A Valkyrie torn between her honour and her heart. A prince cursed in the form of a rabbit. A fairy learning to be a queen. A knight cloaked in shadows, longing for love. A princess of a lost kingdom seeking to stop an ancient prophecy. Five stories, all connected in one beautiful game. Welcome to the world of Odin Sphere.
Odin Sphere is an action role-playing game developed by VanillaWare in 2007 for the Playstation 2. Heavily inspired by Norse mythology, fairy tales, and the works of Shakespeare, this game was created to be a spiritual successor to the Japan-exclusive game, Princess Crown, for the Sega Saturn in 1997.
The game was highly praised in multiple countries, giving VanillaWare enough incentive to remaster it into Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir for modern platforms (Playstation 3/4/Vita) in 2016. Unlike many remasters of the time, however, VanillaWare took things a step farther beyond regular porting. They ended up vastly improving on aspects gamers initially didn’t like while staying true to the core mechanics and storyline people grew to love, making this a much-beloved classic for modern consoles. Leifthrasir even outranked Monster Hunter Generations in sales during that time after a three-week consecutive position.
Just what is it that has drawn so many to it? What makes Odin Sphere so beloved yet obscure? Let’s break things down and come to understand why many, including myself, love this game and why this is an HD Remaster done right.
Five Stories, One Destiny…
Our first introduction comes in the form of a child named Alice. She is scrolling through her grandfather’s library for a story to entertain her and her cat. Alice serves as the observer through the course of the game as she reads through each characters’ adventures seen as books in the library. She only ever comments once in the game, but her role is nonetheless essential. She establishes that these are all fairy tales interwoven together. How you may ask? Time to turn the page and find out!
From the first book Alice chooses, the player is then thrust into the tale of Gwendolyn. She is a valkyrie and the youngest daughter of Odin. Her story begins with tragedy as she holds her dying sister in her arms amidst a war-torn battlefield. Her father does not show her or her fallen sibling, any affection or acknowledgement.
His goal is always towards what he can conquer for himself, which currently is a mysterious cauldron held in the fairy queen’s hands. Just what is this cauldron, and why do so many seek it?
The Pooka Prince
The story only progresses from there as once Gwendolyn’s tale ends, another begins. This time the player takes on the role of Cornelius. He is a prince in love with a princess from a lost land. Even though his father disapproves, he still runs off to be with her. Only fate has other plans for him as he’s cursed in the form of a rabbit-like creature known as a Pooka and thrust into the underworld to die.
Through divine intervention, he escapes, but he is determined to regain his human form and reunite with the woman he loves. But there is more to his tale than meets the eye, and how does this connect with Gwendolyn’s tale?
Now that Cornelius’ chapter is finished, we’re introduced to another. This time we take control of a character we saw briefly in Gwendolyn’s story. Her name is Mercedes. She’s the daughter of the fairy queen who sadly falls at the hands of Odin early on in her chapter.
Now this spoiled brat of a fae must learn to be a leader during the war as the Aesir (Odin’s forces) close in on her kingdom and the cauldron. Along the way, she encounters a talking frog who in exchange for retrieving her crossbow from a pond, requests a kiss to break the spell on him. Their relationship is one of the more unusual seen in the game as they banter back and forth, finding different ways to help each other grow. Who is this mysterious figure, however? Just what is his role in all this?
The Black Sword
Our newest chapter allows the player control of a recurring character, especially in Gwendolyn’s story. Oswald the Shadow Knight. He was raised by his adoptive father Melvin, Mercedes’ wicked cousin, as a tool for destruction. The blade and power he wields are slowly killing him from the inside. Bound to Odette the queen of the underworld despite never having made the pact. Cursed and alone, he longs for companionship and someone to bond with. He starts to find that in Gwendolyn and will go to any lengths to protect her. Will that involve even defying the very powers he’s cursed with?
The last playable character we meet in this complicated tale is the most recurrent and mysterious, Velvet. Her story twists with even greater tragedy than even Gwendolyn’s. Forced to watch her grandfather kill her mother alongside her twin Ingway, she’s not had it easy as she hides within her kingdom’s lost lands seeking something.
Velvet operates mainly within the shadows of everyone else’s stories to prevent a great tragedy — the end of the world. A prophecy from her mother foretold a great calamity as well as a curse on both her children. Does it hold much water now? What must this lost princess do to save the world? Is it even possible?
Once each chapter is completed the fight for the world begins as each character is pinned against a big bad in accordance with their desired destiny. Depending on how the player decides, you can get either a dark timeline or a more hopeful one. You’ll need to pull out all the stops to take your enemies down.
