Eventually, I just had to put Odin Sphere down.  I’ve played so many games over the summer, some excellent and others just decent, I felt like I could give even a slightly flawed game the benefit of the doubt.  So it’s with a sad heart that I present my first review in my Summer of Adventure of a game I did not finish.  Hopefully, you will understand why. 

You know when the most immediate connection between a game’s title and its meaning is a gameplay mechanic largely invisible to the characters, you have a problem.  While it is certainly possible that some all-powerful “Odin Sphere” becomes a pivotal element of the plot, as far as I could tell from my playing, it just refers to the layout of the game’s every stage.  You see, each area is broken up into smaller stages, each a flat 2D plane, seamlessly connected end-to-end, circular-like.  (And well-drawn as the backdrops may subjectively be, it also makes for some pretty repetitive and generic locales.  –“Ooh, a snowy mountaintop.”  Next stage: “Hey, isn’t this the exact same snowy mountaintop?”– )  It would be like renaming The Legend of Zelda “The Nine Levels Each With A Triforce Piece of Zelda.”

And for the near-universal praise given to the game’s story, I found myself disconnected and bored with the whole thing.  I realize the Valkyrie girl has some severe family issues, her dad is a philandering scumbag (who oddly gets the other half of the game’s title…), and there’s certainly a major war going on.  But in this day of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion‘s endlessly explorable game world and Final Fantasy’s cinematic effulgence, a couple short and disjointed cut scenes peppered with generic dialogue from a few random NPCs just doesn’t cut it for plot development, no matter how well voiced.  Not that the also lauded voice acting is really all that great either.  The actors do well enough, but it doesn’t help the story much, and I haven’t heard that much needless echo effect used in dialogue since Symphony of the Night.

The criticisms aimed by reviewers at Odin Sphere, on the other hand, are absolutely spot on, and probably a little forgiving.  Item management is atrocious — what was the last RPG you played that doesn’t even have a menu screen??  Everything from consumables to cooking to which single accessory you choose to equip is done via a few item rings (think Secret of Mana from 1993, and that game had a menu system as well!), and the 10-12 slots you have in those is all you get until you can afford to stop buying health items and drop insane amounts on extra bags.  Before that point, however, you’ll find yourself in a painful dance of item management from as early as the first full area, having to decide which items to keep and which to abandon.

All this might be excusable if the rest of the game was just a ton of fun, but that’s hardly the case.  When you’re not talking to lifeless NPCs or running in circles jumping up and down, the combat is an entirely single-button affair.  You can jump of course, and glide by double-jumping (one actually interesting innovation), but you have just one attack button, which you can chain into combos by — you guessed it — pressing repeatedly.  Okay, so it’s generic, but what takes the game out of the realm of fun is how they then ruin that combat system:

  • Enemies who just tear holes in you at Normal difficulty (forcing you to fill that limited inventory with whatever health items you can afford to buy or grow);
  • The POW system that forces you not to attack too continuously or Valkyrie-get-woozy and faints;
  • The utterly nonsensical system of levels and stat progression: experience is gained entirely through eating (oh, were that true!), enemies release glowing orbs upon death that can be either absorbed into your weapon (which also gains levels, obviating the need for an actual inventory) or into plants to help them grow into more food (which then gives you experience).  Oh, and you can create items as well through yet another system, alchemy, whose overly complex system of mixtures and the inability to create anything until you acquire its recipe (even if you have the components) just serves to further clutter your small backpack.

In the end, I just found myself sitting back and thinking, “I’m not having any fun with this!”  And to me, that’s the point where you put the game away.  Perhaps some will find it fun, and I’m sure the ability to replay the same plot over and over with different characters from other perspectives just makes the story nigh Shakespearean, but frankly at this point I don’t give a damn.  I didn’t make it that far.

Score: 5.5 / 10

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