it’s hitting at the bottom and top ends of things as I’m not overly sensitive to that sort of thing, but it does the job whatever rate it’s hitting and never actually drops into an unplayable state. A little rough around the edges – yes, but not fundamentally broken in any way.
The sound however gets nothing but praise from me – aside from the possibly awkward noises some of the enemies make when being knocked about. I played the first bits in both English and Japanese (with subtitles) and they both sounded just fine, though I definitely prefer the authenticity of the Japanese track. The inflection is just better in my opinion, but the English is more than serviceable as well. Choices are nice. 🙂
Music and sound effects in the game (aside from the aforementioned awkward noises) are also top notch, delivering an immersive experience as you go about bashing, zipping, chopping, shooting, and chatting through each of the stories. I didn’t encounter any audio issues at all in my dozens of hours with the title, which is always a welcome thing to behold.
Looking to my final verdict, I can’t help but praise Odin Sphere Leifthrasir for its design and mechanics. Even though it’s definitely not perfect, it’s in the realm just beyond that and is more than a welcome addition to my library. The story and its series of interwoven sub-stories are beautifully animated, intricately detailed, and interesting to experience – especially when they cross and mingle between characters. The controls are spot on, the progression of things is well thought out, and the way it looks while it’s being played is (for the most part) majestically beautiful.
Despite its slightly rough edges and odd design choices here and there, I can’t help but recommend you buy it – just don’t try and smash through it or you might find yourself feeling like it’s too repetitive or prone to interrupting play. That’s not a nice feeling, and in this case it’s easily avoided by not trying to marathon it. 😉