Odin Sphere Leifthrasir PS4 Review

HD Remakes and Remasters are all the rage these days: the former is about rebuilding an original title from the ground up, the latter is about re-releasing an original title with higher resolution visuals. For game publishers, HD Remasters are a cheaper investment, especially when sold to a already-established fan base (or in the case of some cult classics, a second chance to give older games another shot at the spotlight), whereas full-blown HD Remakes tend to cost as much as a modern game to make while also facing the possible backlash from fans for “making it worse” than the original.

Odin Sphere Leifthrasir, the HD re-release of the classic PS2 game and a nightmare to autocorrect devices, falls somewhere in the middle; the game largely carries over the painstaking work put forth by Vanillaware, one of the few remaining studios committed to hand-drawn 2D visuals. Yet Leifthrasir goes far beyond a visual touch-up, adding an abundance of retooled combat mechanics as well as entirely new content…to call it Odin Sphere: Special Edition would be undermining the significant amount of rejiggering going on here. Instead, this re-release would be better classified as “Odin Sphere Super Turbo Edition Plus Alpha Dash“, to help put into perspective just how notable the numerous additions have done to this already-unique blend of 2D brawling and RPG micromanaging.

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The one untouched aspect of Odin Sphere Leifhrasir is its story, which takes place in the Norse-inspired world of Erion, where several prominent nations are engaged in a violent war over a magical cauldron called…the Cauldron. It is believed that whoever possesses the Cauldron will reign victorious in the war, but several obstacles stand in the way of acquiring the artifact, including scheming wizards, massive dragons, undead warriors and other fantastical beings. It is for that reason that Odin Sphere bounces between five main characters, each with their own goals and alliances, which tend to put them at odds with one another while also experiencing linked story paths.

More importantly, the thing that separates the five characters are their fighting styles: each character possesses their own unique moveset and abilities, from the combo-heavy Valkyrie to the agile whip-master Velvet, to the ranged attacks of the flying fairy Mercedes, and so on. Like characters from a fighting game, each of Odin Sphere’s characters control differently and have their own strengths and weaknesses that must be mastered in order to progress in their respective story chapters. Fortunately, if their current repertoire of attacks prove inefficient, there are several RPG-like methods in order to raise each warrior to become stronger, faster and better than their enemies.

One of the most crucial mechanics (and the one largely unchanged from the original game) involves food’ instead of gaining EXP from deaf eating enemies, fallen foes instead yield Phozon, which act as points that can be put toward growing food from seeds. When characters plant seeds in the ground, they expend the required amount of Phozon to grow food, which is then added to their inventory. Each piece of food restores a set amount of health and, more importantly, gives the character a set amount of exp. Earn enough exp through eating and the character will level up, gaining a permanent boost to their stats instead of their waistline. Micromanaging the growing inventory of food and deciding whether to chow down on the spot or save it for emergency healing is one of the more strategic aspects of Odin Sphere, though Leifhasir now includes the ability to plant multiple seeds at a time and consume just as much in order to speed things along.

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Another added feature is the Skills tree, which makes another use for Phozon besides food. Each character has skills that can be unlocked and strengthened with Phozon, increasing the number of attacks at their disposal. There are also passive abilities, such as increased damage or increased exp from eating food, that are unlocked using ability points, which are earned via treasure and other means. These extra abilities work in tandem with the refined combat, which now allows for easier combos and faster movement, hence the “Turbo” comparisons made earlier. Pulling off a chain of 50 hits or more is now child’s play, but more importantly is how much better combat feels overall. Even better, brand new boss enemies have been added to Leifthasir, which greatly improves on the repetitive enemies from the original. There is also a traveling chef named Maury who can cook up exp-heavy dishes with the right ingredients, adding another avenue for level grinding.

These new enemies and allies also animate beautifully while fitting in nicely with the game’s already-impressive art style. Bringing these hand-drawn characters and backgrounds to HD standards couldn’t have been easy, but the intricate animations combined with the now-smooth framerate turns what was already an impressive PS2 game into one of the shining examples of modern hand-drawn animation of all time. The music by Hitoshi Sakimoto, of Final Fantasy Tactics and Valkyria Chronicles fame, also add to the wondrous spectacle on display, as well as heighten the surprisingly dark and tragic story that makes up the otherwise cute visual aesthetic.

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The original Odin Sphere was already a hefty game filled with optional paths in each dungeon (which are interconnected through linked zones that house various enemies, treasures, rest points and so on) and a lengthy story spanning five characters and a finale that brings everything to a climax. Once again, Leifthrasir piles on with extra difficulty modes, a Boss Rush, and even the original game as a Classic Mode option, for those purists who demand an untouched (but still inferior) experience. If the 30 or so hours of the original did not satiate your appetite, the hundred-plus total of this remaster should undoubtedly suffice.

To call Odin Sphere Leifthrasir the definitive version of the original game would be selling it short: the sheer amount of improvements and new content have transformed the game into a whole new experience that both original fans and curious newcomers must not miss. As 3D visuals continue to dominate most of the gaming industry today, 2D homages like Odin Sphere truly are becoming a lost art that must be admired for as long as they remain.

9 out of 10