I should probably put it behind a page break, though. There's... a few.
Whups. That's Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls... hang on...
There's Odin Sphere.
Every new game, new character or loaded save begins in the attic, with Alice and Socrates. The game's narrative takes place through the books she reads.
Alice ends up with a lot of books.
The first is Valkyrie, the story of Gwendolyn, daughter of King Odin and princess of the Valkyries.
Each hero has unique idle animations. One of Gwendolyn's is to reach out for a little blue bird that will flutter down and land on her hand. It remains for a moment,
before she opens her hand and lets it take to the sky.
The stereotypical Arabian Nights-inspired far east trader unapologetically remains.
The northern forests.
Odin has a lot of problems with Velvet, the forest witch who has allied herself with the cursed populous of Valentine.
Meanwhile, back in her father's Kingdom, Gwendolyn is depressed. Her sister died in the game's opening, you see, and her father does not appear to give any shits. She's desperate for some evidence of his affection.
S-ranks are tied both to the amount of time it takes you to beat the level and how kickass your combo chain was, during. It's a meter that begins at S and slowly drains. You can slow the drain (or reverse it entirely) by kicking the shit out of your enemies in one long, unbroken combo, never suffering damage.
In the game are Mandragoras - sentient, bipedal root vegetables that remain hidden beneath the ground, only squeaking to announce their presence when you walk over them. Once you smack them out of the ground, they freak out and run away - or through you, if they're in an aggressive mood. And yes, they can hurt you. You'll need to whack them again to stun them, before collection.
Scrolls and books you'll find will give you alchemy recipes (super-handy and powerful), mostly consisting of Mandragoras,
or cooking recipes (we'll get to that in a bit) or snippets of story with this lovely wood-block-print-lookin' art.
Or at least I think they're snippets of story. For all I know that's a review of Elmore James' early work. He was, after all, a noted wizard of slide guitar.
Tiny, glittering souls erupt from your enemies once defeated (or for every section of life bar you remove from a boss). Just like in the original Odin Sphere, they can be used to feed the seeds you plant,
like the humble Napple tree, which is actually necessary for one of the most powerful cooking recipes in the game,
or for when you want to grow some sheep,
...or you can simply spend the souls on the myriad of skills you'll unlock in each hero's skill tree. The skill trees are actually pretty huge, and (as a general rule) each skill can be upgraded between two and nine times to make it more powerful.
The above and below images represent a single map, early in the game. Far more complicated than the original game's layout, there are hidden, secret rooms, and passages that you can only enter after blowing them open with an alchemy recipe - or after finding yourself shrunk from an encounter with a particularly lovely mushroom...
Dayum, Odin, when you gonna' give Gwendolyn the approval and affection she so craves? You a cold-hearted son-of-a-bitch, Odin.
You no longer require a Warming Potion to see you safely through the gorgeous frozen north.
In each and every mission, you'll find (several) places where you can ring the bell to summon the new wandering chef Pooka, who didn't appear in the original game. He can make delicious and XP-boosting meals or take-out dishes, if you've obtained the necessary recipes. He takes no coin for his efforts, but you have to provide the ingredients.
It always feels good to put down General Brigand - especially as Gwendolyn. Betray my father, will you? Oh - Brigand means thief? I guess I should've seen it coming then, but I'm still gonna' kick your ass!
Gwendolyn's dad (who we've established is an asshole) promises her hand in marriage to Oswald, the fearsome Shadow Knight and enemy of her people - as a strategy to obtain the legendary ring Titrel from him.
While Gwendolyn acknowledges that she looks super-pretty in her civilian clothes, she hates the thought of not serving her father, and not taking up her spear as a Valkyrie should.
The walk away from her castle home with Oswald didn't appear in the original release.
It's really pretty. And from there, before you strike out on your next mission, you can visit
the fabulous Pooka Village! Subterranean home of the cursed populous of Valentine, the people now known as Pookas live humble lives as craftspeople and - most notably for our purposes - chefs.
