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2007's Odin Sphere is certainly no game that's concerned with how people might label it. It doesn't try to advance any genre by asking how things could be improved, where to make things bigger or where to give players more. The only thing on Vanillaware's mind seems to have been: What's fun and how can we make a game out of that? The result is a gamer's game that really makes you wonder how it got greenlit. A 2D side scrolling action RPG with anime characters based on Norse mythology can't really be an easy pitch, can it?
The first thing that's noteworthy about Odin Sphere is its overall artistry. Fully hand-drawn with bosses larger than the entire screen and featuring heavy use of parallax scrolling, the game is absolutely stunning most of the time and the few missteps and occasional slowdowns are easily forgiven. The music is very good, even by the heightened standards I apply to JRPGs, and nicely accompanies a story that works both on the personal and on the large-scale level without falling into the common trap of trying too hard to be epic and ending up as just another forgettable variation of The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
On the gameplay-side this is a fun experience with some character dependent variety thrown in for good measure, but sometimes a bit more depth wouldn't have hurt. The restriction to be able to only equip one item at a time means the game lacks the fun of finding effects that nicely complement each other, so usually the player will just default to damage bonus since switching mid-fight is a bit too much of a hassle to really be a viable option. Boss fights typically amount to buffing attack and defense and whacking away while leaving out much of the pattern learning one might expect from a 2D game, although this might change on harder difficulty settings. Overall, the entire action aspect feels one step removed from greatness. Counters might have been nice, but what I really wished for the most was some kind of cancel system considering I often saw my death blow coming while in the middle of a combo. Luckily the continue service is far from punishing.
In my eyes, Odin Sphere is certainly a worthy addition to any collection, but in the end there's really no need for me to lay out a bottom line here. If you've seen the game in action you'll probably know if this game is for you or not, and the chances of either being disappointed or pleasantly surprised are rather slim.
Game Traits applied to Odin Sphere (PS2) by pierben