Somewhat of a rarity in today's largely 3D gaming scene, Odin Sphere is a completely 2D RPG. With gorgeous, seemingly hand-painted characters, levels, and backgrounds, excellent voice acting and music, and a compelling story, Odin Sphere is a wonderful treat. Only flawed gameplay holds it back from true greatness.
Odin Sphere's story unfolds like a fairytale. Through its six chapters, you will control the Valkyrie Princess Gwendolyn, cursed Prince Cornelius, fairy queen Mercedes, Dark Knight Oswald, and the witch Velvet. The story of each character is interwoven with those of the others, and only by playing through all of them do you receive the whole tale. Luckily, the narrative is extremely captivating (and more than a little sad).
Graphically, Odin Sphere is phenomenal. The character sprites are so large and detailed that they exude personality and seem almost alive. The environments are equally excellent, and the spell effects, though understated, don't clash with the overall aesthetic. The only downside is the large amounts of slowdown that happen whenever there is a lot happening on the screen. It doesn't break the game, but it happens often enough to be quite annoying.
The game also excels in the audio department. The music is suitably epic and does a great job of pulling you in. The voice acting is also fantastic. Some of the lines may seem a bit old-fashioned and melodramatic, but it is a fairy tale, after all. This is seriously good stuff.
The gameplay is where things become sticky, and more than a little complicated. Each character has a special weapon known as a Psypher. By defeating enemies, spiritual particles called Phozons are released. You can absorb them with your Psypher, making your attacks more powerful. Alternately, you can plant seeds, which absorb the Phozons and grow various fruits, which you can then eat to increase your HP. Additionally, by mixing various ingredients with alchemy flasks, you can create potions that produce a variety of effects (such as dealing damage, healing yourself, creating barriers, or enhancing attacks). Mixing ingredients also releases Phozons. Everything you do is inextricably linked, and will take quite a while to get a firm grasp on.
The problem with this is, once you have it mastered (usually by the beginning of the second story) you realize that this is the extent of the gameplay, and is virtually the same for every single character. You will tread the same areas, plant the same seeds, and perform the same actions over and over again as every character. After the third story it simply becomes too repetitive to enjoy all that much. Combine this with a wildly uneven difficulty level (even on the easiest setting) and you may lose interest before the end of the game.
It is difficult to argue for or against Odin Sphere. It is a great experience, but serious gameplay issues hold me back from recommending it wholeheartedly. The best advice I can give is to try it before you buy it. Depending on the gamer, it can be an RPG fan's dream come true, or an exercise in frustration.