In each cosy kitchen and dining room, you can pay some of your hard-earned coin to sup on rare delights - or grab some take-out to carry in to your next adventure.
Whether you eat now or later, any food you consume directly gives your health bar experience points. When you level up, you'll get a big boost to your max HP, and every dish offers a tiny little +max HP bonus too. If you wanna' get stronger in Odin Sphere, you gotta' eat.
Remember how Odin sold Gwen to Oswald in return for a ring? Well Oswald decided to kill two birds with one stone. He gives Gwendolyn the ring as a symbol of his affection, knowing that she may betray him and take it to her father.
Gwendolyn returns to her homeland, and - having been banished as part of the agreement with Oswald - has to fight her way through her own people to return to her father's side.
What do you think ends up happening when she gets there? Odin reveals himself to be a bastard, naturally, and Gwendolyn - realizing that she abandoned true love for the selfishness of her father - sets out to find Oswald.
He's been captured by the Lord of the Fire Kingdom.
Then he dies,
so she goes to the Land of the Dead to get him back.
There are some pretty cool new minibosses. This one is a lot like fighting Oogie Boogie from Nightmare Before Christmas.
The Queen of the Dead doesn't take too kindly to Valkyrie Princesses demanding she give up her precious human souls - but the business end of a magical crystal spear will settle that.
And lo, reunited the pair return to Odin to let him know what a dick he is. How much of a dick is he? Entirely. He is entirely a dick.
That's not the end or entirety of Gwen's story, of course. But then we roll right into Cornelius.
Crown Prince of Titania, Cornelius doesn't want to listen to his father's insistence that he not hang out with Velvet, his sweetie. That night he crashes out
and wakes up in the Land of the Dead
with rabbit ears and a big crystal sword.
So naturally, he cuts his way out of hell and sets out to find his beloved and break the pooka's curse.
Those ears take some getting used to, though.
Ooh, a wing'ed key! This will surely prove useful in these newly-complicated levels.
General Brigand still needs an ass-whuppin'. It's worth noting that Cornelius's story takes place before Gwendolyn's.
He also has to fight Wagner, the oldest and strongest of the remaining dragons. Wagner's cool about it, though - all things considered, he's a pretty chill dragon.
The ruins of old Valentine.
Titania. I love his dash-slash. He zips across the screen in like four frames, and all these little arcing cuts impact the enemies, throwing them into the air for follow-up.
These big Titanian guards have their fancy-schmantzy potions, and we have ours.
Dragons suffering from mind control spells wrought by evil wizards be in to some kinky shit.
Cornelius and Velvet, reunited. He can't tell her that it's him, of course. That wouldn't be melodramatic enough, and not what Odin Sphere goes for.
Mercedes! Princess of the Faerie Folk.
Unlocking a new skill is always exciting. It could be, for example,
a colossal artillery shot of a fireball that will be like your bread-and-butter super move for her entire campaign.
All the heroes fight like, all the other heroes in their campaigns. Here I am, beating the crap out of the Shadow Knight as a super-moe fairy princess. Good times.
My kingdom is as beautiful as it is rich in G-strings.
Oh nooo this frog wants to kiss me - I've never done that before!
Meet a new boss. Same as the old bosses except bigger and usually way more challenging.
Mining psypher crystals in the Land of the Dead is thirsty work, but it pays well. Omnipotent psypher weapons don't make themselves, you know.
Come, weird unicorn knights! Come, lanky soldier men!
Come, shamelessly sexualized archer fairies! Your Princess has need of you!
Today we go to WAR!
New environments suggest the doomed kingdom of Valentine was once very industrialized. But there's no time to wax historical - Oswald's up!
Oswald the Shadow Knight, all-round bad mother(shut you mouth!), will kill one of the last dragons and be pretty chill a bout it, if that's the job.
