Hands up who was let down by Blue Dragon. Admittedly, most of us at RPGSite have our hands in the air on this one - sure, it was a strong game as far as third generation RPGs go, but it still lacked in too many departments to merit special attention. Mistwalker Studios seem to have stepped their game up in light of this though, and the legendary Hironobu Sakaguchi may once again have created another beautiful franchise - this time, in the form of Lost Odyssey.
Lost Odyssey’s story appears simplistic on its surface, but what the game manages to do with its narrative can truly capture the player. The vast majority of the game’s four discs are likely taken up with cutscenes, depicting the game’s world of magic, guns and warfare in high definition.
You play Kaim, an immortal man who has lived for a thousand years. The story is rife with political treachery and peril, and sees you fighting an enemy who orchestrates a hostile takeover of a nation. Sometimes the game breaks your suspension of disbelief with its outlandish events, but the intricacies of the various sub-plots and complex character development help to anchor the game to the ground.
With nine playable characters, all lovingly developed and empathized with through various story elements including cutscenes, dreams and in-game dialogue, you’ll find it difficult to not take an interest in the story of Lost Odyssey, not least of all because the world it is set in is incredibly engaging.
Here comes the bad news - the pace at which the opening section of the game is delivered will frustrate you. Even with an adrenaline fueled opening sequence like the one Lost Odyssey stylishly delivers, the following hour or two is hard to stomach. You're thrown in at the deep end of the storyline with very little character development, and it only sends a plot fueled curveball at the player.
If you can get through this though, the plot thickens at an alarming rate, rewarding you with great set pieces and dialogue. The storyline pleases twists and even u-turns at all the appropriate moments, and it does this with cinematic precision.
This is aided by the visuals, which are exceptional for the majority of the game. The charming, life like graphics teamed with the realistic, yet fantastical setting will bring back fond memories of the PlayStation Final Fantasies.
The use of the Unreal Engine 3 is masterful in most aspects, although later on some haphazard sequences will leave you with a sour taste in your mouth. The end game content and during battle introductions in particular have some glitching and slowdown, but on the whole, the game looks crisp from cut scene to gameplay to combat.
The soundtrack - supplied by Nobuo Uematsu of Final Fantasy fame - is a hit and miss affair, with a mostly accurate execution. Although certain pieces seem out of place with the visual side of things, there are some real stand out moments too. The main theme in particular is beautifully composed, as is the score during the final sequences of the game to list but two examples.
Lost Odyssey's voiceovers are done to a good standard, with the Japanese option being preferred for those seeking a more authentic experience over the English counterparts. It's by no means a weak aural offering, but at the same time, you can't help but feel a little underwhelmed.
The combat, taking place in the form of random encounters, is nothing more than a refinement of a system forged in the fires of RPGs long gone. It's just turn based combat with some new ideas, but it allows battles to feel structured and tactical. Sure, it's not groundbreaking - it works though, and very well at that.
Magic follows the blueprint Blue Dragon in particular laid out before it, with the ever present Black, White and Spirit magic taking up three quarters of the back row arsenal. The only real new twist is Composite magic - with a high charge time and a large MP cost, you can essentially use a combination of two spells into a larger scale production. This opens up more options in combat, and all of it is balanced nicely.
Another combat concept introduced in Lost Odyssey is the Ring system, which enhances any physical attack with a certain addition. Pulling the right trigger during an attack animation brings up a target interface, and if you release it at the opportune moment, the effect embedded in the ring takes effect.
This smart little system adds some depth to physical attacks - the bread and butter of damage dealing in any role playing game. Many of you will only delve into this once or twice, seeing as a damage boosting ring will see off most enemies with minimal fuss, but those of you who choose to customize a little bit will be greatly rewarded with some big advantages in any encounter.
Immortals don't take up all the slots in your party - unfortunate really, considering they revive themselves after a few turns if they fall in battle. There are five mortal party members who learn all their abilities through leveling up, another throwback to generic RPG playing at its best.
However, your immortals don't - they only learn abilities while active in a party with a mortal they are "Skill Linking" from. Even if you don't like the battle style or stats of certain characters, you may end up leveling them thoroughly and using them in more battles than you'd like for their skills alone.
This is a blessing and a curse in disguise; an evenly leveled party is usually the end result of this system. For sequences where certain party members are unavailable, you should still have a party strong enough to continue fighting the good fight, which is always handy.
On the less desirable side though, you may find some battles harder than they should be because your party only has certain characters in there purely so the immortals can learn their skills. It's a fine line to be traversed with caution, but on the whole, it's a very interesting concept that, again, is worked into the gameplay with flair and positivity.
A Thousand Years of Dreams is one other note worthy feature present in Lost Odyssey, although many of you will ignore it completely. It consists of a compilation of the memories Kaim unlocks from within himself throughout the course of the adventure, in the form of short stories and cinematics.
Although not a requirement, they allow the player to further empathize with Kaim, and are definitely worth the read if you have the time. I would go as far as saying that the literature provided in that segment of the game is more emotionally provocative than half of the cut scenes, and some of those in particular are real tear jerking moments.
There are some less than welcome features in Lost Odyssey's repertoire though. Trying to implement a stealth section in a game with very clumsy and linear controls is a bad move. Sure, it spices up the monotonous jog through corridor after corridor, but it's also incredibly frustrating. Speaking of clumsy, the ships are not particularly user-friendly either, and again, frustrate you more than they help you. Fitting the lighter craft with a jump button is also unnecessary, seeing as the concept isn't used at all during gameplay.
These features do not distract the player from an incredibly enjoyable experience though, and neither does the difficulty curve. Random encounters are certainly ones that can cause a game over at any point over the course of the adventure, but they are also easily won if you apply sound tactics to the situation.
The distinct lack of any need to grind is a departure that conjures mixed feelings - the days of training for hours for one particular fight are absent in Lost Odyssey, and although it's an arduous task well omitted from general gameplay, even the optional super bosses can be downed by low level parties. The only sense of achievement you'll get from defeating them comes in the form of 10 Gamerscore added to your profile for each one defeated. Sorry.
Although the game has a fair selection of side quests to undertake, the entire game should last no longer than 60 hours, even for the less experienced RPG players. Beyond the credits, there is a "New Game+" feature, although it really doesn't add anything at all - your immortals start at level 50, and that's it. It's another feature that seems like a bit of an afterthought.
Lost Odyssey on the whole is a beautiful, emotional epic that is more than worthwhile of your time and effort. It proves that there is still life in the old RPG design yet, and although the game merely modernizes a traditional system, the concepts present in the game are brilliant innovations.
It's a shame that a well designed game succumbs to its own imagination and ambition - but this is exactly the case with Lost Odyssey, due to some almost pointless aspects of gameplay. Having said that, it's still an incredible game and brilliant catalogue filler for the 360 RPG. The emotion produced by playing this game makes it all the more worthwhile, and Lost Odyssey is certainly up there with the best of the genre.