By Stephanie Zacharek
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Charles Taylor
By Melissa Anderson
By Inkoo Kang
By Amy Nicholson
By Sam Weisberg
Here I am: an adorable princess warrior, dressed in a white corset with wings, savoring a delicious hot cross bun as I catch my breath on the battlefield. Maybe in a moment Ill put my powers to good use and whip up an alchemical potion that will help me destroy a rivaling royal. Maybe Ill go medieval on a forest god's ass. Maybe Ill help assemble the pieces of my fathers crumbling kingdom. Or maybe Ill just cook up another tasty snack.
For those of us accustomed to the stale world of videogame stereotypesmacho male characters, cut-and-dried storylines, a decided lack of culinary interestAtlus role-playing game, Odin Sphere, serves up some pretty mixed messages, and a lot of fresh air. Right off the bat, weve got traditional role-playing elements, like hit points, collecting items, and leveling up, paired with adventure-style fighting (i.e. hitting attack again and again: the close cousin of button-mashing). The game plays much faster than others in its genre like Final Fantasy or Fire Emblem, and with a lot more flare.
Then theres the whole content issue. Usually RPGs are about battles and honor and evil nemeses. Odin Sphere is about those thing too, except the battles are fought by women, honor takes a back seat to emotions, and even the evilest nemeses always have two sides. Talk about anti-machothe entire game takes place inside a series of books based on Norse mythology read by a little girl and her cat. Like, meow meow.
The actual game plays out in a long series of two-dimensional levels. In each level, players learn a new skill, or fight a boss, or trade with the local merchant. But the curious thing about these levels is that theyre linear and circular at the same time; they all double back on themselves. That means, if an enemy is being a particular pain, you can always go the long way around and snag him from behind. Even on easy mode, Odin Sphere can get pretty toughso a cheap shot to the tail of a man-eating dragon is definitely fair play.
Just as important as fighting is collecting thingsand then figuring out what the heck to do with them. This is the frustrating part of Odin Sphere. You know that feeling at the end of a vacation when youve bought too many souvenirs and now your suitcase refuses to close? In this case, items come from the sky, not from a gift shop, but you get the idea. Early on in the game, players can only carry a few things with them (food for health, poison for fighting enemies)which is especially painful when youre rewarded for a job well done with a glut of juicy items you cant carry. Eventually, the game introduces an alchemy system, and then later a cooking system, to help combine items. But these involve a lot of juggling, too.
Overall, though, Odin Sphere really is dazzling. And its not just its fast-paced gameplay, or its original content, or its hot cross buns. For one, the visuals are excellentbright and stylized. Even the backgrounds are downright gorgeous. Theres also an emotional depth to the game: sure, people fightbut they fight because they want their detached, war-worn parents to love them, or because theyre bitter about their troubling family histories. Sounds like serious stuff, but temper it with a kitty cat and some well-laced bodices, and youve got a game even non-RPG fans will love. Now where can I get one of those hot cross buns?
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