Gaming Memories: Vanillaware

After playing Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir for the PlayStation 4 earlier this year and being so impressed by it, it really got me thinking about my personal history with the developer, Vanillaware. The first time I ever became aware of the company was way back when my brother purchased the original Odin Sphere for the PlayStation 2 back in 2007. I was mesmerized by the artwork, in disbelief that there were still developers out there crafting such exquisite 2D experiences. Sadly, at the time, I skipped over playing the original. While I had always had a passing interest in Odin Sphere, I hadn’t yet refined my gaming palette; I was satisfied simply with killing shit talking little kids on Xbox live.


It would take another 3 years before I finally tried out one of Vanillaware’s games for myself: Muramasa: The Demon Blade for the Nintendo Wii. At the time, I was sifting through the astronomical amount of shovelware in the Wii’s library, trying to find any game worth my time when I stumbled upon this gem. It was one of those blissful gaming moments where everything just fell together so perfectly.

The game mixed in the perfect amount of action and exploration, always giving you time to proceed at your own leisure while supplying you with a healthy stream of new blades to upgrade and unlock. But the game does drag on a little at the end, as the two campaigns available to players have you revisit and backtrack through a handful of locations. It would be an issue that I would come to find in many Vanillaware titles, as they do seem to value multiple protagonists with varied play styles over content.


As much as I enjoyed the title on the Wii, I picked it up at a time in my life when I was trying to play as many games as possible. The second I began to glimpse that feeling of repetition sink in, I was off to the next game I could get my hands on. It wouldn’t be until the much-improved re-release of Muramasa on the PlayStation Vita, did I finally give the game it’s deserved attention. Alongside Muramasa, I picked up and greatly enjoyed the quite controversial Dragon’s Crown for the Vita. Despite the butthurt reaction from fans over the exaggerated proportions of certain female characters, I actually quite enjoyed my experience and wasn’t really turned off by the character designs.


Dragon’s Crown took a lot of cues from one of my favorites in the genre, Capcom’s 1996 arcade classic: Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow over Mystara.  Much like Shadow over Mystara, Dragon Crown incorporates many branching story paths, tons of loot to collect, and simple yet effective character progression between six character classes. The roleplaying mechanics gives players something else to focus on outside of punching through waves of eerily similarly looking dudes. While not mind-blowing by any means, playing on the Vita and being able to clear a couple of missions really fits with the playstyle of the game. I couldn’t imagine playing the games for hours on end, but as a pickup and play experience, it really works to its advantage.

odin sphere 02.jpg

And now we are finally back to Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir. After years of neglect, I’ve made the right choice in picking up the game. From what I’ve read, this remake vastly improves on the original. Vanilleware went back and refined many of the odd restrictions found in the combat mechanics to better match what would be found in their later titles such as Muramasa. With 5 playable characters and a fairly fleshed out world highly inspired by Norse mythology, there is a lot to see and do in Odin Sphere.

Dashing around through waves of soldiers with Gwendolyn’s powers of Valkyrie flight, or mowing down screen-filling bosses with the Shadow Knight Oswald is so incredibly satisfying. The rush of adrenaline I get as I unleash devastating combos reminds me of why I adore Vanillaware. I can’t wait to see what the future hold for Vanillaware. If you’ve never played a Vanillaware game before, you owe it to yourself to check out Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir. It easily stands as one of the greatest remakes to ever come out.


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