Before we begin, I’m simply bursting to tell you that Odin Sphere Liefthrasir is utterly gorgeous. Phew… I’ve needed to get that off my chest since watching the opening cutscene over a week ago. Then again, if you played Vanillaware’s Odin Sphere on the PlayStation 2 in 2008, you’ll already know that. However, the jump to the more powerful hardware of the PS4 has meant that the game has never ever looked, or performed, better.
While some would argue that this generation’s eternal struggle to achieve 60fps at 1080p can get in the way of the simple appreciation of some titles, here the argument is hugely compelling. The phenomenal 2D artwork has always been attractive, but the fast-flowing combat often struggled on its original hardware. At a solid 60fps, the controls are perfectly responsive and the action is simply joyous as your combo numbers climb into the thousands.
You’ll largely be using the Square button to perform your standard attacks, combining it with different directions on the D-pad to expand your moveset. Meanwhile, the Circle button and its D-pad combinations cover your special moves, all of which can be set yourself as you unlock more abilities. It’s a simple system that invites plenty of experimentation, allowing you to build your character’s moveset as you see fit.
Levelling up is an intuitive affair, with the different systems tying together with ease. As you’d expect, you earn experience from despatching enemies, but that’s not the end of the story. As you take enemy lives, they release motes of light called Phozons that you can collect and use in a variety of ways.
You can gain experience via the game’s consumables, and can initially plant seeds anywhere in a level before using Phozons to ripen the fruit they produce. Each item gives you experience, increases your health, and heals you as well.
You can also use the items in freshly prepared meals, with the charming Pooka travelling chef Maury appearing at points throughout the game. His more complicated dishes gain you extra experience, as will the extensive offerings of the Pooka kitchen where you can spend all of the currency you’ve earned during combat.
It takes a bit of getting used to at first, but soon you’ll be using the quieter moments between battles for tending to plants and levelling up, which helps to create a wonderful dynamic between the high octane combat and the more thoughtful manner in which the narrative is dealt with. Even the use of Phozons is given pause for thought, as they are the life force of the dead, and by collecting them you’re preventing them from returning to the earth as they should.
The game’s navigation is handled in a particularly unique manner, with each of the different areas branching out in various directions, all of which are shown to you when reaching any of the exits. Any collectibles are shown on the branching map, along with the level of the enemies in an area so you can decide whether to forge ahead, take another route, or look to level up before continuing onward.
The game’s five characters and their individual narrative thread and timelines intersect at various points, building into a moving and engaging story that is surprisingly nuanced and emotional. That’s often helped by the high quality voice performances that bring each of them, and the supporting characters, to life, with artists such as Karen Strassman as Gwendolyn and Michelle Ruff as Velvet proving why they’re amongst the best in the world. Of course, you can also opt for the Japanese vocal track if you prefer, but there really isn’t any reason not to enjoy the English one.
So much of Odin Sphere Liefthrasir’s unique feel can also be traced to the game’s soundtrack, with some beautiful orchestral pieces evoking a subdued and understated atmosphere one moment, before rising to energetically encompass the intense action the next.
If you’re looking for some negatives it’s perhaps in the repeated use of the same enemy types, and in the circular narrative revisiting many of the locations. However, I would genuinely say that at no point did I ever tire of the combat, collecting and levelling up, with the entire gameplay loop amongst the purest of recent years.
Odin Sphere Leifthrasir’s distinct painterly graphics, free-flowing combat and intuitive RPG systems make it a joy, whether you’re a newcomer or a returning fan. While some remakes are largely unnecessary, Vanillaware have taken a forgotten classic and made it an essential title for the current generation.
Version Tested: PS4