I’ve been lucky enough to play Odin Sphere a few weeks before the game is officially released in North America and so far it’s been fantastic. When you start Odin Sphere you’re in a library where a little girl reads books with each character’s story. The first book available is “Valkyrie” where you play as Gwendolyn, Odin’s daughter. After her battle hardened older sister, Griselda, is killed in Gwendolyn tries to fill her shoes and gain the respect from her father she desires.
Odin Sphere is a throwback to the 8 bit/16 bit era where everything takes place on a linear battlefield. Gwendolyn can attack her enemies (goblin, frogs and little bear cubs that wear messenger bags) with a four hit combo, a swift aerial strike and a sweeping move that breaks through a guarding enemy. To prevent players from button mashing their way through fights Odin Sphere adds in a POW meter. Every time you swipe your spear a bar of energy is drained from the POW meter and if it empties out Gwendolyn cannot attack or move until it refills. You’re penalized heavily for letting the POW meter run out, which encourages players to connect their attacks and occasionally retreat to let the POW meter refill. A faster way to fill up the POW meter is to pick up glowing Phozons that enemies leave when they are defeated. By holding R1 Gwendolyn will draw Phozons from fallen enemies, but while you are absorbing Phozons Gwendolyn is defenseless. Phozons serve another purpose, they act as energy for special skills. Gwendolyn’s first skill summons a moving cyclone that hits a group of enemies. It’s great for crowd control because it stuns enemies for a brief second, which leaves them vulnerable to a sweeping attack.
Like other 16-bit games Odin Sphere has larger than life boss fights. One of the first bosses Gwendolyn meets is a dragon that throws huge junk balls at her. You can fight the dragon head on, but you’ll probably have a hard time beating it that way since it has the tendency to eat Gwendolyn if she is too close. Instead it’s a better idea to take advantage of the circular battlefield. While Odin Sphere is in 2D the battlefields loop and in the top right portion of the screen you can see Gwendolyn’s place and what enemies are up ahead. If Gwendolyn runs around the whole field she will end up behind the dragon, a perfect place to strike without having to worry about getting hit until the dragon turns around. After beating the dragon or eliminating all of the enemies in a field you get a letter grade and are awarded with a treasure chest full of items. The kinds of items you earn depend on how fast you complete the area and how little damage Gwendolyn takes. This system can get sort of punishing if you’re barely making the grade. You won’t have a surplus of healing items and you’ll find yourself with a shallow pocketbook.
Items like hot cross buns and lamb chops recover Gwendolyn’s HP and they also boost her HP experience. So every time you eat a mulberry you’re slightly closer to getting a permanent HP boost. While you can earn healing items from chests and they are available to buy at stores, you can grow them by planting seeds. When you plant a mulberry seed into the ground it automatically draws nearby Phozons. After absorbing five Phozons two mulberries pop out for Gwendolyn to eat. Odin Sphere limits Gwendolyn to a meager sixteen items in her inventory and that includes accessories that are equipped. Gwendolyn can meld her items together to make alchemy material, numbered vials that are used to make potions when she mixes them with various mandragoras. Alchemy is pretty essential, it’s the only way to make sure you have a healthy supply of useful items like napalm to throw on boss monsters and antidotes to cure Gwendolyn from poison (it seems like almost every monster in the second stage inflicts poison….).
Odin Sphere is proving itself to be an engaging title on top of being one of the best looking games on the Playstation 2. I can’t wait to unlock more of the characters and see how the stories come together, but that will have to wait until later. Crow asked about the game’s load times and I don’t know if I can give a fair answer since my PS2 is pretty old. However, each time you go it a new area there is a loading screen where Gwendolyn runs past a story book and then there is a little more waiting before enemies appear on screen. We’re going to have more hands on Odin Sphere coverage soon so keep your eyes out for it.