Odin Sphere is a simple 2D side scroller with beat ’em up elements as you hack and slash your way through waves of enemies in various settings. The map itself is circular, allowing seamless traversing through the levels in whatever direction the player wishes to go. The goal of each stage is to finish off a wave of enemies in each section and unlock your path to the boss of the area. However, there is also elements of RPG levelling tossed in with the introduction of Phozons.
With the defeat of your foes, sparkling bits of light emanate from their corpses. These glowing pink stars are then absorbed into your weapons known as Psyphers and can be used to either level up your characters, charge up your magic, or even grow plants from the seeds you can plant on any map for food. On top of that, there is also an alchemy system where combining different materials can result in items to use in battles.
What They Changed
The original Playstation 2 version of Odin Sphere made things more complicated by introducing something called the POW meter. While still prevalent in Leifthrasir, it’s become more utilised as a unique ability gauge, allowing the player to do various special combos or spells depending on how many Phozons you obtain.
In the original, the POW meter indicated how many attacks your character could perform before collapsing from exhaustion and leaving the player open to attacks. Only waiting for the meter to go up or collecting phozons would allow you to attack further. This made it harder for players to balance out the best opportunities to strike, knowing that too many swings can cost you a match. With a grading system that demanded quick kills for better equipment and a strong knockback, the original Odin Sphere was a lot harder.
Luckily in Leifthrasir, the combat has taken on a more fluid approach. This is similar to VanillaWare’s more modern titles like Muramasa: The Demon Blade and Dragon’s Crown where players could experiment with their choice in combos and explore a wider variety of abilities. For example, Gwendolyn has an emphasis on ice magic, while Velvet fancies fire. Mercedes is the only character to still have the POW meter, which makes sense given she wields a crossbow and requires charging.
But Wait! There’s More…
On top of revamped combat, the level layout has undergone a more significant change. Initially, each area was a battle zone, leaving a wave of enemies to defeat. Unless you took the right path and found the map early, you were prone to becoming lost, and you ran the risk of fighting enormous hordes that were above your current level.
Now the layout is friendlier, allowing map discovery to happen much earlier and specific areas with minimal enemy encounters. On top of that, the inner layouts allow for more platforming and small challenges like finding hidden rooms or fighting unique mini-bosses. These challenges gift the player with Phozon Prysms which unlock new skills for each character.
The inventory system also received a huge upgrade with a designated storage area for each character. Now the player doesn’t need to spend money on a new backpack whenever space gets full. Just store it in the giant chest in the level. And don’t forget to say hi to Maury on your way out!
Is Anyone Hungry?
One major staple of any VanillaWare game is how crucial food is and how delicious it all looks. Odin Sphere is no exception with food being an easy way to heal or level up. You can harvest multiple foods throughout your travels, including fruits and vegetables, and you can even raise chickens. On their own they can aid in growth well enough, but why not get more out of it? That’s where the Pooka chefs come in.
Once you’re able to access the Pooka village, you can visit a couple of restaurants and get a meal for a price. You can visit anytime you want and eat as much as you can afford and it all looks terrific. But what about while on the battlefield? Well, that’s where Maury comes in!
In designated safe areas in Leifthrasir, there’s a bell you can ring. This bell summons the jolly Pooka chef, Maury, who will gladly cook meals for you as long as you have the ingredients. If you bring him recipes you find on your journey, he’ll start making those in his travelling kitchen too. And if you order a meal enough times, Maury will come up with a new recipe based on the original. The achievement to request one of every dish on his menu is easily the most challenging, but oh so rewarding to collect.
What Else Has Changed?
In addition to all the listed changes, Vanillaware added small little extras in places you wouldn’t expect. Along with the graphical updates to the artwork, VanillaWare added small touches such as extra lore snippets scattered throughout the levels to collect in Alice’s library. Additional challenges include a boss rush mode that can reward you with powerful gear for the main storyline. And if you want to experience the original controls, there is a classic mode for you. All in one easy to download package, no DLC required!
The title Leifthrasir is in reference to the two humans of Norse mythology who survived Ragnarok and went on to repopulate the world. A lot of thought went into not just the gameplay of this Remaster, but in the name of it too. George Kamitani and his team spent a long time getting everything right for this rerelease. More than many developers around at the time. They wanted to make sure gamers got their money’s worth without changing what they loved about the original. The story is still a masterpiece, and the artwork is gorgeous and fluid. The gameplay is revamped for more enjoyment, and for those that like the original, they got you covered too.
A lot of heart and love went into this HD Remaster. This wasn’t a cash grab banking on nostalgia. There was an abundant amount of effort put into every aspect of this. This was a HD Remaster done right. If you can get a hold of a copy of this game, I cannot recommend it highly enough. This is a fairy tale steeped in tragedy, but well worth the ride.