Nostalgia is one of the main draws of remastered games. Retaining the original mechanics while making visual improvements and adjustments lets fans relive the experiences they already love. That’s the approach taken by high-profile remasters like God of War III, Grand Theft Auto V, and the new Tomb Raider – but not Odin Sphere Leifthrasir. Vanillaware has significantly redesigned the action and its underlying systems, so even though the graphics are gorgeous and familiar, Leifthrasir feels almost completely new.

If you didn’t play the original 2007 version of Odin Sphere, you won’t have anything to measure Leifthrasir against, but that’s okay. You can play the included Classic Mode if you want a full understanding, but all you need to know is Odin Sphere tells a story inspired by various myths, and you witness events (sometimes even the same events) from the perspectives of five protagonists. I remember the narrative being one of my favorite parts of the original, but it has not aged well. The structure is interesting, but beyond that gimmick, the dialogue and plot weave a decent-but-conventional fairytale that leaves you to fill in a lot of blanks yourself. While that’s disappointing, the story still adequately sets up the action, which is where this remaster shines.

Vanillaware draws on its experience with later games like Muramasa: The Demon Blade and Dragon’s Crown to reengineer Odin Sphere’s combat, transforming it into a fast, diverse, and entertaining affair. You move from zone to zone on a larger map, encountering groups of enemies in 2D, side-scrolling areas. How exactly you confront those enemies depends on where you are in the story, since each character has different attacks and skills. You may want to launch into a flurry of aerial attacks, use a potion to create a toxic cloud, or do a blade spin to shred the opposition. Regardless of who you are controlling, the action is smooth and responsive. It isn’t exactly strategically demanding, but I still got a thrill when a well-planned combo went off without a hitch.

Beyond your standard attacks, you also invest in various skills as you level. A passive damage boost gives you an advantage when striking from behind, while weapon skills can send you into a blur of magically fueled slashes. These factors further differentiate the characters; the fairy queen Mercedes has abilities focused on ranged attacks and keeping enemies at bay, but once you finish her campaign, you move on to Oswald the shadow knight (my favorite of the five), who has skills focused on enhancing his berserk mode. The fun of discovering how these abilities shape each character’s approach to combat dulls the pain of starting from nothing when a new story arc begins.

What’s different?

If you played Odin Sphere on PS2 and are curious about some of the specific changes, these are the most significant alterations. It isn’t a comprehensive list, but these tweaks improved the experience the most for me.

  • New skills and leveling system 
  • The POW meter doesn’t deplete with normal attacks 
  • Improved performance (and no slowdown during critical fights) 
  • Alchemy is more varied and flexible 
  • Cooking during stages (not just between) to raise your level 
  • No more managing multiple forms of currency 
  • Grinding not required 
  • Better inventory system

The battles may feel different, but the characters tread dangerously familiar territory in other ways. Each campaign simply remixes the same elements in different sequences with minor tweaks; level types, basic enemies, and bosses are recycled to exhaustion. Even the progression feels the same, since the bulk of your levels are gained through the cooking system. Though you learn some new recipes with different characters, you’re generally gathering the same ingredients to make the same dishes to earn experience. Plus, despite the unique combat skills, a lot of abilities overlap among characters. The repetition doesn’t deflate all of the fun, but it makes the process feel less rewarding.

Some of the same issues were also present in the original PS2 release, but Leifthrasir is an enormous evolution as a whole. With so many annoyances fixed, this feels like the game Odin Sphere was meant to be. The presentation is top-notch, and the action is fast-paced and satisfying. I still got the sense of an older game at the core of the experience, but the updates more than justify revisiting this stylish and unique adventure.