Odin Sphere Preview
Atlus is well known for releasing quality niche RPGs, and they're not about to let the PS2 go quietly into the night. Their latest project, Odin Sphere, is scheduled to release on May 22, and it's the unofficial sequel to Princess Crown, released ten years ago; a game that didn't exactly generate a lot of interest. However, it was ported to the Japanese PSP a couple years back and created a few more fans, thereby giving Odin Sphere a slightly more established fanbase. And if there's one thing Atlus excels at, it's titles that exemplify old-school charm, kooky characters and silly yet somewhat dramatic storylines. In taking a closer look at this one, it seems they've struck that chord yet again.
Those of you familiar with the legend of Odin and Valkyries (remember the Valkyrie Profiles?) will be a step ahead of the game when it comes to the plot, which involves a young girl named Gwendolyn. She's the main character, but it's also interesting to note that Gwendolyn is the name of Odin's daughter. We're not yet sure if the two characters are one in the same - guess we'll figure that out in a month - but we do know that Odin and the Valkyries are ensnared in a pitched battle with the Vanir and the Fairy Queen. Like most wars, it's all about power, and whoever wins ends up with unimaginable power that could reshape the world. The only problem is that Odin loses his other daughter, Griselda, early on, and the evil Shadow Knight is to blame, so one side is at a disadvantage. Thankfully, Griselda gave up the Psypher spear to Gwendolyn, so it's all good.
So yes, there will be plenty of fighting in Odin Sphere. Gwendolyn can land all kinds of deadly attacks on the field, both magical and physical, and that Psypher will be the key to her success. Much like Dante's gauntlet in the Devil May Cry series, the special spear absorbs the souls of her vanquished foes, and she can then use those souls to increase the power of the weapon. She can also allocate some of those souls to a magic meter, which will allow her to learn and cast newer and deadlier spells. On the surface, it appears the combat will be real-time, and in fact, it almost resembles those Valkyrie Profile titles, but we can't say for certain. We also wonder if enemies will respawn...because if they do, doesn't that mean we can continue to farm up souls to our hearts content? Not that that would be a bad thing, necessarily...
If you look at some of the recent RPGs on the PS2, it seems as if developers are leaning more towards unique ways of utilizing items. Atlus is taking an interesting approach here, as the player will get all kinds of fun tools and items to toy around with, such as the mega-cool Napalm. But even more intriguing is the existence of the Seeds, which are items you'll use right before battle that could ultimately give you the edge. When you drop a seed, it will sprout and the plants that arise from that seed will grant you additional healing items or even extra souls, which should prove useful for long fights. But again, this feature causes several questions to form in our minds. For example, how many seeds can we plant? How long do they take to sprout? Do certain seeds yield certain items?
The look of the game is classic Atlus. As you'll see by the screenshots, there is plenty of vivid color, intricately detailed indoor and outdoor environments, and those very original character designs we alluded to earlier. We also expect a goodly amount of humor and an adventure that features plenty of side-quests and comic relief from several zany characters. There will be five playable characters in the game, and early rumors place the length at around 40-50 hours, although it's likely the extras could easily push that total much higher. We don't yet know if all five of those characters can be used at once in a party format, or if only a couple characters (or perhaps only one) can be used in combat at any given time. But either way, it's good to have options. One last option is in regards to language; you can choose either English or Japanese.
One last thing we'd like to point out: with the advent of fancy new computer animation and other visual technologies, hand-drawn artistry is rapidly disappearing from the video game realm. One of the most beautiful games in history, Legend of Mana, featured entirely hand-drawn backdrops, and it appears everything in Odin Sphere is hand-drawn as well. So if you're a fan of this singular and gorgeous graphical style, you should seriously consider picking this one up on May 22. And remember, Atlus isn't known for producing a lot of copies for their games, so you may want to either pre-order it or be prompt about your purchase. Odin Sphere very well could be the last great RPG on the PS2, so don't miss your chance!
4/27/2007 Ben Dutka