A very deliberate odyssey
Running four disks, perhaps one of the most insanely over the top intro’s in gaming, and a sometime obtuse and initially slow plot that centers around an amnesiac immortal warrior: Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of Final Fantasy, delivers a product that is far from subtle in what it’s trying to do. Clearly a Final Fantasy game in disguise, Lost Odyssey is clearly trying to encapsulate the JRPG genre from the first Playstation era. Lost Odyssey’s core story themes and traditional turn based battle system are nothing new to veteran JRPG gamers. But like any standard Final Fantasy game, Lost Odyssey does enough to twist the tired and true formula to make it original and perhaps one of the, surprisingly most engaging, JRPG’s to be released in a while. Even with the bizarre, but too predictable Unreal engine related technical shenanigans.
The main protagonist, Kaim, has a story starts that initially seems simple but in true fashion expands to the basic heroes off to save the world. I don’t want to spoil much so ill give a very bare bones synopsis. Your standard steampunk magical planet (housing a citadel city that looks identical to Vector from Final Fantasy VI, get ready for a lot of location/gameplay mechanic comparisons between the two series.) is home to several wandering immortal characters. One of which (of course) decides to become evil. Throw in political turmoil regarding a “magical industrial revolution”, which is exactly as it sounds and we have the beginnings of a typical JRPG outing with: Countries at war, weapons of great power being used, and an evil immortal orchestrating the entire charade. Instead though, the brunt of the story is focused on the characters of the party, and not the bare bones threat that prepares to mess up the planet. Each immortal character is host to dramatic back stories, personal problems, and genuinely well written dialog. The game was created with the English localization in mind, characters lips are properly synced and emote appropriately. The blackmage/comic relief archetype Jansen, runs the gamut of improv setting a sense of sanity to the affair while the two child characters of the party (whom are a bit annoying.) are voiced by actors who speaks at an appropriate decibel. It’s not perfect by any means, but in comparison to localizations of JRPG past: It’s light years ahead of the competition. With the option to play it in Japanese and a multitude of other languages, Lost Odyssey has the presentational aspect covered. The game has multiple cutscenes and is generally paced well throughout it’s first, third and forth disks, having pacing issues and general weirdness in it’s presentation (key sequences not voiced.) in it’s second disk. There are some impressive tragedies here, one of which ends the first disk. (Because, again, like a traditional Playstation Final Fantasy: The first disk must always end negatively.) Not every character is developed properly. But it should be noted for every mistake in its presentation there is a genuine scene of satisfaction. Rounding out the character development with novella style flashbacks that are superbly written, coupled by some incredibly deep characters and social situations and you have one of the most memorable JRPG’s to come out in recent memory. Let’s just say for the first time, in a long time, the main typical silent anti-social protagonist in a Japanese game has a fairly legitimate reason, to be the way he is.
Keeping in theme the battle system in Lost Odyssey is turn based with random battles. Recently it seems there has been a neat influx of more active style battle systems in JRPG’s. I always chuckled a bit when I read a reviewer felt that Lost Odyssey’s dedication to this style was a step backward and that active battle systems are some brand new gameplay concept that has recently revealed itself. My copy of Tales Of Phantasia that dates back to 1995 seems to have umbrage over this opinion. Not to say one style is better than the other, but simply slamming the style of gameplay because of its traditional designs is a bit awkward. Especially for Lost Odyssey because it actually does things to these gameplay mechanics that I actually felt rectified many of JRPG game design since its inception. If you were one of the many vocal critics of Final Fantasy’s different direction in combat in XII, or simply one of the thousands of people who have been purchasing and being content with this concept of turn based battles: Welcome to your new game. Characters learn the traditional set of skills and abilities (via an item/skill learning system from FFIX.) The game incorporates a “Wall” system, in which front row characters absorb damage dealt to back row spell casters. (Making battle formation actually meaningful.) But this system is overshadowed by the level cap system in play with each dungeon having a level cap stopping character evolvement for a dungeon when reached and putting you at the same level as the dungeon boss. Grinding becomes obsolete in these situations forcing you to prioritize on stradegy, not typical brute force. Lost Odyssey is hard. While there are admittedly tricks and skills to beef up your characters to god like power if you wish later on, if you only apply yourself to the main quest: prepare for a challenge. Strategy takes center stage and the game reminds you why you play turn based games in the first place.
Sadly, Lost Odyssey like most Unreal powered games is full of technical problems mostly involving long load times. Instead of loading the game’s textures as you play (Mass Effect.) Lost Odyssey loads everything before showing. It never broke the game for me: It was admittedly annoying but not earth shattering. Personally I don’t think it’s appropriate for the game from that uses Unreal tech to be the poster child of Unreal tech complaints when so many other titles that use this engine have similar problems. (Again I’m looking at you Mass Effect.)
Lost Odyssey has a total of 1100 achievements, 100 of those come from an incredibly difficult and time consuming DLC dungeon. Unlike Blue Dragon, Lost Odyssey’s achievements make sense and are actually quite simple. Certain ones such as learning the every immortal character’s skill and the almighty Treasure Trove achievement (Get every field treasure chest.) are time consuming.
It’s quite simple: If you’re looking for an engaging JRPG on your xbox 360 and are a fan of Final Fantasy, check Lost Odyssey out. It might not reinvent the genre, but it delivers a memorable experience that all JRPG fans will appreciate.