Embarking on A Thousand Years of Dreams

Posted by thatpinguino (999 posts) -

Lost Odyssey came and went on the Xbox 360 in what felt like a flash. Somehow a game designed by Hironobu Sakaguchi and orchestrated by Nobuo Uematsu, two of the driving forces behind Final Fantasy’s heyday, has been largely left to the annuls of history and the minds of JRPG superfans. Perhaps the problem was the game’s JRPG-ness on a largely western console. Perhaps the problem was the Mistwalker name on the box, rather than Square-Enix. Perhaps the issue was the Western RPG takeover that was occurring when Lost Odyssey was released, what with Mass Effect, Oblivion, and The Witcher capturing the RPG market. Whatever the reason, Lost Odyssey should not have come and gone. Lost Odyssey broached topics that very few games cover, like the value of mortality and the value of faith. Lost Odyssey approached these topics with a subtlety and weight that I have not seen before or since, and it did so using a tool that games rarely embrace: short stories.

When I say that Lost Odyssey used short stories, I do not mean that it had a bunch of “lore” or story books, like an Elder Scrolls game or a Dragon Age game. The short stories told in Lost Odyssey are called the “Thousand Years of Dreams,” and they are the memories/dreams of Kaim Argonar (with a few exceptions), the game’s main character. Kaim is an immortal with amnesia. Throughout the game, certain stimuli can trigger one of his latent memories from his thousand-year life. These stimuli can be simple, like visiting an inn or seeing a family. They can also be dramatic, like being locked in prison or walking through a wind storm. Regardless of the trigger, once a dream starts, the player is presented with the title of the short story, a background image, and an appropriate soundtrack. These stories are then presented in an almost Powerpoint-like blend of text, animation, background changes, and audio. I know Powerpoint does not necessarily inspire a ton of emotional resonance, but the paragraphs blended with accentuating animation, music, and images provide an added tonal weight to the stories. The music will often shift to somber piano as Kaim witnesses another tragedy, or include the bluster of wind as Kaim talks about people walking against the wind. Text will often fall into place for emphasis, or appear suddenly to mimic a sudden event. The artwork used in the dreams will often mimic the story as well, such as flashing white when Kaim steps into the light after a long time in a jail cell. All of these little touches add an element of showmanship to what could have easily been static text. The end result is a series of didactic vignettes, sharing Kaim’s experiences on his seemingly endless trudge through a mortal world he inhabits, but does not belong to.

All of the trappings in the world would not have mattered if the “Thousand Years of Dreams” were poorly written or poorly translated. Thankfully, each of the stories were written by Kiyoshi Shigematsu with the skill that one would expect of an established author, translated to English exceptionally well by Jay Rubin, a Harvard professor and expert Japanese translator. The result of their collaboration is a series of short stories that show a deftness and understanding of Kaim’s privileged, yet tragic position as an immortal. Kaim is forced to witness the deaths of wives, children, friends, and acquaintances endlessly over the course of his life, with no hope that he will ever meet them in the afterlife, if there even is one. Kaim has been through so many wars as a mercenary, that he understands the difference between allies and enemies is circumstance, not moral authority or correctness. But regardless of all of his loss and perspective, Kaim still participates in the conflicts of the moment. Kaim still creates fleeting relationships that he knows he will outlive. He keeps living and loving like a mortal, despite his own immortality for a thousand years of seeming futility. He becomes more and more jaded, but does not become cynical of mortals and their doings.

In each story, Shigematsu and Rubin manage to give just enough detail to each supporting character as to make them come alive, but still leave enough ambiguity as to display the fading state of Kaim’s memory. Kaim remembers the professions and personalities of acquaintances, but not necessarily their names. Even his own wives and children’s names fade from his memory, yet their last words and his regret about not saying more still remain. The short stories do not bother introducing a bunch of proper nouns for locations or countries, because those proper nouns are not what matter. Too often in JRPG stories the jargon of their worlds overwhelms the human motivations of their characters. In the “Thousand Years of Dreams”, those proper nouns are omitted unless they are somehow crucial to the story at hand. This omission of proper nouns also adds to Kaim’s sense of age since the countries, towns, and people he is talking about could very well not exist anymore. Thus, the “Thousand Years of Dreams” contains a bunch of stories about tiny droplets of time, in an ocean of a life that could be anywhere at any time. The stories are both specific and universal at the same time. It is this very quality that makes Kaim’s stories so relatable and impactful. There is no talk of great battles and deities and heroes and magics most foul. Instead, Kaim tells stories about a little girl he met at an inn.

To shed some light on these exceptional stories, I am going to do a running series of literary analyses on each of the 33 dreams. I encourage everyone to pick up Lost Odyssey and check out this under-played classic.

#1 Edited by TruthTellah (9076 posts) -

I was disappointed by many aspects of Lost Odyssey, but for me, the Thousand Years short stories made it one of the most memorable games of the last generation. That earthquake. The blinding sun. The flowers. And just everything. This was a game that did both an amnesiac and basically vampire story right. The pain of lost memories and the struggle to keep trying to find joy despite all that has happened in your life. I don't cry very often from stories, but these really did have an impact on me.

I'm glad you'll be trying to share some of them with more people; though, I hope many will seek out the game for themselves. It's one thing to talk about them and another to watch them in context of the game.

#2 Edited by thatpinguino (999 posts) -

@truthtellah: Playing through it is definitely better than watching the vignettes, but I think most of the exceptional moments are contained in the Thousand Years of Dreams. I think this game does a great job of providing the eternal life context that vampire movies often trade in; however, it removed all of the "feeding on humans" baggage that comes with vampires. The Immortals in Lost Odyssey are human in every way except their lifespan, which makes their trials all the more relate-able.

