Lost Odyssey: Discovering Gaming Greatness

Posted by dankempster (2253 posts) -
Retroactive Game of the Year 2008? Let's find out... 
It's been a long time since I last wrote a Discovering Gaming Greatness blog. A quick glance back through the archives seems to indicate that the last instalment was written way back in August, in relation to the first two Oddworld games. A lot of games has been played since then - I've worked my way through two Pokémon games (namely Yellow and Crystal), wasted a hell of a lot of time with Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise and Forza Motorsport 2, and obtained my first Giant Bomb S-Rank in my playthrough of Fallout 3. The latest name to add to this list of titles is Lost Odyssey, a fittingly epic JRPG from Hironobu Sakaguchi and the other folks at Mistwalker. As a long-time fan of Sakaguchi's other work, the purchase of Lost Odyssey seemed like a no-brainer when I first picked up my Xbox 360 back in May of last year. Despite picking it up in last June, though, the game went largely unplayed for just over a year. It wasn't until the end of August, when I hit a bit of a post-Morrowind gaming drought, that Lost Odyssey finally found its way out of its case and into my 360 proper. After three and a half months of Lost Odyssey, totalling fifty-nine hours of gameplay time and punctuated by a couple of fairly long breaks, my time with the game has come to an end, and I'm happy to say that it's without doubt one of the greatest games I've played through this year. Not only that, it's probably the best JRPG I've played since Final Fantasy X hit European soil way back in 2002. Want to know more? Then read on...
 
Every boss battle is unique and memorable 
One of the things that really made Lost Odyssey for me was the combat. While it may not cover any new ground, its true success lies in its ability to refine the age-old premise of turn-based combat to a level of near-perfection. Lost Odyssey represents perhaps one of the most finely balanced battle engines I've ever seen in any RPG. At no point during my playthrough did I ever feel like anything arbitrary was going on with the battle engine. Even little things that most players might not care too much about, like the MP cost of different spells and skills, all felt really well-balanced to me. I was also impressed by the highly tactical nature of what's going on under Lost Odyssey's hood. While being able to switch rings and accessories on the fly might not sound like a big deal, it's probably the most next-gen thing about Lost Odyssey's battle system. Not to mention the Guard Condition parameter, a seemingly simple addition which really encouraged me to start thinking about how to distribute my attacks and maintain my defence. Lost Odyssey also really knows how to do boss battles. Every one took full advantage of the little pieces of the game's combat puzzle, making for some unforgettable stand-offs. All these little innovations came together to create a truly memorable combat experience for me.
 
The whole game feels perfectly balanced 
All this excellent combat was backed up by a levelling system that took me completely by surprise. One of my favourite things about Lost Odyssey is the way the game handles experience gain. Rather than adopting a strictly numbers-based system, Lost Odyssey simplifies the process down to the most basic of levels. Lost Odyssey rewards you for taking on stronger foes, while weaker foes yield minimal experience gain. This system impressed me for two reasons. First, it makes it easy to get back on top of things if you're under-levelled at any point. Second, it discourages grinding and power-levelling tactics in order to power through the game. It also helps that this system is as well-balanced as the battle system. I stuck pretty rigidly to the game's innate 'level guide' and at no point did I ever really feel that the game was either ridiculously easy or frustratingly difficult. From a mechanical perspective, I don't think I've ever played a game as refined as Lost Odyssey.

When you see this, you know you're in for an interesting read 
For the most part, Lost Odyssey tells a pretty great story. I loved the global scale of things, and the turmoil that befalls Uhra, Gohtza and Numara is one of the games industry's more interesting 'world in chaos' plots of recent times. Less interesting were the character-driven parts of the story, which really weren't helped by the game's cast of characters. Jansen, Cooke and Mack in particular were more suffered than appreciated, I found. Thankfully, the game makes up for this with its amazing protagonist - Kaim Argonar. This is partly due to his evolution over the course of the game, but mainly owed to the beautifully written Thousand Years of Dreams stories that punctuate the game experience. Every one is interesting and appropriately emotional, and they serve as an incredible insight into the thousand-year-old mind of this troubled character. If anything ever drags me back to Lost Odyssey, it'll probably be the desire to experience more of these heart-rending dream sequences.

