In this day and age, there are too many people counting polygons in order to justify how impressive a game looks. Everything is shader-this and lighting-that. It's refreshing, therefore, to see a game like Odin Sphere, something which eschews three dimensional models to present a lovely looking art style that looks straight out of a story book. This is good, too, because you'll be seeing a lot of the same in this game, and it might as well be good to look at.
The game starts oddly: with a little girl, her cat, and a book alone in a room. As you pick up the book and read it (the first chapter, "Valkyrie: Gweldolyn"), you'll be transported into a land of magic and conflict, of a destroyed nation and its cause, of love and grief, and a plot that extends over five of these story books, each dealing with a separate character of the game. You'll play as everyone from the dark-looking Dark Knight Oswald, to Cornelius, the Pooka Prince. Yes. The Pooka Prince.
The core of the game involves leading your character through a series of levels composed of linked areas. These areas, simple two-dimensional spaces, serve as the battlegrounds between you and a series of enemies. Once you kill all the enemies, exits open up, allowing you to proceed. It's a simple formula that manages to be enjoyable because it's very straightforward. Problems arise when enemies use mob tactics against you, rendering you nearly unable to land a hit, and the difficulty tends to hit the 'this is ridiculous' level too often. Boss battles are especially guilty of this, and it isn't unusual to have to fight a boss a dozen times or so before defeating it. Luckily, if things do get too hard, at any time you can transport back to the level select screen, still holding all the experience and items you have gained.
The linked maps of the levels allow you to choose the paths that you want to take, in order to get treasure, find a shop, or defeat boss creatures for experience. If you just want to barrel your way towards the final boss, that's completely possible as well too. There are loading times between areas, and they're not too long, but when the areas can be beaten in just over twice this time, the loading times do feel a little longer than they should.
Throughout the game, your characters wield special weapons called Psyphers. What makes these weapons an asset is their ability to learn and grow, which is done by collecting floating, shining, purple matter called phozons. These phozons will allow you to level up your weapons and the damage they do. Additionally, as you level up your weapon, your character gains the ability to cast a small number of spells. These spells do things like attack enemies or raise your attack power, but never really seem to be terribly useful.
In addition to levelling up your weapons, you also have the ability to level up your health bar. Eating food not only recovers your health, but also gives you health experience. If you level up, you'll raise your maximum health. What makes this element of the game interesting is that most of the food that you get normally in the game gives you a decent amount of health, but little or no experience. To get the food that actual gives you a decent amount of health experience, you'll need to plant seeds and feed it phozons to have it give up fruit. This forces a balance between using phozons for your weapon experience and using them to raise your health.
The game's environments are fairly impressive to look at, with art that looks straight out of a fantasy picture book. The developers use layers of two-dimensional art to create an impressive-looking three-dimensional effect in each area. The problem is, there are only a few different types of environments, with only a little more than half a dozen different-looking areas that the game takes place in. In fact, repetition tends to be one of Odin Sphere's biggest weak points, because there is a ridiculous amount of it.
The game takes place from a number of different perspectives, which means you'll be seeing a number of different storylines. What this also means, however, is that one character will be fighting a boss that a previous character has already defeated or visiting the same level. For example, the last boss of the second character is the first boss of the first character. After beating the story of the first couple characters, it feels like almost all the game has already been seen. Additionally, every time you start a new character, you're back to the beginning basics, weak as a kitten, and needing to level back up to where you were once more.
As I mentioned earlier, the graphics are quite something. Two dimensions have never looked quite so good. This comes at a price, however. Most of the time, the game runs at a decent speed. Sometimes, however, when battles get intense (particularly during boss battles, when you have enemies that are large enough to fill the screen), action can slow down anywhere from merely a slight hiccup here and there to having the game crawl by at a frame or two per second. This doesn't happen too often, but when it does, it can really affect the gameplay.
There's a lot of things going against Odin Sphere. The repetition of content, difficulty, and the framerate problems makes it seem that there's nothing much to the game. Despite these faults, however, the gameplay itself is enjoyable because of its simplicity, not despite it. It is quite a problem that you'll be seeing the same environments and bosses over and over again, but the environments are attractive and the bosses varied enough to be fun defeating them more than once. It's a good game, both to play and to watch, and despite its flaws, manages to be an enjoyable storybook experience.