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 I’ll put my powers to good use and whip up an alchemical potion that will help me destroy a rivaling royal. Maybe I’ll go medieval on a forest god’s ass. Maybe I’ll help assemble the pieces of my father’s crumbling kingdom. Or maybe I’ll just cook up another tasty snack.
For those of us accustomed to the stale world of videogame stereotypes—macho male characters, cut-and-dried storylines, a decided lack of culinary interest—Atlus’ role-playing game, Odin Sphere, serves up some pretty mixed messages, and a lot of fresh air. Right off the bat, we’ve 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 there’s 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-macho—the 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 they’re 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 tough—so a cheap shot to the tail of a man-eating dragon is definitely fair play.
Just as important as fighting is collecting things—and 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 you’ve 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 you’re rewarded for a job well done with a glut of juicy items you can’t 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 it’s not just its fast-paced gameplay, or its original content, or its hot cross buns. For one, the visuals are excellent—bright and stylized. Even the backgrounds are downright gorgeous. There’s also an emotional depth to the game: sure, people fight—but they fight because they want their detached, war-worn parents to love them, or because they’re bitter about their troubling family histories. Sounds like serious stuff, but temper it with a kitty cat and some well-laced bodices, and you’ve got a game even non-RPG fans will love. Now where can I get one of those hot cross buns?
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 7, 2007