It’s not easy to capture lightning in a bottle once, let alone twice. Yet developer Vanillaware has managed to do exactly that. Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir is an absolutely amazing remake of their 2007 sidescrolling action RPG that recreates and enhances everything I adored about the original, while strengthening and expanding its combat and role-playing to create one of the best gameplay experiences I’ve had in a long time.
There’s a lot in Leifthrashir to celebrate, but at the very top of my long list is its super smooth 60-frames-per-second framerate. Leifthrasir runs like a dream, even when the screen is filled with angry fairy soldiers and fiery lizards. (The Vita version looks nearly as good and runs equally well.) It’s a massive improvement over the chuggy PlayStation 2 original, which screeched to a halt whenever multiple battle animations occurred. This near-perfect framerate also helps accentuate the already excellent mix of weapon attacks, special skills, and alchemic potions that work in tandem to absolutely wreck enemies on the battlefield.
Odin Sphere was quite pretty back in 2007, but Leifthrasir’s 1080p graphics make every frame a work of art I want to hang on my wall. Pillars that gleam like mother-of pearl in candlelight, verdant forests full of candy-colored flowers, and gardens spangled with fairy lights all made me stop playing just so I could gawk at the beautiful world around me.
Leifthrasir’s hyperactive combat had me addicted like a digitized pixie stick
But I soon started moving and fighting again, because Leifthrasir’s hyperactive combat had me addicted like a digitized pixie stick. I love running laps around looping battle maps, cutting a swath of destruction with the five uniquely controllable characters and their magical psypher weapons. The action is nonstop, thanks to the ability to quickly switch between regular weapon attacks and two different skill types: action skills and phozon skills. Action skills like Needle Strike let you hit harder and faster with your weapon and are powered by a recharging meter, while phozon skills like Ice Shot are magic spells that replenish by collecting powerups from fallen enemies. And while you’re recharging, you can serve enemies an explosive cocktail or two by combining different inventory items together using the super easy-to-use alchemy system.
Building up combos and wailing on enemies for long periods of time using skills, standard attacks, and potions made me feel like Super Girl, and also earned me a higher combat ranking at the end of a battle. A higher combat ranking means better victory loot, which is pretty darn useful against tough opponents like the enormous dragon that spits hard-hitting garbage at you, and a very annoyed queen of the dead whose long-reaching spider legs require a lot of dodging and weaving. It’s all part of a hugely rewarding feedback loop that kept me playing late into the night.
Elevating the fantastic action is a richer role-playing system than what we saw in the original version. A plethora of diverse weapon skills like Gwendolyn’s enemy-stunning Ice Shot and Oswald’s bone-crunching Vile Rush can be unlocked by picking up Phozon Prisms scattered throughout the world. These skills can then be upgraded in any order you want using phozons collected in battle. Being able to instantly freeze enemies in their tracks by focusing on upgrading Gwendolyn’s ice attacks and turning Oswald into an unstoppable killing machine by maxing out his psypher’s strength felt great, and helped keep me invested in each character’s journey even as the story looped back around on itself and required me to visit the same locales to fight the same enemies over and over again. There’s also a series of very useful character skills you can unlock, such as the ability to charm merchants into giving you a 30% discount on items.
Also helping to keep me interested are the well-designed maps. Areas are flush with useful loot like gold coins and seeds for growing health-boosting food, and offer convenient warp points that eliminate tedious backtracking. Exploring their nooks and crannies is a joy thanks to imaginative mechanics, including one that lets you shrink into adorable pixie size and shimmy between wall cracks to access hidden treasure. It also makes combat a lot more hilarious, in a ant-kicking-an-elephant’s butt sort of way.
My favorite map addition, however, is Murrey’s Touring Restaurant. It’s kind of like a food truck you can summon in rest areas, only with a portable table and chairs instead of a truck. If you have the right ingredients and recipes, a delightful bunny-faced Pooka named Murrey will whip up tasty healing and experience-giving dishes for you. Murrey’s colorful blue-checked tablecloth and cheerful smile is always a welcome sight, especially when travelling to darker places like the gloomy Netherworld and ominous lava pits of Volkenon. He won’t even ask for coin, unlike other merchants that hang around towns and rest areas. Not that I minded handing over my cash, especially since it was so much fun to search maps for rare coins that I could spend at Pooka restaurants in between fighting monsters. (The food in Leifthrasir is so rich in detail it could be on the cover of Food and Wine.)
I’ve always loved how events unfold Rashomon style
The 40-hour story of five heroes helping and hindering each other as they attempt to stop the end of the world hasn’t changed for the remake, and I’m glad. I’ve always loved how events unfold Rashomon style, as characters straight out of Norse legend defend their homelands and loved ones against evil factions that sometimes turn out not be be so evil when you see things from their point of view. Every character has something to love about them: there’s the stoic valkyrie Gwendolyn, the brooding shadow knight Oswald, the courageous Pooka prince Cornelius, the determined princess Velvet, and the feisty fairy Mercedes. Each of their story arcs are incredible, and I love how their seemingly separate fates intertwine into a larger arc. It’s a well-written story, accompanied by beautiful musical tracks like Titania’s acoustic guitar theme and Ringford Forest’s upbeat percussions. There’s also some solid English voice performances by actors like Karen Strassman (Gwendolyn) and Paula Tiso (Queen Odette), though Vanillaware also smartly added the option to switch to the Japanese voices for those that prefer hearing the characters in the original language.