By dankempster 17 Comments
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.
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.
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.
Currently playing - Forza Motorsport 2 (X360)