I'm not saying Lost Odyssey is perfect. It's got more than its fair share of issues, many of which detracted from the experience for me. The game has a major problem with loading times, for a start. While I'm not too bothered about loading times cropping up between different areas, they're a much bigger issue when they start interrupting cut-scenes. Another problem I had with the game was its unusually low encounter rate, which at times seems intent on offering up battles at ten-minute intervals. There's an unnecessary obligatory stealth sequence early on, indicating the folks at Mistwalker didn't get the memo that they went out of fashion in 2004. But, while these issues do mar the experience, they're not enough to stop Lost Odyssey from being one of the best games I've played this year. Between the expertly refined gameplay mechanics, the gorgeous visuals and the captivating story, Lost Odyssey feels like the game we might have had if Hironobu Sakaguchi had still been with Square Enix while they were working on Final Fantasy XII. I'm definitely not going to be leaving it so long before I pick up my next JRPG, that's for sure. Thanks for reading guys. I'll see you around.
 
 
Dan 
 
--- 
 
Currently playing - Forza Motorsport 2 (X360)
#1 Posted by dankempster (2253 posts) -
Retroactive Game of the Year 2008? Let's find out... 
It's been a long time since I last wrote a Discovering Gaming Greatness blog. A quick glance back through the archives seems to indicate that the last instalment was written way back in August, in relation to the first two Oddworld games. A lot of games has been played since then - I've worked my way through two Pokémon games (namely Yellow and Crystal), wasted a hell of a lot of time with Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise and Forza Motorsport 2, and obtained my first Giant Bomb S-Rank in my playthrough of Fallout 3. The latest name to add to this list of titles is Lost Odyssey, a fittingly epic JRPG from Hironobu Sakaguchi and the other folks at Mistwalker. As a long-time fan of Sakaguchi's other work, the purchase of Lost Odyssey seemed like a no-brainer when I first picked up my Xbox 360 back in May of last year. Despite picking it up in last June, though, the game went largely unplayed for just over a year. It wasn't until the end of August, when I hit a bit of a post-Morrowind gaming drought, that Lost Odyssey finally found its way out of its case and into my 360 proper. After three and a half months of Lost Odyssey, totalling fifty-nine hours of gameplay time and punctuated by a couple of fairly long breaks, my time with the game has come to an end, and I'm happy to say that it's without doubt one of the greatest games I've played through this year. Not only that, it's probably the best JRPG I've played since Final Fantasy X hit European soil way back in 2002. Want to know more? Then read on...
 
Every boss battle is unique and memorable 
One of the things that really made Lost Odyssey for me was the combat. While it may not cover any new ground, its true success lies in its ability to refine the age-old premise of turn-based combat to a level of near-perfection. Lost Odyssey represents perhaps one of the most finely balanced battle engines I've ever seen in any RPG. At no point during my playthrough did I ever feel like anything arbitrary was going on with the battle engine. Even little things that most players might not care too much about, like the MP cost of different spells and skills, all felt really well-balanced to me. I was also impressed by the highly tactical nature of what's going on under Lost Odyssey's hood. While being able to switch rings and accessories on the fly might not sound like a big deal, it's probably the most next-gen thing about Lost Odyssey's battle system. Not to mention the Guard Condition parameter, a seemingly simple addition which really encouraged me to start thinking about how to distribute my attacks and maintain my defence. Lost Odyssey also really knows how to do boss battles. Every one took full advantage of the little pieces of the game's combat puzzle, making for some unforgettable stand-offs. All these little innovations came together to create a truly memorable combat experience for me.
 
The whole game feels perfectly balanced 
All this excellent combat was backed up by a levelling system that took me completely by surprise. One of my favourite things about Lost Odyssey is the way the game handles experience gain. Rather than adopting a strictly numbers-based system, Lost Odyssey simplifies the process down to the most basic of levels. Lost Odyssey rewards you for taking on stronger foes, while weaker foes yield minimal experience gain. This system impressed me for two reasons. First, it makes it easy to get back on top of things if you're under-levelled at any point. Second, it discourages grinding and power-levelling tactics in order to power through the game. It also helps that this system is as well-balanced as the battle system. I stuck pretty rigidly to the game's innate 'level guide' and at no point did I ever really feel that the game was either ridiculously easy or frustratingly difficult. From a mechanical perspective, I don't think I've ever played a game as refined as Lost Odyssey.

