A Beautiful Dream
We’ve been waiting for Hironobu Sakaguchi’s Lost Odyssey for quite some time now. In fact, ever since the stunning trailer released in September 06 at TGS, 360 owners have been chomping at the bit while waiting to get their hands on this title. That amazing cinematic glimpse turned out to be the opening cut-scene of a beautiful and complex Japanese RPG.
Fans of the action/adventure genre will not find this title to be nearly as engaging as the initial trailer made it out to be. If the high-paced intensity of the God of War or Halo franchises is ideal, then this game won’t be for you. This is a title for the patient, methodical gamer. The visuals are fantastic, the story is complex and intriguing, and the battle mechanic is bolstered by clever nuances that make the familiar JRPG experience feel fresh and engaging.
The release of Lost Odyssey on the 360 was a targeted move to make inroads with the Sony faithful and to capture a larger share of the Japanese market. This game truly feels like it should be part of the Sony RPG pantheon, not for the 360’s gaming library. Time and sales figures will tell if this was a good move for Microsoft.
The story of Lost Odyssey is rich and complex; only the diligent will be able to reveal all of the subplots. However, the main themes are intriguing and deep enough to engage most RPG buffs. Kaim Argonar is the story’s protagonist. He is an immortal who has lost all of his memories during the Magic-Industrial Revolution. Kaim’s nation of Uhra is in a state of political and societal flux. Recently, the government peacefully changed from a monarchy to a republic governed by councilman. Not everyone is satisfied with the new arrangement which has lead to a power vacuum. As such, the country is beset with internal and external threats seeking to reshape the territory. Moreover, the existence of magic is a relatively new phenomenon; only 30 years have passed since its introduction unto the land. Because of this, great and terrible machines and advances plague and enhance the world. Powerful factions within Uhra look to monopolize the use of magic under the guise of national interest. This is the world in which Kaim and his comrades live, and the one into which you will venture.
As Kaim Argonar, you will lead a group of warriors that are both immortal and mortal. Each character will bring another layer of storytelling to the mix. This group of fighters and mages, both common and noble, work together on the battlefield and learn from each other. Levelling up in Lost Odyssey is one of the non-traditional aspects that make this game stand out. Immortals, like Kaim, are unable to learn skills directly; Immortals require the tutelage of a mortal to gain access to these abilities. By linking skills and garnering SP (skill points) during battles, your Immortals will be able to learn from their corporal counterparts. Once all of the skills from one particular mortal are learned, your immortals will have to wait for them to gain new skills through experience or learn from other party members. This subtle system of character advancement provides for originality and complexity while maintaining an easily executed mechanic.
Combat phases are very similar to other Japanese turn-based RPGs. In fact, elemental traits of earth, wind, fire, and water characterize and categorize both enemies and spells. However, there are some major differences to combat including the Wall System and the implementation of the Aim Ring System. Party formations in Lost Odyssey are significant in battles because you are able to protect spell casters with a wall of frontline characters. It is possible for enemies to attack weaker backline members of your party, but they will do so at a substantial cost to damage dealt. The same is true for Kaim’s party. Frontline fighters’ HP adds up to form your party’s GC (Guard Condition). As members of your wall lose HP from attack, your GC will go down concomitantly. This makes for great strategic play. It is important for frontliners to go into battles with high HP and for backliners to cast protective buffs on them in order to strengthen the wall.
The Aim Ring System is a really cool innovation. Melee attacks are made more effective by squeezing the RT button and letting go when the outside ring settles into the inner ring. Timing the sequence right and getting a “Perfect” rating will add significant damage as you progress. The Aim Ring System is actually quite similar to the Gunblade controls of Final Fantasy VII. The rings are a great addition because not only do they make combat a bit more skillful and interesting, they also can be upgraded throughout the journey.
As you travel through the wilds you will acquire mundane items called ring components that can be combined in order to make powerful rings. You will also find or be given special rings. These unique rings are very powerful indeed. They typically imbue the wearer with three effects that strengthen their attacks or grant skills and abilities. However, they cannot be altered by components. During battle each character can change their rings to suit the enemies that face them before every round. This will prove to be an important tactic to employ as you whittle away at your enemies’ walls with one kind of attack and then switch to take on their backline with a completely different set of weapons and tools.
Along your journey you will unlock the long forgotten memories of Kaim Argonar. Written by the famous Kiyoshi Shigematsu, these memories are not cut-scenes or even storyboards; you will be inundated with page after page of beautiful prose that will make the unwary weary. Fortunately, it is not essential to read these chapters. If you don’t want to take the five to fifteen minutes out of your game time to read them you can simply cancel the sequence. However, one can’t help but feel as though they’re missing something by doing so, and they’d be right. In order to get the full experience of Lost Odyssey you’ll have to like to read a lot.
The characters are great, the world is huge and full of danger, there are quests galore, and the story is very well written. Unfortunately, the pacing of the title is extremely slow. Between unforgiving load times and interminable dream segments, you will literally lose hours of game time. This will probably prove to be the game’s Achilles heel, making it truly enjoyable only to the handful of 360 owners that considers patience to be a virtue.
The production values of this title are second to none. The creativity that went into world-building, creature creation, and the artwork is fantastic. The boss battles and story writing are ambitious and impressive. The visuals are stunning and the voiceover is really well done. The graphics are only hindered by the not-infrequent-glitches due to technical frame-rate issues. However, the overall impression is a thing of beauty and the world feels plausible. The melodious BGM themes are the best I’ve ever heard. The subtle music intricately and masterfully incorporates sounds that produce a feeling in the gamer that doesn’t grow tiresome. The voice acting is also pretty good, but it pales in comparison to the musical themes. Still, some of the lines are delivered so well they will actually make you laugh out loud. This holds true for every supported language. I especially liked the sound of the Japanese track, but the lips simply do not sync up, which may be disconcerting for some. Oddly enough, English, German, French, Japanese, and Italian spoken tracks are all supported, but Spanish was conspicuously left out.
There are hours upon hours of interesting content for gamers to explore and uncover in Lost Odyssey. Sadly, the pace of the game is rather slow and will deter the vast majority of 360 fans from purchasing and/or completing the game. That’s too bad because the epic adventure and masterful writing make for a truly compelling title. It’s a shame to admit, but this is a game that probably should have been released for Sony Fanboys, not for the frag-centric 360 demographic.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.4 Graphics
The visuals are stunning, but are hampered by frame-rate issues. 4.2 Control
The controls are smooth and the Aim Ring System adds a lot to combat. 4.6 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music is amazing, but the voiceover work doesn’t quite compare to it. 3.4 Play Value
The story and the beautiful world hold more intrigue then the gameplay. Many gamers may find this title to be tedious. 4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.