If you ask me to describe the appeal of Odin Sphere Leifthrasir using one word, I'd choose "warm." Even though Vanillaware's beat-em-up RPG hybrid is surrounded by a story about war, strife, betrayal, and the literal Apocalypse, it's so comfortable and personable that engaging with it is like curling up with a mug of milk tea and a favorite novel.
Here at USGamer, we talk about "comfort food games" a lot: Games that we return to when we're feeling down and we need a digital hug. I'm sure more than a few people consider the original 2007 release of Odin Sphere a comfort food game, but it's not on my personal menu just yet. That's because Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is my first run with anything related to Odin Sphere – or related to Vanillware in general. Regardless, even though my Odin Sphere experience hasn't had time to age, it has all the necessary ingredients to ensure it'll stay nestled in my heart for years to come.
It's a weird realization because outside of Leifthrasir's stunning graphics, I can't point to a single element of the game and say, "This is brilliant. This is what makes it for me." It's not a flawless title, even though Leifthrasir makes substantial improvements over the original Odin Sphere. It's far longer than it needs to be, the voice acting is a bit on the silly side (switch to the Japanese voices), and you wind up fighting the same enemies and bosses over and over across the forty-some hours you spend in the mystic world of Erion.
The action itself, though intense and tons of fun, expects you to button-mash far more than strategize. If you have tireless fingers and a couple of health potions, you can power through just about any of Leifthrasir's challenges.
But Leifthrasir binds together so wonderfully because it squeezes fun times from its flaws. Is the story over-dramatic and over-the-top? Heck yes, but since it's being "read" by Alice, a little girl nestled in an overstuffed chair in a library attic, it's fine. In fact, Leifthrasir's storybook presentation makes it impossible to avoid getting wrapped up in the story yourself. Dramatics or not, there's something inherently compelling about stories involving prophecies, dragons, and bastard heirs inadvertently screwing up monarchs' best-laid plans.
It's also hard not to get dragged into a story that tells the same narrative through the eyes of several characters. Yes, it's the same story-telling technique that makes Leifthrasir so repetitive – you're essentially exploring the same locales with different protagonists – but the opportunity to fill in blank paragraphs is a strong motivator.
Re-visiting old battlegrounds is also made easier by each characters' separate agendas and fighting styles. Cornelius, a prince turned into an adorable bunny-critter via a curse, flings himself through conflicts with his sword and super-speed as he tries to save his kingdom. Oswald, the sad anime demon-boy, tries to find love and light in between savaging enemies at close-range with his blades and shadow-claws. Velvet Valentine is driven to stop her twin brother's mad ambitions with her chains, which she uses to swing to and fro like a certain web-slinging superhero.
(Incidentally, there's a definite Targaryen vibe going on with the Valentine family, as in some of the family members within seem, er, "close." Alice, honey, are you sure these books are suitable for a little girl?)
Another substantial ingredient that makes Leifthrasir hard to put down for long is the fun of hunting for meal recipes in each level. In this game, food is life. The savory meals and delectable desserts you cook up with the aid of the chef Maury restore your health, grant you experience, and permanently increase your hit points. You actually gain comparatively little experience through fights. In Erion, the sword alone will not save you. The sword coupled with a plate of roasted herb shrimp and chocolate fondant for dessert, though? Yeah. Probably.
And man, every single meal looks amazing. Artist George Kamitani sure enjoys drawing cheesecake – the food-kind as well as the pin-up kind. He's good at both, though only the latter tends to have watermelon-sized breasts (thankfully).
If Leifthrasir's addictive gameplay is its crust and its story its filling, then all its lovely little touches are the scoop of ice cream that tops things off. I never get tired of observing the small additions that don't need to exist, but still do because Vanillaware cared that much. How can you get bored of watching Maury set up his travelling restaurant with a single flip of his tablecloth, or seeing the ghostly Halja form out of shadowy, screaming faces? How can you not appreciate the work that went into the dragons' iridescent scales, or marvel at how each beast's posture and body language reflects its personality?
If you like the idea of playing through a game that does in fact feel like it belongs in a sunny attic in the company of overstuffed chairs and sleepy black cats, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is an easy recommendation. I expect I won't play another perfectly imperfect game like it anytime soon.