When you see this, you know you're in for an interesting read 
For the most part, Lost Odyssey tells a pretty great story. I loved the global scale of things, and the turmoil that befalls Uhra, Gohtza and Numara is one of the games industry's more interesting 'world in chaos' plots of recent times. Less interesting were the character-driven parts of the story, which really weren't helped by the game's cast of characters. Jansen, Cooke and Mack in particular were more suffered than appreciated, I found. Thankfully, the game makes up for this with its amazing protagonist - Kaim Argonar. This is partly due to his evolution over the course of the game, but mainly owed to the beautifully written Thousand Years of Dreams stories that punctuate the game experience. Every one is interesting and appropriately emotional, and they serve as an incredible insight into the thousand-year-old mind of this troubled character. If anything ever drags me back to Lost Odyssey, it'll probably be the desire to experience more of these heart-rending dream sequences.

I'm not saying Lost Odyssey is perfect. It's got more than its fair share of issues, many of which detracted from the experience for me. The game has a major problem with loading times, for a start. While I'm not too bothered about loading times cropping up between different areas, they're a much bigger issue when they start interrupting cut-scenes. Another problem I had with the game was its unusually low encounter rate, which at times seems intent on offering up battles at ten-minute intervals. There's an unnecessary obligatory stealth sequence early on, indicating the folks at Mistwalker didn't get the memo that they went out of fashion in 2004. But, while these issues do mar the experience, they're not enough to stop Lost Odyssey from being one of the best games I've played this year. Between the expertly refined gameplay mechanics, the gorgeous visuals and the captivating story, Lost Odyssey feels like the game we might have had if Hironobu Sakaguchi had still been with Square Enix while they were working on Final Fantasy XII. I'm definitely not going to be leaving it so long before I pick up my next JRPG, that's for sure. Thanks for reading guys. I'll see you around.
 
 
Dan 
 
--- 
 
Currently playing - Forza Motorsport 2 (X360)
#2 Posted by Whisperkill (2969 posts) -

Lost Odyssey is a great game and everything you said is true
#3 Posted by Meowayne (6084 posts) -

Lost Odyssey is a great game and everything that you said is true except for the part where you talked about the story, which as we all know is hugely pathetic and told in one of the worst scripts and with the worst characterization in JRPG history, and that's saying a lot. 
 
You can loben? Lost Odyssey for many things, but story or storytelling, outside of the dreams, is definatly not one of them.
 
But yes, great game, and the successor that Final Fantasy X never had. Everyone even remotely interested in the genre should check it out.

#4 Posted by Pie (7099 posts) -

Damn I need to finish that game. 
In relation to the story I haven't really played many JRPG's so the story still feels vaguely fresh and interesting but as you said the highlight of the game are the text based story time hour dreams that really help to build Kaim as a character rather then the dull amnesia struck soldier with a bigass sword that the game first presents. 

#5 Posted by Jeust (10652 posts) -

I agree with you on most things, though there are differences between your experience and mine.
 
I have found scenarios, where it is really hard to go thru then without fighting every 2 minutes or so. Especially with strong enemies, what makes it very annoying.
 
The Thousand Years Old Dreams were cool and nice to read for a little while, until you discover the constant in almost all of them. Kalim is always silently right, and during the story he shows why it is and why his listener is wrong.

#6 Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw (6198 posts) -

Great write-up, Dan, and I agree with you on most every point.  I did like Jansen for the most part, but man oh man, I despised Cooke and Mack.  Definitely two characters that should have been used strictly for backstory.  The only other nitpicky detail I'd have liked to have seen was the inclusion of voice-over work by the guy that voiced Kaim for the text story bits.  Mind you, I love reading, but my TV is small and I'm legally blind, so I couldn't enjoy a good portion of the text.  But that's definitely more an issue with my eyes than the game itself.
Moderator Online
#7 Posted by ElectricHaggis (630 posts) -

Right on, brother.  I was most impressed by Kaim's hair.  It was neither spiky, nor featuring blonde highlights!  It really typifies what makes the character so great.   

#8 Posted by Jost1 (2077 posts) -

It's a fantastic game, probably better than most of the Final Fantasies to be honest

#9 Posted by xyzygy (9994 posts) -

It's one of the best games this generation. The characters are so awesome and memorable. 
 
