It's easy to be cynical about HD remasters, even if they often take more effort to create than it seems. In the case of Odin Sphere, though, Vanillaware's impending remake is a welcome opportunity to redress some of the original's most grievous flaws.
Atlus and Vanillaware formally announced Odin Sphere: Leifdrasir earlier today, a remake of the PlayStation 2 RPG that served as a spiritual successor of sorts to the Sega Saturn's Princess Crown. When it was released in the U.S. in 2007, it was widely for its spectacular art (a Vanillaware staple), but criticized for its repetitive gameplay (another Vanillaware staple).
Writing for Eurogamer at the time, Simon Parkin observed, "Artistically Odin Sphere is one of the most marvellous videogames we've yet played. The inimitable character designs, varied and exquisite backgrounds, glorious soundtrack, considered voice acting and engaging storyline pull together in a consistent way few other games manage. However the game they clothe fails to engage in a similar way. While the immediacy of the action will grab all comers right from the off - the simplest of button inputs resulting in exciting explosions of action on-screen - 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."
Split across five different storylines, Odin Sphere was an RPG brawler along the lines of Treasure's Guardian Heroes or Vanillaware's Dragon's Crown. It was billed as a game where one story was told from a variety of perspectives, but practically speaking, it was an excuse to repurpose existing levels. After all, those gorgeous assets take a long time to create.
Vanillaware has since gotten better at infusing their games with variety; but even Dragon's Crown has a pretty big problem with grinding, even if the levels themselves include branching paths and are generally interesting enough to merit multiple playthroughs. Odin Sphere is known for being particularly repetitive, especially once you unlock Mercedes, a fairy who requires a great deal of patient leveling to reach her potential.
Odin Sphere's repetition is partly exacerbated by the somewhat dense recipe system, which requires that you plant seeds, harvest the resulting crops, and use various receipes to speed your XP and health gain. It's useful, but it's slow, and a lot of people I know who played Odin Sphere eventually tired of it and moved on.
So why take notice of Leifdrasir? From the sound of it, it will be receiving a ton of new content, including new enemies, bosses, and a repurposed alchemy system. The combat has also been updated to more closely match that of Muramasa: The Demon Blade and Dragon's Crown, introducing elements like a dodge ability for Gwendolyn. Particularly intriguing are the addition of branching paths, which ought to make the stages into something more than the wrap-around corridors they are in the original Odin Sphere.
Most important of all, though, is that the original's chronic slowdown ought to be a thing of the past on the PlayStation 4. Odin Sphere was gorgeous, but it couldn't begin to keep a steady framerate once a large number of enemies populated the screen. The simple act of eliminating slowdown ought to make this version a huge improvement.
As with all of Vanillaware's games, Odin Sphere has been fondly remembered by a certain contingent of JRPG fans for its striking art and its fairytale-like storytelling, but its flaws have turned off a broad swath of the gaming population. And with the PlayStation 2 having long since faded into history, Odin Sphere's graphical luster isn't what it once was. Leifdrasir is an opportunity to revive a game that has been largely lost to history (even if the original has been available on PSN for sometime now) and hopefully bring the standard of its gameplay up to the high bar set by its art.
Odin Sphere: Leifdrasir will be out on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and Vita on January 14, 2016 in Japan. No international release date has been set as of yet, but it's a good bet that Atlus will at least be releasing the PlayStation 4 version in the west. In the meantime, check out the trailer below.
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