Odin Sphere is a striking game. One look at the ethereal fantasy world and its cast of astoundingly detailed characters and you'll want to see more. In fact, the game looks so good that it might take you a while to realize that beneath all that hand-painted artwork is a very basic beat-'em-up. It's a good beat-'em-up, though, and not just because it looks fantastic. Despite serious performance issues, Odin Sphere successfully brings together gorgeous, stylized visuals and satisfying gameplay in a lengthy and engaging adventure.
The game takes place in the fantasy world of Erion, where several kingdoms are in conflict. The story involves a magic artifact and a prophecy, but it's full of enough dramatic twists and turns to avoid feeling clichÃ©. You start out playing as a valkyrie who is the daughter of a king, but after you beat the game you unlock new playable characters. There are five characters in all, and each one offers a unique perspective on the story.
Before getting to the gameplay, you'll want to take some time to enjoy the visual presentation of Odin Sphere. The game takes place in a child's storybook, so it's an imaginative fantasy world full of monsters and magic. You'll travel everywhere from icy mountaintops to fiery volcanoes and even to the netherworld. Each area is full of detail, with backgrounds that seem to stretch on forever and some great scaling techniques to make it all feel organic and alive. Even more impressive are the highly detailed character sprites, some of which are so huge they fill the screen completely. Odin Sphere doesn't support progressive scan, so it's standard definition only, but the high-resolution artwork still looks remarkably sharp and vibrant.
Unfortunately, the game doesn't look as good in motion as it does at a glance. The character animations are a bit stiff, but they look good, especially for some of the elaborate boss attacks. What hurts Odin Sphere the most is the tremendous slowdown that accompanies the intense onscreen action. It's so bad that it just about ruins at least one of the boss battles, dropping the frame rate almost to a dead stop.
The gameplay in Odin Sphere is simplistic, but it's challenging enough that the game doesn't seem like a completely mindless brawler. You take control of one of five playable characters and visit the various kingdoms in the world of Erion, typically fighting dozens of enemies and a handful of bosses. Each area is divided into small stages, which are connected in a large web. As a result, there are several paths through each area, so you can go looking for treasure or head straight for the main boss. The stages are flat and are connected at the ends to form a continuous loop. To pass a stage you usually have to kill a set number of enemies or fight a boss. The stages look varied, but the structure and patterns are mostly the same. The design works fairly well, and it's nice to have the freedom to take several different paths through a level. However, the problem is that between each stage you have to wait for the game to load. It usually takes only 10 seconds or so to load the next stage, but when the stages take only 20 seconds to clear, the load times become problematic.