North American box art.
|Designer(s)||George Kamitani (Art director)/Game director|
|Release date(s)||PlayStation 2
|Genre(s)||Action role-playing game|
Odin Sphere (オーディンスフィア Ōdin Sufia?) is a 2D fantasy action RPG video game. Developed by Vanillaware and localized and published by Atlus for the PlayStation 2 in 2007, it tells the interlocking stories of five different protagonists. Odin Sphere is considered a spiritual successor to an Atlus game titled Princess Crown and takes some concepts from Norse mythology. Square Enix released the game in Europe on March 14, 2008.
Odin Sphere has five stories. The protagonist of each story is connected to the royalty of each of five warring nations in the world of Erion. Each of these protagonists wields a 'Psypher', a weapon with a large crystal capable of absorbing 'Phozons', energy sparks released when something (such as an enemy) is slain. These five stories overlap and interconnect, and the protagonist of one story may be the antagonist of another.
Odin Sphere is divided into several chapters, during which the story of one of the five playable characters progressively unfolds. Within the acts of each chapter, the player can obtain information relating to the upcoming "mission", as well as buy and sell goods prior to setting off for the next destination. There is an overarching chronological story that is split among the five characters, with their individual stories intersecting at places (for example, early on within Gwendolyn's progression, Gwendolyn will fight Velvet, an event duplicated in Velvet's story progression). As a result, the player will slowly experience the entire sequence of events from each characters' limited point of view. Only one character story is available at the start, but as the player completes those stories, the "books" for other characters unlock one at a time.
Within each destination is a series of smaller boards or levels connected in a bidirectional graph; these levels include regular combat levels, shop levels, and minor and major boss levels. Regular combat levels are marked with a 1 to 5 star rating indicating their difficulty, allowing the player to opt to avoid a path if it's too difficult at their current ability level. In contrast, shop levels contain no enemies, but instead feature a travelling salesman ready to buy and sell goods. The player is usually required to defeat at least one minor boss to reach the major boss, which when defeated, causes the story to advance.
In each regular combat or minor boss level, if the player has not yet completed that level, they will need to defeat all the foes in order to leave that level. The player will receive a fixed level reward for this, as well as additional rewards for outstanding performance. Once this is completed, exits to other nodes on the area map will be open for travel. If a player revisits a completed level, they can directly travel to an exit, or wait to fight foes that appear.
Levels are represented in 2D, but with the left and right edges joined so as to form a continuous circle; the player can continue to run in one direction and will return to the starting point after some seconds of travel. A map shows the position of the player, enemies, and objects on the level, while a smaller map shows the location of the exits from the level. Combat is similar to many 2D fighting games, though includes a "power bar" representing how many consecutive actions the player has performed without pausing. Should the power bar empty, the player must wait a few moments for the power bar to refill while the character stands vulnerable in an exhausted state; however, a player can also refill the power bar by voluntarily stopping all action for a short period of time.
There are three additional aspects to Odin Sphere's gameplay:
- Psypher Weapons and Phozons
- Each character has a weapon called a Psypher made of crystals from the Netherworld, which can be used to absorb Phozons from defeated foes and other sources. As the weapons absorb more Phozons they will increase in power, doing more damage and providing new magic for the player to use. Magic requires consumption of a certain number of Phozons, though does not detract from the Psypher level.
- The player can combine two items to generate a new item, following specific alchemy recipes learned during gameplay. Most of these items require a "Material" bottle which the alchemy result is stored into. Material bottles can be improved in level by alchemizing two of them together to get a material bottle valued at the multiplicative product of the two original bottles (for example, Material 2 combined with Material 3 will give a Material 6 bottle). Certain alchemy recipes require a Material bottle of a certain level. Material bottles release Phozons when made with an alchemy recipe, with higher material levels yielding higher amounts. Different potions can only be made after finding the recipes for that potion, with no results even if the player accidentally performs the correct alchemy.
- Plants, food and cooking
- The player has the ability to plant various types of seeds at any location within a level. In order to grow, most plants require a fixed number of Phozons, automatically absorbing the Phozons around the area. Once fully developed, they provide fruit and other items that the player can pick up and use, after which the plant withers and disappears. When eaten, the player's HP Experience will increase. Food items and other ingredients can also be combined when visiting the "Pooka Village" cafe and restaurant to make delicacies which grants larger amounts of experience and additional hit point bonuses. The majority of any characters hit points often comes from these foods. Similar to Alchemy, the player must first find recipes scattered throughout the game before certain dishes can be prepared.
