Remakes and remasters have become terribly common in video gaming in recent years, but they don't always have to be a cynical affair. Sure, sometimes you end up with a cheap reissue of a fairly recent game that offers no major improvements besides being able to run on current consoles (R.I.P. built-in backward compatibility, A.D. 1998-2013), but every once in a while a remake comes along that goes above and beyond the bounds of obligation to truly excel.
After playing the E3 demo of Odin Sphere Leifthrasir at Tokyo Game Show, I'm quite confident this Atlus-published PS4/Vita remake will fall into the latter category. This is no mere visual touch-up — though its graphical overhaul is certainly nothing to sneeze at. The original Odin Sphere, which arrived fairly late in the PlayStation 2's life, introduced Americans to the work of George Kamitani and Vanillaware. The studio's works universally share a common art style based directly on Kamitani's detailed artwork, using a variety of visual tricks to create a look wholly unique in video games: Paintings come to life. Several of Vanillaware's projects have made their way to HD systems, including Muramasa and Dragon's Crown, but until now Odin Sphere has been trapped in the comparatively low-resolution framework of the PS2.
Unsurprisingly, Kamitani's illustrations translate beautifully to PlayStation 4. Sure, you can see through some of the visual tricks at this resolution, and watching portions of a character sprite wrinkle and deform as she moves through the snow slightly gives away the magic of Vanillaware's art if you want to be nitpicky... though, honestly, once the action begins, it's difficult to be too critical.
It's here that Odin Sphere truly shines. The game offers five playable characters (if not more), each with their own style and skills. I demoed Gwendolyn, the valkyrie who ostensibly plays the role of main character, and she controlled even better than I remember in the original version of the game. Gwendolyn commands a huge array of physical attacks with her spear — downward area-of-effect skills, direct front-to-back stabs, and upward thrusts — all of which neatly combo into one another. If anything, the demo was entirely too easy thanks to Gwendolyn's ability to chain attacks together and juggle weak, nearly helpless foes.
The overall flow of combat also felt faster and more fluid than I recall it originally being. There's less of a stutter when you land a strong attack, and I found myself dancing around enemies to dodge their attacks before flinging them into the air in no time at all. The demo levels seemed a lot more varied than I remember as well. Odin Sphere made heavy use of a ring motif, with stages broken into self-contained battlegrounds that looped infinitely; an interesting idea, but eventually somewhat tedious as the sub-levels tended to offer very little in the way of geographic variety. The Leifthrasir demo, on the other hand, featured several stages that broke from the flat circle format. True Detective jokes aside, the addition of tiered structures and even a cliffside to scale go a long way toward adding some variety to the action, and not just in terms of giving you more to do with your jump button than set up air juggles. It also adds a new dimension to combat, pitting you against enemies at multiple levels more frequently than in the PS2 version.
At least, that's my impression. Maybe there was more to the original game than I'm remembering (it's been nearly a decade), but memory tells me that Odin Sphere coasted by somewhat with repetitive play propped up by sheer visual spectacle. Leifthrasir certainly feels more ambitious and varied than I recall, and isn't the point of a remake to make a game as good as or better than it was the first time around? I suppose it's only fitting for a game based so heavily on the concepts of rings and cycles to reappear, better than before.