My name is Adam and I'm a turn-based combat-aholic. My other confession? Lost Odyssey is my first Japanese RPG and I can say without a doubt that it won't be my last. Almost every moment of this game is a beautiful and moving experience. An experience stretched over 4 discs and 45 hours, but one worth all that time and effort.
This was never a game I thought I'd play. With a full-time job, 13 month old son, starting up a new business, etc. etc. I have no right to set aside forty hours of my life to just one game, but I'm so glad I did. Once that first disc goes in and the cinematics kick off, you fall under it's spell and enter a fantastical magical world.
Playing as Kaim, an immortal wiped of his memories, you start in the midst of an epic battle, interrupted by a deadly meteor impact. From there you begin a journey to reclaim your memories and investigate Grand Staff - the centre of a new and potentially unstable magic energy plant.
The journey of the game is all about the characters as opposed to the plot. Kaim is a brooding and dour hero with little show of positive emotions and a far too serious nature - something that would be disastrous on its own but is countered by a tremendous ensemble cast. The most notable is Jansen, a wise-cracking, womanising mortal who balances out the seriousness of the immortals and also adds a touch of realism to the characters.
It's within the group that the real story lies. The plot of main game is cliched and follows an obvious path, but acts only as a carrier for the gripping development and self-discovery of the characters.
This self-discovery is told in conventional cut-scene form and also in the form of 'dreams', small fragments of the immortals memories that surface as your progress through the game. These dreams are essentially short stories shown on screen in text form. Wait! Text? On a screen? Boring surely?
Well no. The whole manner of their presentation is a tribute to the game's art design. The text of these memories are revealed slowly and sometimes dynamically as you read with still, sometimes hand drawn, images fading in and out at appropriate moments. This, coupled with a truly melting and melodic soundtrack provides some of the most moving moments of the game. On several occasions I was reduced to tears whilst reading. Not the 'I've-got-somehting-in-my-eye' tears but full on baby-weeping, inconsolable, the world is ending tears.
It's these moments, followed by a heart-wrenching scene about Kaim's daughter and grandchildren, that make the first disc a complete sob-fest and genuinely moving you to care deeply about the characters you play.
This leads on to a minor gripe that the story never really reaches those dramatic heights again - not to say it isn't compelling from that moment on, but the rest of the game merely fades back into being excellent rather than life-changeling so.
The other problem is the translation of the stories. Some are fine but many others suffer from an odd word or turn of phrase that doesn't quite fit in with the epic scope of the theme. This might partly be due to the American localisation as well as translating the text from the original Japanese. But still, it's a minor gripe and doesn't detract too much from the experience. I found that the english language audio was also waaaaay too American for my tastes and turning it back to the Japanese with subtitles made the experience richer by far.
In terms of gameplay we have a very traditional turn-based combat system which, dammit, I like a lot. Although the pre-battle muscle flexing can get tiring after a while, as does the random battles - something that surely should be a thing of the past by now?
Aside from those minor quibbles Lost Odyssey is a tremendous work of art and regardless of any time constraints you may have is worth devoting as much of your life to it as possible. In 45 hours of gameplay I only got frustrated once - and that was facing the final boss. For the record I managed to beat the game with most characters on level 49-50, not particularly high for a game like this.
A word also about the soundtrack. Beautiful. It has a perfect blend of delicate instrumental tracks and migraine-inducing techno-splurge. The music for the final boss is just an epic orgasm of rock guitar and a double choir - something that should be downloadable for Rock Band surely?
The maker of Metal Gear Solid, Hideo Kojima, was recently quoted saying that he wanted his game to make people change the way they look at the world or feel about certain issues. I'm not sure if he succeeded in his game but Mistwalker certainly has with theirs. I came away from parts of this story feeling more alive and more drained of emotion than any film or book in recent memory - it's not preachy or blatent in any message or moral issue, it's just an excellent blend of storytelling and gameplay with memorable characters and a fantastical world.