Odin Sphere is framed as a series of books being read by a little girl named Alice, as she sits in a library located in her attic. Each book is the story of one of the five protagonists.
Ragnanival, the realm of the Demon Lord Odin, has invaded the forested realm of Ringford, home of Elfaria and her fairy subjects. Odin seeks the Crystallization Cauldron, which can create Psypher crystals. The battleground for this war is a blasted wasteland between the two countries. This blasted wasteland was once the prosperous nation of Valentine. All that remains of the devastated land of Valentine now are the Pookas, cursed humans in the shape of anthropomorphic rabbits, their currency, and the magically-endowed grandchildren of the late King Valentine.
Cautiously neutral in this conflict between Ragnanival and Ringford are the city-state of Titania, under the rule of a doddering old king, and the volcanic nation of Volkenon, ruled by Inferno King Onyx. Behind the scenes plot the Three Wise Men, a circle of deceitful wizards, and Queen Odette of Endelphia, who patrols her netherworld home for interlopers.
The protagonist of the first story, Valkyrie, is the valkyrie Gwendolyn (voiced by Karen Strassman in English and Ayako Kawasumi in Japanese), the younger daughter of the Demon Lord Odin. When her elder sister Griselda is killed in battle, she inherits her sister's crystal-headed Psypher spear. Gwendolyn ends up caught up in her father's plot to gain control of the Crystallization Cauldron, and is sent away, to trick the fairies and their agent, the Shadow Knight Oswald. She ends up trapped between her commitment to bring the ring that controls the cauldron to her father and her feelings for Oswald, symbolized by that same ring. After giving the ring to Odin, Oswald, broken-hearted by the betrayal and Gwendolyn's apparent hatred of him, allows himself to be dragged alive to the Netherworld by the Halja, grim reapers in service to Queen Odette. Odette sought to reclaim him for an unspecified debt. The story concludes with Gwendolyn saving Oswald, while defying her father's demand for the Cauldron ring. With Queen Odette dead, the stage is set for the onset of Armageddon.
The following story, The Pooka Prince, is that of Prince Cornelius of Titania (voiced by Yuri Lowenthal in English and Daisuke Namikawa in Japanese). Cornelius is in love with the homeless princess Velvet, a fact of which his father disapproves. En route to a secret rendezvous with Velvet, Cornelius is ambushed, transformed into a Pooka, and banished to the Underworld. There, he encounters a mysterious spirit, who gives him a crystal-bladed Psypher sword that the spirit describes as his birthright. Along with a helpful damned soul, Cornelius escapes the Underworld, and searches for a way to break his curse. During the journey, he finds that the curse was laid by Velvet's capricious brother Ingway, discovers that his father's advisor is one of the treacherous Three Wise Men, and learns the disgraceful circumstances of his grandfather's death. His story concludes with him leaving Velvet after she again professes her love, to join the Pooka city and help them collect the Valentine coins to remove the curse on all the Pooka.
The third story, Fairy Land, is about Princess Mercedes of Ringford (voiced by Jennifer Sekiguchi in English and Mamiko Noto in Japanese). When her mother is killed in battle by the Demon Lord Odin, she inherits a crossbow Psypher with a crystal that fires magical bolts, as well as a nation she is ill-prepared to lead. She must deal with an uprising led by her elder cousin Melvin, rescue the only living blacksmith who can forge Psyphers, then lead her nation in battle against Odin himself. Mercedes story ends with her learning the art of regency, and smashing the forces of Odin, destroying his Psypher Balor, and forcing him to swear to never invade the fairy realms again.
Shadow Knight Oswald (voiced by Derek Stephen Prince in English and Susumu Chiba in Japanese), orphaned human agent of the Ringford fairies, is the protagonist of the fourth story, The Black Sword. He wields a crystal-tipped Psypher sword, and is renowned as a dragon slayer. Abandoned at a young age, he was taken in by the nephew of the fairy queen, Melvin. Oswald lives to serve his adoptive father and carries out the orders and duties assigned to him with reckless abandon, wielding his blade with an unrivaled skill known throughout all the kingdoms. He is betrayed by his adoptive father, and eventually comes to work for Odin, agreeing to slay one of the last dragons in return for a castle, Gwendolyn's spear, and Gwendolyn herself. He defeats the dragon and claims the ring Titrel as spoils, much to Odin's outrage. His story ends with him rescuing Gwendolyn from Onyx, the Inferno King who is infatuated with her, and returning to the castle he won for slaying the dragon Wagner, and concludes with him kissing Gwendolyn to break her enchanted sleep.