#3 Edited by TruthTellah (9076 posts) -

@truthtellah: Playing through it is definitely better than watching the vignettes, but I think most of the exceptional moments are contained in the Thousand Years of Dreams. I think this game does a great job of providing the eternal life context that vampire movies often trade in; however, it removed all of the "feeding on humans" baggage that comes with vampires. The Immortals in Lost Odyssey are human in every way except their lifespan, which makes their trials all the more relate-able.

Mhm. A lot of it reminds me of when someone in their later years has to reconcile friends and family dying, and then trying to understand why some even far younger than you have hurt or died. Of course, there's a lot of positives in the stories, too, but it does strike a balance between hopelessness and the drive to continue forward.

I wish the game had come out for PC. Then more and more people could get to play it.

#4 Posted by thatpinguino (999 posts) -

@truthtellah: Or that the game could have come out on any other platforms. JRPGs on the 360 were largely sent out to die. In a way I feel like Lost Odyssey and Up cover some of the same ground, but Lost Odyssey covers more than just accepting loss and moving on. Honestly I wish the writing in the main game held up as well as the short stories. The main story line is really generic.

#5 Posted by TruthTellah (9076 posts) -

@truthtellah: Or that the game could have come out on any other platforms. JRPGs on the 360 were largely sent out to die. In a way I feel like Lost Odyssey and Up cover some of the same ground, but Lost Odyssey covers more than just accepting loss and moving on. Honestly I wish the writing in the main game held up as well as the short stories. The main story line is really generic.

Agreed. I'm not sure how well it could have worked for a full game, but if that writer had constructed the larger narrative(or maybe just contributed more to it), I wonder how it would have come out. The short stories were real jewels in the rough.

#6 Posted by Zeik (2428 posts) -

I was disappointed by many aspects of Lost Odyssey, but for me, the Thousand Years short stories made it one of the most memorable games of the last generation. That earthquake. The blinding sun. The flowers. And just everything.

I definitely agree that the short stories were the best part of that game. I've found most of that game to be pretty forgettable, and the gameplay was only decent, but I remember those short stories being really really good. I've occasionally considered replaying it just to experience those again.

@truthtellah: Honestly I wish the writing in the main game held up as well as the short stories. The main story line is really generic.

I also agree with this completely. If they had gotten the same writer to work on the main story I think the game would have been held in much higher regard.

#7 Edited by Aetheldod (3582 posts) -

Yeah the thouand years stories were really great and well done and as stated the main story wasnt as cool , but I think what made me not like the game as much was the long loading sequences of fights and the lack of interesting designed females with the exception of Sezh.... way too many big boobs :/ (and not good looking either). But yeah wonder why this wasnt released n other platforms and I kinda regret getting rid of the game. Oh yeah also didnt liked the magic.

#8 Posted by thatpinguino (999 posts) -

@aetheldod: Seth and Ming have some good moments if I recall correctly, but Kaim steals the show from a depth perspective.

@zeik: @truthtellah: I can't see how the story could have been more cliche. I mean Gongora is outed as the villain like 30 minutes into a 40+ hour long game.and the main characters spend the rest of the game catching up to what the player knows.

#9 Edited by Aetheldod (3582 posts) -

@thatpinguino: Seth or Sezh I dont recall ... i like her story and how her son is an old man , my fav part of the game(yep I think they are far better than Kaim) But definitely has the best overworld song in the history of rpgs , ever.

#10 Edited by thatpinguino (999 posts) -

@aetheldod: Yeah Seth teaming up with her geriatric son is pretty cool, as is Kaim teaming up with his grand-kids.

#11 Edited by TheManWithNoPlan (5508 posts) -

I played Lost Odyssey back when the only Jrpg's I'd really gotten into were Pokemon and final fantasy. I fell in love with the game and the 1000 year short stories were the best. I unfortunately never beat the game, due to an annoying multi boss fight involving sea monsters and a time limit. Unfortunately, I don't really think the game would hold up as much in hindsight. The game play's pretty simple and the story's fairly predictable, but something about Lost Odyssey's projected atmosphere and world still seems special to me.

#12 Posted by Ryanmgraef (236 posts) -

I absolutely love this game right here!

#13 Posted by oldenglishC (957 posts) -

I've always been kind of confused by my feelings for this game. I really enjoyed it. I'm just not sure if it was because it was good, or if I was just happy that it was a console JRPG last-gen that wasn't developed by Compile Heart.

I should probably replay it.

#14 Edited by thatpinguino (999 posts) -

@themanwithnoplan: I actually didn't finish the game yet. I got stuck in the final dungeon because all of the rooms looked identical and I got lost. Trying to reorient myself while running into enemies every few steps made me quit. I remember that sea monster thing though. It was a real challenge to complete.

#15 Posted by mason20 (157 posts) -

I remember this game... I still try to forget about it.

It's been a few years since I've played this game but I remember absolutely hating it. Music was fine, cinematics looked good, the female characters (Sara and Seth?) and other guy I liked. Other than that I disliked pretty much everything from combat and story especially the two children. Oh, how I hated those two characters..

With that being said I'm glad to see that people really enjoyed the game.

#16 Posted by TheManWithNoPlan (5508 posts) -

@thatpinguino: I completely forgot about the random encounters. It can definitely be a real pain in the back side trying figure out where you need to go only to be stopped every few steps along the way.

#17 Posted by thatpinguino (999 posts) -

@themanwithnoplan: It is even worse when all of the rooms look the same and there are puzzles to solve. I was backtracking for so long before I realized I was backtracking.

@mason20: The kids suffered from the Palom and Porom syndrome, they are both "precocious" spellcasters that do really cliche stuff. As such they can be really annoying when they are leaned on to be comedic relief. Jansen does the same thing as a relatively generic drunk lecher character.

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