The big news this week belongs to the XBox 360, of course. As the internets knew, like, three weeks ago, all XBox models have a price drop coming on Friday, with the Arcade hardware (note: do not buy the Arcade hardware) dropping to $199, less than the Wii. The standard hardware will come in at $299, a price that is sure to help with sales for the upcoming holiday season. But, maybe you don’t have $300 for a next-gen console, or even $60 for a next-gen game. Maybe all you’ve got is $20 burning a hole in your pocket and a PS2 that needs a good workout. If so, then you just might get your money’s worth from this week’s “Greatest Hits” re-release of Odin Sphere, a hybrid side-scrolling brawler/RPG from Atlus. That’s an excellent deal on one of the most beautiful and interesting games of the last hardware generation.
I’ve written about Odin Sphere on this page before, discussing both its effective use of the cycle motif (spoilers in that post) and its rather less effective coding. I rarely make a case for a sale on this blog, as I prefer to simply discuss what I feel is going on in terms of story and imagery, but I make an exception in this case because Odin Sphere is, well, exceptional. The quality of the visual presentation cannot be overstated — this is one of those cases in which the game in motion looks better than the screenshots. The soundtrack by Basiscape is just fantastic. This presentation frames a deep and moving story that harkens back to Norse mythology and Wagnerian epics without quoting them so directly that it seems simply recycled.
That said, Odin Sphere is also deeply flawed, beset with terrible framerate reduction in some boss fights and long loading times. The apparent absence of cancels from the combat system exacerbates the frustration arising from the framerate problem. The inventory should have been larger; the recipe systems for food and alchemy should have been better refined. Some of these errors amount to mere niggling annoyances, but others can be quite exasperating. I can see why someone might be dubious about investing $40 or more into a game that puts those kinds of obstacles in the way of its glorious art. And, of course, the dreaded JRPG label probably scared away a few folks too.
A flawed diamond, however, is still a diamond. Odin Sphere‘s problems mean it will never sit atop the list of best games of all time. It is, however, a compelling story presented with largely enjoyable gameplay and stunning visuals and music. Even if you don’t usually like RPGs, that’s a combination that’s worth 20 bucks.