Shards of golden light pierce the glimmering, trembling foliage. Fireflies glint in the shade of autumnal, billowing forest depths. A majestic aurora borealis gleams gracefully in the distant starlit sky, whilst a melancholic symphony sighs between each enchanting step you take though this fascinating, otherworldly kingdom. These are but a taster of the staggeringly beautiful hand-painted water-colour landscapes that accompany you on this wonderful, artistic and downright stunning side-scrolling action-RPG adventure. Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir is a brilliantly remastered version of the 2007 PS2 classic Odin Sphere, a game I sadly missed out on back in the day. Thankfully, I’ve been given a second chance to check it out and I am beyond impressed. Vanillaware’s signature hand-drawn, painterly 2D art-work steals the show in Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir and is so eye-meltingly gorgeous it would make Walt Disney blush with envy. However, what’s truly incredible about Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir is that its intense beauty is only the first of an extensive laundry-list of great things to celebrate and cherish: it really is a genre masterpiece.
Serving as the game’s mighty backbone is a terrific high-fantasy narrative which swaps the narrator’s perspectives in really smart ways. This helps to deliver emotional cadence to the ebbing and flowing of the story and fleshes out the characters in meaningful, thoughtful ways. You begin the game as Gwendolyn, a powerful Valkyrie princess whose primary desire is a relatable one: a heartfelt longing for her father’s love and respect. Her father King Odin, the ruler of the Northern region of Ragnanival, is a cold, calculated, gracious man who seeks the Cauldron, a powerful artefact that could help turn the tide of war that has gripped Erion. As the story unfolds, players get the opportunity to witness the struggles of the war from different faction’s perspectives. This really helps enrich the story and makes the “evil” enemies feel way more grounded and relatable than your average RPG jaunt.
The lore within Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir cribs many ideas from Norse mythology and cleverly makes them its own. The stories within it are deep, complex and inter-connect like a meticulously designed web. Dragons, witches, demigods and the afterlife are staples within this delightful web of deceit and tragedy. However, what also keeps the story engaging is how relatable and how human the stories are. It’s hard not to feel Gwendolyn’s pain as she punishes herself for no reason in her desperate attempt at winning back the love and respect of her father. It’s hard not to feel the pain of Mercedes, a fairy princess who loses a loved one early on and is forced to take more responsibility over her carefree existence. It’s hard not to feel the pain of Oswald, a depressed young warrior who hungers for love and goes to great lengths to prove it, but it is a love that is sadly unrequited. Relatable, no? I could go on, and on, and on, but I fear that that would just spoil the surprises hidden within Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir’s incredible and dense story. It’s also hard to not appreciate its forward-thinking, progressive narrative themes of feminism, which is delivered with dexterous nuance.
Combat within Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir is, in a word, sublime. The 2D real-time, combat is intuitive and straddles the line between easy-to-pick-up and tough-to-master, with aplomb. Combat is dynamic, and feels wonderfully satisfying with neat audio and visual feedback keeping your eyes and ears glued to the unbelievably slick action. Combos and character move-sets are vast, though luckily they are rewardingly instinctual. Timing your blocks effectively and finding your own personal rhythm to the sleek and polished combat is an absolute joy.
Each of the five playable characters wield a unique weapon made of crystals from the Netherworld called a Psypher. These special Psypher weapons are used to absorb Phozons, which increases power and physical damage output. Additionally, the power of Phozons are used as a currency to upgrade your player character. Skill trees are deep and rewarding and really add welcome layers of depth to an already astonishingly satisfying RPG. Psypher spells can be upgraded and more passive special abilities can be unlocked as you progress through its 50+ hour campaign. There is so much to see in this game – it really is the game that keeps on giving!
Next up is an Alchemy system that really bucks the usual direction RPGs take with Alchemy. Usually, Alchemy is a secondary, semi-needless system that doesn’t add a whole lot to the experience. Here, however, Alchemy quite literally adds to the experience… with Experience. Experience Points are gained by eating cooked food and Mandragora’s, which are basically small anthropomorphic vegetables. Thus, leveling up is achieved in a very different way to most other RPGs. It’s clever, it’s refreshing, it’s genius. Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir’s Alchemy systems are simple and elegant and are surprisingly paramount to the whole experience. I can only think of the Atelier RPGs as games that position Alchemy as a central system within its gameplay mechanics, and like the Atelier games Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir’s Alchemy systems are natural and intuitive.
The enemy roster is marvellously inventive. Even the basic grunts, such as the ice trolls, fiery salamanders or toxic frogs are crafted with such a unique visual flair, its hard not to stare jaw-droppingly at the screen at each majestic creation Vanillaware has meticulously designed. Bosses are also laudable too, with gigantic dragons filling the screen and spewing forth fire, boulders and lightning down on your unassuming player character.
Like I’ve touched on before, the presentation within Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir is magnificent. Each lovingly crafted frame would feel right at home in a grandiose, stately art exhibition. There were so many times that I just stopped and simply stared in awe at the incredible art-work that Vanillaware has produced with such earnest and ardent passion. What helps to really turn the game’s awesome visuals into a true jaw-dropping spectacle is the game’s fantastic performance. Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir runs at a silky smooth 60 FPS and rarely drops below that benchmark. It’s not only a visual feast, but a technical marvel as well. Complementing the stunning visuals is a superb symphonic score that undulates and builds to a crescendo at just the right moments. Subtle one moment, bold the next, and consistently captivating; the orchestral music within Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir is also worthy of praise.
Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir is a very special RPG. It’s not only a jaw-droppingly gorgeous technical marvel, or a terrific and surprisingly grounded, relatable high-fantasy narrative, but it’s also an action-RPG with sublime, satisfying combat. It ticks all the boxes an RPG fan could want, and then some. It’s a genre masterpiece.
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