Hey all, the nameís Justin and Iíve been hanging around Destructoid since late 2006. Itís okay if you donít recognize me from way back when, as I was originally known as TheGoldenDonut (and still am in the forums). I joined the staff in 2007 as a News Contributor after flooding the tip line on a daily basis, and then I got to write stuff on the front page. Now I mostly just bum around while doing grad school stuff. I'm also learning to code a bit.
Lost Odyssey is Mistwalker's second Xbox 360 exclusive Role Playing Game. Mistwalker's first game, last year's Blue Dragon, was met with mixed receptions. Microsoft was eager to give them another chance, not only to increase the amount of genres available on their console - it has gained something of a reputation for being heavily populated by shooters - but to also gain ground in the Japanese market, which is notoriously fond of RPGs. It's fortunate, then, that Mistwalker took the experience gained from Blue Dragon to heart; as Lost Odyssey is not only better optimized for the hardware, but also in possession of a more emotionally satisfying story that should have no problem attracting both Eastern and Western audiences.
Lost Odyssey is set in a world that has just undergone an industrial revolution - although powered by magic, rather than steam - and follows a man by the name of Kaim Argonar. As is quickly discovered during a cataclysmic event at the beginning of the game, Kaim is actually immortal, and though he looks young has been alive for at least 1000 years. It's also quickly discovered that Kaim has no memory of those past 1000 years. Yeah, a main character with amnesia -- the overused fantasy clich -- rears its ugly head yet again. But while this implementation of memory loss may at first seem contrived, how Mistwalker uses it as a springboard for excellent storytelling and character development makes its inclusion more than forgivable.
You see, every now and then, Kaim will come across sights and sounds that bring up a previously obscured memory. Taking the form of a waking dream, these memories are displayed to the player in the form of a short story -- with subtle backgrounds, music and sound effects helping to set the tone. While not directly related to the goings-on of the main storyline, these memory-stories -- the collective whole of which is referred to as "A Thousand Years of Dreams" -- written by acclaimed Japanese novelist Kiyoshi Shigematsu, are expertly crafted, and compliment the rest of the game by being very, very sad. While the story and events of Lost Odyssey are plenty emotional on their own, the inclusion of "A Thousand Years of Dreams" not only helps to keep players in a tear-induced state, but also serves to flesh out Kaim's personality.
Though Kaim may at first come off as the archetypical gruff and brooding swordsman in the first few hours of play, these memories of tragedy, loss, constant displays of humanity's capacity for wickedness, and the realization that Kaim, with his immortal body, will forever be forced to continue his lonely journey without ever being granted an eventual and final rest, really helps endear him to the player. Likewise, moments of hope, friendship and happiness -- however fleeting or bittersweet -- brings the player feelings of reassurance and inspiration with the notion that one's life, no matter how sad or lonely, isn't comprised solely of negative occurrences, and that there is a reason to keep marching forward.
The gameplay of Lost Odyssey is very traditional, and should feel familiar to anyone that has played an RPG within the last 20 years. This shouldn't be too surprising, as it was headed by Hironobu Sakaguchi, the father of the Final Fantasy series. In fact, the entire game contains very little in the way of bold new innovations, but because its tried-and-true formula is implemented so well -- and tweaked just enough to feel different -- it manages to avoid feeling rehashed or stale.
Battles are random-encounter based, but thankfully avoid the frustrating convention of occurring every few steps during exploration. Battles are also strictly turn-based affairs, with the usual Attack, Magic, Defend and Hopefully Run Away Really Quickly Before That Big Thing Eats Me commands making their respective reappearances. One way Mistwalker attempted to spice things up was with the inclusion of the Ring System.
When out of battle the player can buy or construct various rings that bestow some sort of additional effect -- such as a slight damage boost, a chance to inflict an enemy with a negative status effect, gaining an elemental attribute, etc. -- to the equipped character's melee attacks. When a character begins an attack two rings will surround the targeted enemy; the outermost will quickly begin shrinking and if it's stopped -- performed by holding down and releasing the left trigger button -- exactly as it overlays the stationary ring, then the granted effect will get a slight power boost, becoming even more effective. While not particularly deep, the Ring System does encourage the player to figure out which rings work best in which environments and also serves to give them something to do between turns.
Grinding is another familiar RPG convention that Lost Odyssey alters. This is achieved by each area having a maximum level cap. While this may frustrate some - grinding is a pastime that some players take great enjoyment in - it ultimately helps the story to flow better, due to a lack of long interruptions, and serves to promote good strategy. And not just good strategy during boss fights, but during regular encounters as well. This causes every fight to feel far more engaging and tense then they otherwise might have.
Another area where Lost Odyssey forces some planning is the skill system. While mortal party members will gain skills as they level up, immortals won't learn any new skills on their own. By going into battle and earning skill points, however, immortals can eventually learn any skill a mortal they're fighting alongside knows, but only one at a time. The temporary skills granted by accessories can likewise be learned, so long as they're equipped. While it's certainly possible for a given immortal to learn every skill in the game, there are a limited number of skill slots to equip them to, requiring the player to customize them based on what is needed at the moment. While there are items that can increase the number of skill slots they tend to be few and far between.
Speaking of the party in general; while the entire cast of characters that will come to comprise the group are all around solid, enjoyable and have great voice actors, one character in particular deserves special attention. Jansen Friedh, a smart-mouthed mage that joins you early on, takes the role of the requisite smooth-talking ladies man to new heights. An early scene where he shows up late, completely drunk, with three giggling girls in tow shows what kind of companion he'll end up being -- the totally awesome kind! The way Mistwalker handled Jansen showcases a common design theme running throughout the game: taking an iconic or familiar element and then polishing it really well.
Graphically, Lost Odyssey looks wonderful. Environments and backgrounds are well detailed and character models look pretty good, although they feel a bit stiff at times, and convey emotions well enough. All these impressive graphics do come with a drawback in the form of numerous loading times. And while they don't tend to last too long, they appear with enough frequency to risk damaging the player's immersion.
Audibly, Lost Odyssey is very pleasant to listen to, which is to be expected considering veteran composer Nobuo Uematsu was put in charge of soundtrack composition. While it might not be Uemetsu's best or most memorable score, the music does a wonderful job of setting the game's tone.
While Lost Odyssey's lack of innovative or complex gameplay may be initially off-putting to RPG veterans, the emotional story and polished gameplay elements should more than make up for it. This ease of access is also what makes Lost Odyssey a perfect game for RPG newbies to cut their teeth on, serving as an excellent introduction to the genre.
Score: 8.5(Very fun -- its essential gameplay aspects are cool and interesting, but may not be implemented in the best way.)