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Gorgeous hand-drawn art straight out of a medieval storybook. A soaring musical score by the famed composer of Final Fantasy Tactics. Charming storytelling elements clearly inspired by Norse mythology and the Brothers Grimm's classic fairy tales. Yes, it's safe to say that Odin Sphere, a 2D side-scrolling action-RPG that feels like a "lost" Super NES title, might cause a fair bit of excitement for the more Japanophilic among us. True to its fairy-tale inspiration, the game unfolds as five separate "books" read by a little girl, the first of which centers on a Valkyrie princess--I'd actually have preferred a choice of the five protagonists, as her tale is the least interesting by far. The four brilliant subsequent stories more than make up for this tepid start, though, and all of the characters control differently enough that the game never devolves into tedium. Take the time to savor Odin Sphere--they don't make too many like it anymore.
Whoever said 2D is dead neglected to kill off this beauty. What Odin Sphere gives up in geometry it makes up for with its insane amount of detail--the characters, enemies, and backgrounds are crafted with such intricate care that it's a miracle it even runs on the PS2 (some bosses absolutely slaughter the game with slowdown). Apart from this nagging issue (what do you expect--it is a 2D game), the experience is consistently exciting. Cutting up the story into five bite-sized bits is a brilliant idea, too--just when you get bored, you're given a new character to chow down on.
If Odin Sphere had to get by on its good looks, it would still be one of the most compelling games of the year--its hand-drawn artwork is so beautiful that you have to wonder why people ever made such a fuss about polygons. And happily, the game has far more to recommend it than simple visual panache; Odin Sphere's an inventive fusion of RPG and brawler. Once you get the hang of brewing potions and growing sheep trees in the thick of battle, you'll find a surprisingly deep adventure and a gripping story. Simply amazing.