The fifth story, Fate, is that of Princess Velvet (voiced by Michelle Ruff in English and Miyuki Sawashiro in Japanese), one of the two uncursed survivors of the ruined Kingdom of Valentine, destroyed by an incident with the Crystallization Cauldron. She wields a Psypher chain with a crystal weight at each end. She is later revealed to be the illegitimate daughter of Valentine's princess, Ariel and Odin, making her Gwendolyn's half-sister. For this, she despises Odin, believing that her mother was seduced by him. Velvet's goal in her story is to piece together the prophecies and prevent Armageddon. She is in love with Cornelius despite her brother's protests. Her story concludes when her brother Ingway transforms himself into the Darkova, a cerberus-like creature, to kill King Odin. Defeating him is the fulfillment of the final prophecy to herald Armageddon.
- Sixth book
Upon completing all fives books, the player gains access to the sixth book, Armageddon. This book tells the beginning of the doomsday described in the prophecies, and consists primarily of battles between protagonists and major enemies. In order for the game to have a "happy ending", the player must correctly pit each hero against the proper adversary, based on clues from the prophecies. In the canonical sequence, Cornelius defeats Ingway, who has transformed into the Beast of Darkova, before being rescued by Velvet. King Gallon, released from the Netherworld, runs rampant through Titania, but is faced and defeated by Oswald, who discovers that his father, Edgar, was son to King Gallon, making him Cornelius's cousin and a member of the Titanian royal family. Mercedes finds Ingway dead and mourns him before facing Fire King Onyx: both die in battle. Velvet stops the Cauldron, but King Valentine overpowers her and releases the Last Dragon Leventhan from the Cauldron, now grown to monstrous size. Gwendolyn, finding the now gargantuan Leventhan slowly encircling the world, destroys the horn that held the crown of Valentine, as instructed by her sister's spirit.
- Seventh book
The seventh book, Wheel of Fate, is only seen if the player picks the correct order for the characters to fight the final bosses during Armageddon. In the real world, Alice, saddened by the ending of the last book, recognizes the design on the back as one of the commemorative Valentine coins. Tearing it off, she is called downstairs by her mother. A portal opens, and Cornelius and a Pooka version of Velvet step out, collect the coin, and leave the seventh book on the floor. It focuses on the protagonists who survive the Armageddon, revealing the closing scenes of the game: Gwendolyn, her wings destroyed by lightning, is caught by Oswald, using his Shadow abilities. He carries Gwendolyn to the Cauldron before collapsing in front of Cornelius and Velvet, who recognizes the Titrel on Gwendolyn's finger. Using the ring, Velvet commands the Cauldron to release all of the energy to regrow the land at the expense of being cursed into a Pooka. Oswald and Gwendolyn awake to find themselves alone, with the land around them sprouting alive. After the credits roll, the final image of the "World Tree" is implied to be Mercedes reborn, as her surviving Psypher is shown to be mingled within the tree's roots.
There are also two unlockable scenes within the seventh book: if the player has acquired all recipes and unlocked all Armageddon scenes (even the non-canon ones), a cutscene shows Velvet and Cornelius, having collected all coins and being granted their wish to return to human form. A second, post-credits curtain call shows a Titanian salesman addressing an unseen character while the game's protagonists parade by. It is implied that the unseen character is a writer, and that the books - "Odin Sphere" - are to be his creations.
Odin Sphere was first announced three months before release by its publisher Atlus in a February 2007 issue of Japanese Weekly Famitsu Magazine magazine, with an English-language version confirmed the same month by the company's North American branch. Joystiq interviewed Atlus' project lead for Odin Sphere, Bill Alexander, who spoke about the localization process. Concerning the general localization philosophy, Alexander noted, "Early on, we were told by our parent company that the game had a Shakespearean feel to it. One of the things we wanted to do was maintain that feel". Technical hurdles which made the process more difficult included the fact that the Japanese and North American release dates were so close together, as well as issues with text layout and formatting. Alexander revealed, "Aside from fitting the text inside the word bubbles, which in Odin Sphere's case had to be individually resized, we also had to worry about word bubble placement on the screen and the timing of the messages".
