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Escaping The Clones

Well, I genuinely tried to avoid just purchasing Odin Sphere. I stepped into the Gamestop hoping to find another game of relatively original game play with high production values. However, this proved to be a most difficult endeavor. There's just so many clones these days.

That said, my search was not entirely fruitless.

The early days: How many clones do you see here? And they pulled all this off with 64KB of RAM and a roughly 1 Mhz processor.

For the PC, I almost bought Mark Ecko's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure, but I'm not so desperate to "stick it to the man" that I want to play a game about street tagging. There was no sign of Overlord or UFO:Afterlight, otherwise I might have picked one or the other up. Yes, UFO:Afterlight is basically an X-Com clone, but there hasn't been a good one of those since X-Com 2 or 3, over a decade ago. (Silent Storm, while excellent, was not open-ended.) Thus, I already owned and bored of all the good PC games they had at that location.

So it is that I turned to the console games.

There's quite a few innovative Wii games, looking to make use of their fancy controller, but not really enough Wii games altogether. Twilight Princess finally has been joined by some quality titles like Super Paper Mario or (if you're not absolutely bored of the formula) Mario Party 8. Besides, Wii games go for about $50-60 a pop, even the sucky ones. I'm not made of money, and so as long as rental is a viable option I'm not buying any Wii games.

The Nintendo DS is a pretty stellar platform as well when it comes to originality, but we already have Puzzle Quest, and I wasn't in the mood for another handheld game.

I don't own a PS3, and my brother owns the X-Box 360. So it is that I ended up with Playstation 2 titles as being the best chance of producing something I'd want to play.

The PS2 is indeed a fabulous platform for snagging creative titles. This is, after all, the birthplace of Guitar Hero, Parappa the Rappa leading to Guitaroo Man, Dark Cloud 2, and stranger titles yet. I nearly picked up a used copy of Bully, but I'm no more thrilled about being a delinquent than I am about graffiti. After all that, I came back to Odin Sphere because a few good reasons:
  1. A $40 price tag for a long and epic game. Thus, valuing the game enough to warrant not simply renting it.
  2. Beautiful hand-drawn artistry. It makes 3D graphics look like a fad.
  3. A Play Magazine quote on the back that said, "...this is the perfect game." That's a pretty ballsy conclusion and I had to see how it measured up.
I had seen the Gamespot review and thus has pierced the veil of hype. My attempts to find a better alternative had failed. So it was that I decided it was time to invest the necessary green to purchase Odin Sphere.


An Odin Sphere "English Trailer" mostly pasted together parts of the game. It's surprisingly honest about the overall game experience, right down to the laggy bits - all it's missing is the alchemy and plant growing.

I haven't regretted purchasing Odin Sphere yet. It can be a difficult game, especially once I reached the fourth chapter, but the challenge is a necessary component to keep things compelling enough to want to continue playing. The plot might seem a little sappy, as does the fanciful artistic, but if you're able to accept that then the overall experience is exceptional. The musical scores by Hiroshi Sakimoto, flighty orchestral compositions, are quite good. Here we have the kind of multimedia extravaganza that feels like a good game should. I haven't enjoyed a game this much since Psychonauts. It is, as the back of the box says, "A masterwork, a feast for the senses, the kind of visual experience that every gamer dreams possible, but rarely enjoys."

But I wasn't here for something that was only skin deep. My goal was to find a game whose gameplay was just different enough as to prove entertaining, not something that innovated entirely from the ground up, and Odins Sphere has delivered.

The main aspect of the game is the kind of side-scrolling beat em' up combat, but it has been enhanced to have some more worldly aspects. The embedded video describes it better than I. You can run as far left or right as you want because the stage loops, and there's a nice radar in the upper right corner keeping you aware of the action immediately around you by including silhouettes of all the involved sprites. You've only a single attack button which can used rapidly to chain, but if used too rapidly results in your character becoming tired and temporarily defenseless.

There are secondary aspects of this game that make it more interesting than a simple beat'em up. Character progression is simple: you've two levels, one goes up from eating food, the other goes up from absorbing life energy. Absorbing life energy also frees you up to cast various potent spells. However, that life energy can also be used to grow plants whose seeds you plant, which thus far generates different kinds of food, in time I wouldn't be surprised to see different results from later seeds. Alchemy is a particularly advanced mechanic that involves raising the score on "material" potions by mixing them with various items until finally combining them with certain creatures you find and harvest form the ground to create potions of various effects. Depending on the score of the "material" potion, you can generate a lot of soul energy which can go (directly or indirectly) into either of your levels.

Thus, from simple origins, the game gradually works itself up into something fundamentally more difficult. After about 6-8 hours of play, I've yet to see the full extent of all aspects of the game. This masterful use of properly increasing complexity is perhaps what generates the necessary depth to be a worthwhile play for me. Even at its simplest, playing effectively with the core mechanic is rewarded, and simple button mashing is a recipe for disaster.

So far, I've been enjoying the Valkyrie's story, even though she's way too eager to please her father, and this might be exactly the reaction the writers were going for. There's eventually 5 playable characters, each of whom possess some unique combat mechanics, and each of whom also have their own story. I'm excited for that, because if their stories are as long and detailed as the Vakyrie's, this will be a long and enjoyable experience. The backdrop of the characters is surprisingly well inspired from nordic and other myths, and I think that it's also something that both ladies and men could enjoy. I'm thinking I might purchase a copy for my sister and her hubby.

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