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Critical Reception: Atlus'/Vanillaware's Odin Sphere

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Atlus' Odin Sphere, a unique 2D brawler/RPG hybrid that is variously described by consumer press reviewers as "lengthy and engaging" or "clichéd and predictable."
This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to Odin Sphere, a unique brawler/RPG hybrid that is either "lengthy and engaging" or "clichéd and predictable," depending upon who you ask. Despite its small target audience and niche gameplay, Odin Sphere has captured a significant amount of mainstream media attention in recent weeks. Both professional critics and enthusiast-run websites alike have lauded Odin Sphere's impressively detailed graphics and fluid animation, and many anticipated its intriguing gameplay mix of multiple dissimilar genres. Thus far, however, Odin Sphere's innovations have divided critical opinion. With a spectrum of scores that range from a mediocre 68 out of 100 to a perfect 100 out of 100, Odin Sphere averages a ratio of 83 out of 100 from critics that are alternately impressed and disappointed. "Atom" at WorthPlaying contributes a review scored at 6.8 out of 10. "when I saw Odin Sphere for the first time, I was ecstatic," he writes. "When I finally got a chance to play it, however, I discovered something distressing. Odin Sphere is one of best-looking games on the PlayStation 2, and perhaps one of the best-looking ever made, but unfortunately, it is not that fun to play." Atom's complaints target everything from Odin Sphere's gameplay to its storyline. "The story in Odin Sphere isn't told in chronological order but is instead divided into various books, each of which tells the story of a specific character blessed with a Psypher weapon," he explains. "While these plots provide a basis for going through the various levels, they're not very interesting on their own, since they're mostly terribly clichéd and predictable." According to Atom, Odin Sphere's gameplay was similarly interesting in concept, but flawed in execution. "More than anything else," he says, "Odin Sphere plays like a side-scrolling brawler, with your character battling swarms of enemies to advance from sphere to sphere." However: "The basic controls are so simple that they are almost boring. While the animations are beautiful, most fights against regular enemies boil down to pounding the Square button and watching everything die in your path." "Repetition is the biggest problem with Odin Sphere. As stunningly gorgeous as the game is, there isn't much variety while playing as different characters," Atom concludes. "If the actual gameplay matched up to the stunning graphics, Odin Sphere would have been a true classic." Matt Butrovich at GameAlmighty, on the other hand, is almost entirely positive in his 8.8-out-of-10 review. "Odin Sphere has garnered a lot of attention simply due to its art style, but there’s a lot more to this package than just pretty graphics," he asserts. "Not unlike its predecessor Princess Crown, Odin Sphere combines role-playing, platformer, and brawler elements to create an RPG experience that will appeal to gamers of all sorts – if only they’ll look past its J-RPG outer shell." "I have no hesitation saying that Odin Sphere is one of the best looking games I’ve ever seen," Butrovich continues. "All of the character art is amazingly detailed and has plenty of subtle animations to draw you in. The game’s color palette is rich and vibrant, and the creative character designs will continually surprise you." Unlike others, Butrovich has few complaints with Odin Sphere's gameplay, save for some occasional technical problems. Butrovich cites "frame rate hiccups" and "some serious slowdown issues" as being occasionally detrimental, but not particularly damaging to the game overall. Butrovich comes away from the experience impressed. "Vanillaware and Atlus have teamed up to make one of the most enjoyable, unique, and visually appealing titles the veteran PS2 has ever seen," he praises. "With a brawler foundation and borrowing from several other gameplay styles, Odin Sphere should appeal to old-school gamers, RPG fans, and even button-mashers alike." GameSpot's Greg Mueller admits that Odin Sphere features its share of problems, but feels that the game earns an above-average score of 7.6 out of 10. "Odin Sphere is a striking game," he begins. "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." "Unfortunately," Mueller continues, "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." Mueller expresses ambivalence regarding Odin Sphere's gameplay. "The gameplay in Odin Sphere is simplistic, but it's challenging enough that the game doesn't seem like a completely mindless brawler," he writes. This simplicity sometimes makes the game feel limited, though. "Fighting in Odin Sphere is as simple as repeatedly pressing the square button to perform attack combos," Mueller says. "You can jump into the air for some aerial combos as well, but each character's attack moves are limited." "Odin Sphere is a great-looking game that also plays well," he concludes. "It does suffer somewhat from uneven performance and inelegant design, but it's still an undeniably enjoyable game. If you aren't hooked by Odin Sphere's unique visual style, then you'll be grabbed by its classic sentimentality and tough-as-nails difficulty." Though Odin Sphere may be one of the week's most anticipated new releases, critical reaction indicates that the experience is not for everyone. Featuring a bevy of technical issues and uneven gameplay, Odin Sphere can nevertheless remain compelling due to its strengths in other areas. For those willing to look past its flaws, Odin Sphere could be worth a cautious purchase.

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