I’ve been playing through Vanillaware’s Odin Sphere for the PS2 this week. Odin Sphere is an action RPG about a war in the fantasy world called Erion. The game takes the symbolism and ideology from Norse mythology (Vikings!) and creates a world that the player experiences through five different characters, each on opposing sides of a global conflict. It’s a game known for its lush artistic style more than it’s brawling gameplay, but what’s underplayed is the dark tone of the plot. For example, it’s not uncommon to stumble on a skeleton talking about the maggots eating his brain or an instance of patricide.
In spite of being a game where an entire population of characters are anthropomorphic bunnies, Odin Sphere has plenty of content meant to make you think about things and generally depress you. The game is played from the viewpoint of five different characters who each have their own set of levels. The third character is Mercedes, the Fairy Queen.
The other four characters are differing degrees of tanking melee types who can take a lot of damage and kill their enemies with a standard four strike combo. Mercedes differs in that she can use her wings to fly and she uses her crossbow for ranged combat. To balance her, she can only take a couple of hits before she dies, so playing her story involves a lot of hit-and-run style combat. Her’s is a coming of age story in which she kisses a frog and finds her confidence, and while her story has as many dark elements as everyone else’s, she’s been saddled with the responsibility of providing comic relief for the middle portion of the game.
Take the shop owners interactions with Mercedes. For the other characters, the merchants just say something like, “Don’t stab me! I just want to sell you things!” They have a different tone with Mercedes though. It’s a tone that waffles between incredulity at the sight of a fairy and eagerness to take advantage of a fairy.
No one illustrates amazement and opportunism better than the first vendor you meet, who starts excited:
And then gets down to business:
Then there’s this guy, who is just excited to be around so many fairies:
Or maybe you shouldn’t be sampling your supply so much.
Next we have this little bunny vendor, for whom business has apparently been slow:
That bunny is not reflecting well on his business venture.
And finally, there’s this human merchant who seems a little presumptuous:
Well that’s very nice.
Maybe we should get to know each other a little first.
Mercedes has several other encounters of hilarious note, but my favorite is with the ghost of a king who destroyed his homeland with his thirst for power. Mercedes and her dwarf companion have just had an icy exchange with this ghost, who has finally decided the time for words is over:
Oh dear. This seems threatening.
Mercedes reflects my own disappointment at this underwhelming surprise. Her voice acting is spot on here. She could not sound more bored. That’s because this is the third time the player will have fought this boss, and he is not much of a challenge. That is to say, he’s no challenge at all. You just have stay behind him and shoot him, and he’ll never hit you. Sometimes he’ll turn around, so you’ll go to his other side and still not get hit. Ugh.
Dwarf, what do you think?
I suppose that’s true, but you forgot to mention his eggshell. That’s quite a balancing act. Here’s a video so you can see these three lines delivered with all of the weight their creators intended:
I appreciate when developers recognize that their work is serious to the point of exhaustion, particularly in a game as long as this one that will probably end after about 35 hours of play. The humor works here because its incidental, and it fits with the character of Mercedes and the strange encounters a fairy would presumably have if she went to the supermarket. These tiny distractions also don’t take the form of a grating minigame, which is a device that RPG developers go back to all too often. I’ve played through Mercedes’ story now and am back with a depressing character in the form of Oswald the Shadow Knight, but my time with the fairy queen was a welcome oasis from all of the depressing fantasy tropes that Odin Sphere adores.
What uses of humor in video games have you appreciated? Leave your thoughts in the comments!
Atlus’ official Odin Sphere web site
A comprehensive article about Odin Sphere on HG101
The Odin Sphere wiki, full of story related info and excellent art from the developers and fans
Developer Vanillaware’s official web site (Japanese)