This game is worth it for Jansen
- A JRPG from the original creators of Final Fantasy
- Old school, turn based RPGs with several unique twists
- A well crafted premise and story
- Fantastic music by Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy's composer)
- Caps level grinding so bosses stay challenging and fun
- Unique skill learning for Immortals vs Mortals
- 30+ hour adventure
- Some genuinely touching moments in the story
- High class voice work with a decent script
- Has a female character that isn't some sort of healer or mage
- There's a character named "Sid." Wink and a nod, Sakaguchi
- Jansen might be the greatest JRPG character of all time (with the exception of the cast of Nier)
- Four discs
- Load times are atrocious unless you install it to the HDD, and even then they are pretty awful
- Bad pop-in on the graphics thanks to the Unreal engine
- Story goes completely bonkers during the final parts
- DLC is basically just challenge rooms with no additional plot
- Follows traditional JRPG tropes (stupid costumes, save points, putting kids in your party, etc.)
- Won't ever get a sequel
Get ready to go back to turn-based JRPG bliss
Lost Odyssey is an interesting game, if only because of the dev team behind it. Hironbu Sakaguchi, the director/designer behind Final Fantasies 1-9, resigned from Square just before it merged with Enix, and founded his own studio (Mistwalker). Nobou Uematsu also left Square-Enix shortly after and joined up with Mistwalker. Their first game, Blue Dragon, had heavy influence of Akira Toriyama (famous for his work on Dragonball, Dragonball Z, Dragon Quest, and Chrono Trigger), and some considered it the "dream team," much like Chrono Trigger was several decades ago. Unfortunately the game didn't do as well as they anticipated, though it was very much a traditional, turn-based JRPG in the realm of the early Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior games.
Skip ahead a few years. Mistwalker was joined by a large number of people who worked on the original Shadow Hearts games (called "feelplus") and they created Lost Odyssey. It's worth nothing that feelplus along with Cavia (the makers of Nier) have since been dissolved and merged into a bigger company, AQ Interactive (which I expect is working on the greatest JRPG of all time right now). With the combined forces of the geniuses behind Final Fantasy and Shadow Hearts, you'd expect Lost Odyssey to be a crazy good game.
Guess what? It actually ended up being pretty quality.
Though the whole "bare midriff on a dude" thing isn't exactly my cup of tea
Lost Odyssey follows the story of Kaim, an "immortal" who is several thousand years old. He serves in the army for his country (the game starts with him fighting on a battlefield, unable to be killed) which is on the verge of a magical/technology revolution (think Final Fantasy VI). When he and another immortal are sent out with the mortal Jansen to fix some issues in the magic...producing plants (or something like that), they uncover a plot that (obviously) puts the whole world in trouble and off they go to save it.
Lost Odyssey's core story isn't that different from most JRPGs. Rag-tag group of heroes, including girls that really should put more clothes on and some random kids, go out to fight the big-baddie who keeps messing up the world. Basic stuff. Where Lost Odyssey excels, however, is in its short side stories that branch off the main quest.
For example, Kiam is married, but he hasn't seen his wife in decades. He also has a (mortal) daughter, who he believes died many, many years ago. The idea of an immortal person living in a mortal world (and making social ties with some people who, unlike them, grow old and eventually die) is a promising one, and the game manages to put some very emotionally driven, well-crafted scenes based around these ideas. While I do wish they'd taken those themes and better woven them into the main story, it's the little things in Lost Odyssey that make the story shine.
Now I'm going to ignore all that and talk about Jansen, who is amazing.
This guy is freaking hilarious
Jansen as a character is actually pretty JRPG cliche. He's a big-headed womanizer (who is assigned to your party at the beginning and shows to the rally point drunk and with three prostitutes) who finds love and that the real joy in life is helping your friends, etc. etc. I'm guessing had the voice actor just played it straight with the script, he wouldn't have been as memorable.
But he doesn't play it straight. In fact, I'm pretty sure the voice actor just did whatever the crap he wanted, because there are parts where Jansen talks and the other characters seem to completely ignore him. Jansen is basically the annoying younger brother in this game, and it is hilarious, especially considering he's basically a mortal amongst immortals and is totally outclassed.