But as we know, Oswald has designs on a certain princess of the Valkyries.
Note the red circle with the word "berserk" through it in the top-left(ish). That's Oswald's ability to activate his super-badass Shadow Knight form, which is super-effective at slaying dragons and like, evil wizards.
Those who listen to the podcast will note I had a bunch of trouble with a windy winter area that I couldn't proceed through until equipping a certain boot item. My victory over it is pictured above, for posterity.
The love story between Oswald and Gwendolyn is actually ridiculously touching. Even in Japanese.
After Mercedes' (pretty awesome!, yet) low-point campaign, Oswald was way, way too much fun. So I pretty much blitzed through his campaign without taking nearly enough screenshots.
But then? Then you unlock the ability to play as Velvet.
Velvet is the crown jewel.
Her psypher chain, with its relatively slow striking speed but very long reach, absolutely turns Velvet into the game's finesse fighter. Her down+attack has a ton of versatility - a quick short slide for quickly breaking guards with a tap of attack, and if you hold attack for just a moment, she'll whip out one end of the chain and yank it back towards her, pulling any enemies in front of her in for some pain. If you hold it even longer... well there's a cooler screen of that below.
Velvet lays the smackdown on the Queen of the Dead.
Oh no! Dead guardsmen!
The (brand new!) might morphin' mushroom miniboss in the enchanted forest is probably the most challenging of the new additions. She begins as a sexy mushroom lady, then transforms into a colossal mushroom behemoth, and then into a toxic little waddling 'shroom. Protip: mix some antidotes.
Remember when I said we'd get to the third down+attack move? This is it. The thing collectively will hit for thousands of damage when used against multiple enemies, tossing them all into the air. It always feels super-cool.
This is Velvet's drop attack (down+attack when in midair). She flings the chains down (doing damage) and yanks them to slam into the g round at the point of impact - at a slight angle. Just a bit different from every other character - very powerful - and requiring a bit of practice to master.
You'll still find beautiful glowing butterflies throughout missions, just waiting for you to suck phozons out of them.
This spinning chain attack is the final strike of Velvet's air combo. She wips the chain around hitting multiple times, and the final strike will throw the enemy away. Fortunately, she then has several opportunities to reach out and follow-up.
Remember when I said the mushroom miniboss was the hardest addition to the game? I was wrong.
Forgot about the airship. The airship is fucking insane.
Fuck that airship.
Velvet stands atop the Cauldron - vile machine of the ancient world, driven by the much-desired ring on her finger, Titrel - which will bring about the end of days.
Probably the single hardest fight in the game, though, was Velvet's duel against Wagner. He summons moving pillars of icy wind and a small army of ice sprites who will freeze you on impact - and then every subsequent one that hits you will shear another 100+ HP off. You'll notice I have about 800 hit points, so yeah.
That took a lot of retries. But it felt frickin' incredible when I finally put it down.
Velvet, of course, is the champion of the much-maligned Pooka.
She was actually the first character that made me realize each hero has two idle animations.
Her other is this very polite stance.
When people say Vanillaware has screen-filling bosses, they are not kidding. That's gameplay, by the way.
Velvet knows that Cornelius hid his beastly form from her. She still loves him, of course, because she's cool people. But by now, we're in to Ragnarok. The world is ending, and only a Valkyrie can save it.
So she beats the fuck out of Leventhan, the last dragon, one who will eat the world, high above the Earth,
and plummets to what she think is her death.
Which makes Alice so terribly sad. And me. I welled up again, of course. Even in Japanese, Gwendolyn's sacrifice still gets me right in the feels.
...took me thirty-two hours and twenty minutes, all told. Got the True Ending, of course, because (1) I'm not a quitter and (2) the correct order to fight the bosses is the same today as it was in 2007. I'm missing a lot of secrets, I expect, and thus skills - but that can wait 'till the localization in June.
'Till then, though, I've still got what is, by far, the best page on my Vita.