If I could sum this game up into one word, memorable would probably be the word.

#10 Posted by JJWeatherman (14558 posts) -

I loved Lost Odyssey as well. I never have really gotten into a JRPG before it in fact. Never felt the need to play any Final Fantasy games or anything.
 
Side note: You should really buy Forza 3 and stop playing Forza 2.     : )

#11 Posted by Shinri (534 posts) -
@xyzygy said:
"It's one of the best games this generation. The characters are so awesome and memorable.  If I could sum this game up into one word, memorable would probably be the word. "

This. 
 
One of my favourite 360 games and also one of my all-time favourite games.
#12 Posted by ZenaxPure (2569 posts) -

Good write up, LO was a reminder to me why JRPGs are pretty much my favorite genre when all is said and done. Though I found it funny that you said the plot was strong and some of the characters were bad while I found it to be quite the opposite. I really liked Jansen but I found the plot to suffer greatly from such a boring antagonist, he was just far to generic for my interests. Amazing game though, reading this made me get the urge to play it, shame I have every achievement I can get without DLC save the treasure one.

#13 Posted by Meowayne (6084 posts) -

I think its awesome that by the looks of it, Lost Odyssey really does seem to end up being the better Final Fantasy XIII, just as it was the better Final Fantasy XII.

#14 Posted by ProfessorEss (7376 posts) -

I have a copy that sits here waiting to be played, but like most RPGs, jRPGs in particular, I gotta be in that perfect mood for it.
 
Still, it's nice to know when I do get that itch for some jRPG - I'll have a top notch title sitting there waiting for me.

#15 Posted by lucas_kelly (769 posts) -

I agree with you mostly, I thought Jansen was a great character though. It is probably my favorite game of this generation so far, and for me, it is my perfect JRPG. I also loved how nostalgic the game was, reminding me of classic RPG's which aren't around anymore.The game is full of emotion and has realistic characters, something that 95% of games lack.

#16 Posted by HypotheticalSolution76 (139 posts) -

I was hoping to post something about Lost Odyssey just like this in the forums today, but instead I found your post to read and I can't agree more. Yesterday I popped in the game for the first time in probably over a year, and played for like 14 hours straight. No joke. Even tried to start at my previous save, but instantly I knew that a restart for the sake of story was needed. No regrets about that decision. So far I am enjoying it this second time more than I did the first. Not quite sure if its anything in particular, but more my appreciation for the style of RPG that Lost Odyssey is. Having played it again, right now I feel comfortable saying that I really enjoy turn based combat. Even the random encounters don't bother me. OP, your comment about fewer than normal  random encounters made me think about why that is, but I honestly think it doesn't bother me as much. So far, the game has really grabbed my attention, which is something rare it seems for a game to do these days. I'm just glad I took another opportunity to enjoy Lost Odyssey.
 
To anybody on the fence about Lost Odyssey, jump over and run to your favorite game shop. I feel you'll not regret your decision to try it out.

#17 Posted by TheDudge (14 posts) -

However much I agree with most of this, I feel that the battle system, although technically should have been brilliant, had a few leittle things that sort of ruined the game for me. For one, as you mentioned, the battles are few and far between and times, and to make this sensible they made them longer than necessary. I would have preffered more short battles (but I suppose that that's personal preference).
I also thought that the experience system was a big let down, and conversly made it difficult to get back up to level as you could only get a maximum of 1 level per battle, so fighting harder monsters was actually qute pointless past a certain point. Also, I like to be able to train, and the experience system completly prevented this as once you got to the required level for an area, you basically couldn't advance beyond this, making me feel that levels were actually quite pointless (you clearly disagree). As I consider training to be an integral part of any RPG, this kind of ruined the feel, as even if I wanted to, I could not gain levels (and the lack of battles made this even worse).
 
As a result, I'm left feeling that this should be (and maybe is) a masterpiece, but one that leaves me with no will to play it :(

#18 Edited by Alex_Murphy (1184 posts) -

I swear I put 20 hours into that game before I realised there were items that gave your immortals more spell slots. But I have a habit of doing stuff like that. I was getting my ass kicked in Mass Effect 1 before I realized I had turned off auto leveling and I had gone up ten or fifteen levels without alocating any of my experience points.

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