His complaining and wisecracks drop down near the end (where he "finds the true meaning of friendship" or whatever), but for the most of the story Jansen is easily one of the most realistic, entertaining JRPG characters I've seen. In a genre filled with rote, stilted performances, Jansen is a breath of fresh air. And he's a pretty decent character in battle, too (our designated "black mage.")
You show 'em, Jansen.
The combat in Lost Odyssey is a familiar affair. At it's core it's basic, turn-based combat with little frills. You issue commands, and then they execute in the order the "speed" stat designates. One rather big problem I found right away was the fact you don't know the order characters go in, especially relative to the enemies. In games like Final Fantasy X, it provides a handy bar on the side to let you know when your moves will go off, how you can push an enemy's turn back, etc. It added a lot of strategy. Lost Odyssey doesn't have that feature, and it's unfortunate.
Actually in battles, as stated before it's pretty standard. The only real "twist" is the "Ring System." Basically you can equip all your characters with offensive "rings," that either bestow elemental powers or status effects, that sort of thing. These only apply to melee attacks, so it's sort of useless on your mages. When you rush for an enemy (see the first screenshot), a ring appears, and if you release the A button at just the right time you get a small bonus. It's a little thing, but it keeps the battles from being pure button-mashing affairs, and finding out which enemies are weak to which rings keeps the strategy going.
Another interesting feature is the XP/Leveling, as well as ability leveling. For XP, you are essentially "level capped" in each area. You level normally for a set number of levels, then after that XP growth drops substantially. This is a way of basically reigning in your levels so the bosses will stay a challenge, and it works. There are ways, once you get a boat, to get to areas and still XP grind your way to easy victories, but until that point the bosses are very challenging and the game makes sure you don't just play for an extra two hours and then cakewalk past the boss.
Abilities also grow in interesting ways. The four immortals you get don't learn abilities through leveling, while the mortals do. The immortals instead have to learn the moves from the mortals, and they can only learn them if they are in the same party. Mortals cap out on abilities at around level 40, so after that there is no point in using them instead of the immortals (who can learn every ability and have higher stats than the mortals). This makes characters like poor Jansen useless by the end of the game, but at least the mortals have a slight advantage up until then.
Sorry buddy, that's just how it works.
Graphically, the game looks pretty good, and by that it looks like a game made in the Unreal 3 Engine (like every other freaking game this generation). Bitmapping is there full force, the art design is your traditional JRPG variety, and as a whole it's completely passable but nothing too special. Texture pop-in is a problem, but it lessens if you install it to your 360s hard drive. Which you should because the load times are atrocious. It can take anywhere from 15-30 seconds just to go to a new area. If you are running through a city, that's more time than you actually spend in each area. Installing it drops the time to about 5-10 seconds, which is much more manageable, but since the game has four discs you either have to have a big hard drive or swap installs (which is what I had to do). I don't know why these load times are so bad (Gears of War is a better looking game on the same engine and it hardly ever has to load) but they really could have optimized that better.
Music is fantastic throughout. Uematsu doesn't really reach the same level as some of his previous Final Fantasy offerings, but still produces a soundtrack heads and tails above most other video game soundtracks. Music is atmospheric and fully orchestrated and works quite well. It also has one of the most awesome boss songs in the business.
Overall, Lost Odyssey is a fantastic JRPG that doesn't stray far from traditional conventions, but it doesn't have to. If you like old school RPGs from the NES and SNES era, this game is perfect for you. If you've never liked JRPGs this won't change your mind, but it is still an excellent example of how the foundations of the genre still can work in a modern game setting. Just be prepared to get all the other conventions of the genre, the majority of which aren't really on par with current video game standards.
Stupid costumes are a must.
If you are looking to buy it, I'd say $30 or below would be totally worth it. It isn't a game that particularly ages, seeing as the fundamentals are from way back in the NES era, but if it's your thing you are looking at a good 30+ hours of fun. If I were to give it a star rating, I'd give it four out of five.
As a bonus, here is Jansen being an idiot. Great character introduction.
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