symphony's Odin Sphere (PlayStation 2) review

An amazing, hand-drawn story that comes at a price

** Disclaimer: I've played through Odin Sphere on two seperate PS2s and had the same amount of slowdown. Your own experience with the graphical lag may vary. In all honesty, I really hope it does fair better for other people, as if you can play this game without the slowdown, it's borderline perfect **

A gorgeous, original game with a story that draws you in. If Odin Sphere could be summed up using only the positive points, the game would be outstanding. Sadly, the cost the graphics and story come at is expensive. The game runs smoothly when the sprite count is few, but as soon as there are a dozen or more mobs on the screen, the frame rate takes a hit. A big hit. This would be easier to accept if it weren't for the fact that many boss fights involve countless mobs aiding the boss in their quest to destroy you. There is more than one fight in Odin Sphere that is annoyingly frustrating not because the fight is actually all that difficult, but rather, because it is nearly impossible to control your character due to the framerate dropping to roughly 1 frame a second. Gwendolyn's fight against the Queen of the Dead immediately comes to mind as one of the worst framerate drops I've ever seen in a game.

It makes me wonder if they even bothered with play-testing or just shipped it thinking "Hey, these are 2D graphics, they can't possibly use up much ram, right?"

Aside from that, the only other real flaw to be found is the long load times for the Pooka village shops. You'd think that small one-screen areas with very little going on would load in a relatively short amount of time. However, each of the three screens takes nearly 30 seconds to load. It's baffling.

The combat system is fun, although some could argue it get's monotonous. Each of the five characters have their own different abilities and combat styles, however, and that keeps it fresh, and makes fighting a familiar boss for the second (or third, or fourth, or fifth) time a new experience. It would have been nice to see a few more original bosses, but with the way the story is set up, it's understandable as to why they chose to have some of the foes encountered multiple times.

Speaking of the story, it's done in a terrific connect-the-dots sort of way. Each character's story takes place around the same time, and you get to experience similar events through different perspectives, as well as fill in missing pieces of the story as you progress with characters unlocked later on. The ending is interesting in that you get to choose who fights what and the outcome differs, but the game kind of throws it in your face as to who you should be choosing ro fight certain battles.

Ultimately, it's the graphics that sell the game. They're jaw-droppingly gorgeous and it is very easy to see a lot of care went into this aspect of the game. No corners were cut -- your character doesn't merely sit down at a table, they approach it, place their weapon against the side of it, sit down, and look up at the waitress. It's apparent that the art team went to great lengths and did a terrific job. It's just disappointing that the game's engine (or perhaps the PS2's hardware) can't keep up with it at times.

And that is exactly why the game only strikes me as "good" instead of awesome-- the glaring problem with the combat engine is a major kink that should have been worked out (either by making the bosses more difficult and scaling down the number of adds, or by working out bugs in the code) and really does hurt the game to the point of frustration. Even with this glaring problem, I hold this game near and dear to my heart. The graphics and animation are some of my all-time favorite and the story is amazingly told. It pains me that I can't rate this game higher, but I honestly found myself on the brink of tears due to the frustration some of the fights provided, not because they were hard, but because I wasn't able to move thanks to the slowdown.

If you find yourself throwing the controller down during a boss fight and cursing the frame-rate, believe me, I know the feeling all too well.
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