After the release of the game, RPGFan interviewed George "Jouji" Kamitani, the president of Vanillaware about both Odin Sphere and another Vanillaware game, GrimGrimoire. Regarding the critical success of both titles, Kamitani commented, "In spite of the technological progress in the golden age of 3D, the evolution of 2D game graphics is stagnating. These two titles are about aiming to be at the forefront of this evolution". When asked about the possibility of a sequel or a new Princess Crown game, Kamitani responded, "The stories of Odin Sphere and Princess Crown are complete. Hence, I'm not thinking about a straight-forward sequel." Kamitani also provided artwork for the title, about which Alexander raved in a separate interview, "Mr. Kamitani has raised the bar so high you may not see a better looking game come out on the PS2".
Soundtrack composition was handled by musicians of Basiscape, founded by composer Hitoshi Sakimoto, known for his work on Final Fantasy XII. Each composer used traditional orchestral music with a "melancholy melody" which would better resonate the emotional core of the game, which Sakimoto explained that "While composing the music for Odin Sphere, I tried to capture the feelings of the characters as they struggled to face the truth and determine their futures," while other songs would carry a more "cheerful" tone to signify victory. An official soundtrack was released in October 2007 by Five Records across two discs, and features the game's main theme song, "Odin Sphere's Theme", performed by Noriko Kawahara from the Japanese celtic music group Shanachie, as well as orchestral arrangements by the Eminence Symphony Orchestra.
Prior to the release of Odin Sphere, pre-order sales numbers in Japan exceeded Atlus' expectations. Bill Alexander of Atlus indicated, concerning North American pre-orders, "They are good, and getting better. Buzz is really building around this game". Initial Japanese sales for Odin Sphere were reported by Media Create as 59,248 copies for its debut week. Sales capped out at 96,280 copies in the region by the end of 2007. Editors of Famitsu Weekly magazine gave the Japanese version a 32 out of 40 cumulative score, earning it the publication's Silver Award, with critics praising the title's graphics and "intuitive" controls, but also remarked that its difficulty was high and many areas of the game looked too similar.
Following its Western debut, Odin Sphere received an overall positive reception with an average critic score of 82% at Game Rankings and 83% at Metacritic. Play magazine awarded it a perfect score, stating that "In the case of Odin Sphere, [we are] confident that this is a perfect game, and that anyone who comes to it will derive the same," praising its 2D graphics, detailed storyline, and unique combat system as high points. PSM3 magazine called the title "an incredibly deep, incredibly detailed, spectacularly beautiful game--and it doesn't hurt that it plays like a dream, proving that gaming excellence doesn't necessarily require a third dimension." IGN's review also praised the game highly, highlighting the game balance and colorful visuals, and summarizing, "Simply put, this 40+ hour adventure, with multiple difficulty levels and extremely deep gameplay mechanics is one of the best RPGs to come out on the PS2 in a while."
The game has been criticized concerning the occurrence of slowdown when there are many enemies or objects on screen at once; GameSpot described this as "uneven performance" in addition to frequent load times. Charles Herold, videogaming columnist for The New York Times, echoed this sentiment, writing that "The elaborate graphics cause trouble when too many things are onscreen at once; some battles are so overpopulated with monsters that the game runs in slow motion." 1UP.com called this issue "Odin Sphere's one very glaring fault," but overall felt that it was "more than worth tolerating." This criticism was partially addressed in the European release with greatly reduced loading times and an "optimized for 50hz display mode". Websites such as Eurogamer also remarked that the game was prone to heavy repetition, stating that "While the immediacy of the action will grab all comers right from the off - the repetition, made worse by the game's difficulty and drawn out length, ensures that few who start on this adventure will ever finish it."
Odin Sphere became the recipient of several website and magazine distinctions, particularly during IGN's "Best of 2007" PlayStation 2 awards, where the game won Best Artistic Design, Best Story, Most Innovative Design, and Best RPG, and was runner-up in the PlayStation 2 categories for Best Original Score and PS2 Game of the Year, additionally earning its developer Vanillaware "Best Developer" along with GrimGrimoire, also released in 2007. In 2010, IGN would name Odin Sphere the 44th best PlayStation 2 game of all time as well as one of the top ten best looking games for the console. The game also became the winner of GamesRadar's "Pure Beauty" award during their Platinum Chalice Awards, with the website remarking that "The graphics here are so artistic it's hypnotic, if not literally breathtaking."
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- Official website (Japanese)
- Official website (North America) (English)
- Official website (Europe) (English)