The Eastern RPG was a staple of the NES and SNES eras of gaming. Then when the PSOne launched developers found an even bigger stage for the genre and gamers began to see grand events - such as the release of Final Fantasy VII - breathe all-new narrative life into these epic turn-based adventures. If you’ve been a console junkie most of your life, chances are you’ve played an Eastern RPG, PC enthusiasts, however, have most-likely stuck to their D&D ruled, more traditional role-playing game. Lucky for PC bred adopters of the Xbox 360 then the machine is failing drastically in Japan. As a means to reach a wider Japanese market, Microsoft has helped form Mistwalker Studios – a Japanese-based development studio made up largely of ex-Japanese RPG (and Eastern gaming in general) specialists. Their goal? To make the Xbox 360 a more viable platform for Japanese gamers and to prove the system is not the Western devil incarnate. This is where Lost Odyssey
For anyone who has played the aforementioned type of game, Mistwalker’s Lost Odyssey isn’t a revelation by any measure. In fact it follows the JRPG blueprint pretty damn closely, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The bigger picture here is the game’s grandiose story that more than takes its queues from the Final Fantasy series, which isn’t surprising considering the Final Fantasy creator is at its helm.
Hironobu Sakaguchi is no stranger to the Japanese RPG genre. Having practically created it with the Final Fantasy franchise, his departure from Square Enix to head up Mistwalker was a huge coup for Microsoft, and while his first effort
failed to truly impress, Lost Odyssey delivers an intense and action-packed RPG experience with more then enough background for story nuts.
This is the main strength of Lost Odyssey: its balance between gameplay and narrative. However, it also presents itself as the game’s main problem, too. This is because while the action is what you would expect, its portions of the game can be long and arduous, which, through trying to balance it out, has created narrative sections equally as long. So what you end up with is either a game that paces itself just right for you, or a game that takes too long in its main draws to keep you interested.
The former worked for me, but I’ve been a fan of this style of game for a long time. If you’re new to the genre, it can be pretty daunting to have to sift through lengthy speeches, text and video. Moreover, random battles lend themselves to frustration if all you want to do is get to the next story arc, while the overall length
of the game can also make for irritation given you won't even have your full party at close to 10 hours in (taking into account you’re watching all cut-scenes and the like). In fact Lost Odyssey comes in at a whopping four disks for all the game’s speech and video, which should give you an indication of just how much Mistwalker have invested into this as well as an idea of the sort of length and time investment you should be expecting of the game.
Having so much space, the quality of the game’s cinematics – as you’d expect – is outstanding. From the opening sequence to the various bosses and in-game tangent story cuts, Lost Odyssey never fails to visually impress. Even the stuff using the game’s engine (which is actually the Unreal game engine) is up to scratch. Couple this with some great art-direction and character design and you begin to see one of Lost Odyssey’s most impressive draws. Sound too is exceptional, Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy VII, Chrono Trigger) handles the duties wonderfully with only the battle sequence music coming across as slightly annoying (because it ultimately never changes and is almost identical to Final Fantasy). As a package of pure presentation Lost Odyssey is among the best in the business.
As a package of originality though, Lost Odyssey is a mixed bag. On the one hand, the story itself is pretty engaging with plenty of imagination, background and fleshed out arcs, but it still manages to fall into similar territory with so many other Japanese RPGs.
You play the game as Kaim Argonar, an immortal who has lent his blade to countless wars and battlefields over the past thousand years. Unfortunately he has no memory of anything. But beneath his tough exterior lies a fragile creature whose past unlocks at random moments, triggered by the simplest things. Currently though, Kaim is a lieutenant in the Uhran army and we’re introduced to his prowess as a warrior mid-battle as he takes on hordes of bad guys and eventually a huge machine.
From the stunning opening CG sequence you’re immediately thrust into Lost Odyssey’s in-game visuals and its battle-system. The visual transformation from CG to engine is seamless and you’ll be at once taken back, the battle system on the other hand, is as standard as this type of game requires. It’s simple and easy to use, not at all convoluted which, despite being fairly standard, is quite welcome.
Once you’ve battled about a bit and have a party up and running most of what’s on display in your battle menu will begin to make sense. The game does offer up small tutorials on most stuff and it’s all actually pretty easy, so the likelihood of getting lost in the game’s system is highly on the un
side of things. None of this is to say it’s all completely standard though, and Lost Odyssey does serve up a unique battle trait in the form of Rings
Most RPGs have unique collection missions – particular objects that can be used to boost character performance in various ways. In Lost Odyssey rings can be donned by party members with two key results, the first of which is a particular trait, power, ability etc. This could be anything from immunity against a Sleep attack, to stronger attack or defence bonuses. The second is any character wearing a ring (and performing a physical attack) will then have a real-time on-screen adjustment to perform. It adds an extra element to the turn-based battle system and gives you something extra to interact with. Essentially you’re just pulling the right trigger to line an outer circle up with an inner one. The results will very between Bad, Good and Perfect and each result will affect just how much the donned ring’s attribute will contribute to the attack.
Rings aside, the rest of the battle setup is a standard affair of elements and enemy types and using the best attacks, weapons, spells or items against them. Formation is equally important and you have a combined defence meter that determines your group's overall defensive capabilities. This depletes with each hit making players in the back more vulnerable, but it’s all logic based and very easy to get your head around.
The next biggest unique offering from Lost Odyssey then comes in the form of how you flesh Kaim out. It won’t necessarily change
anything about him, but if you’re intrigued about his thousand years of lost memory, Sakaguchi also brought in award-winning Japanese novelist, Kiyoshi Shigematsu, to flesh out the various memories that become unlocked as you play through the game. These are presented as ‘dreams’ and can be viewed whenever Kaim sleeps, however, they’re all text-based and therefore require a lot of reading. The presentation of the text and the accompanying sounds go along way to making these at least inviting, but with four disks, it would have been nice to have animated dreams instead.
Beyond the ring and memory facets though, Lost Odyssey draws most of its inspiration and cues from the tradition of this type of game. It’s most definitely an epic journey perhaps marred by the strength of each end of its overall make-up. Too much story might turn some people off, while others may simply get bored of the seemingly endless random battles as you progress from point A to point B. Equally, while Kaim is the main character, you’ll end up relying on Jansen for most of your strength in attacks. Kaim is a great tank and takes a lot to be killed, but for a hero and main protagonist, I felt he was ultimately left out of the race to become the strongest in the troupe.
It’s a stunning looking game with excellent locales, imaginative characters and some nifty effects (depth of field blurring is amazing), but still has many pitfalls - you’re locked to a pretty tight path throughout the adventure and in the field have some arbitrary actions such as pushing objects or jumping, but have
to be performed meaning they’ve been thrown in for good measure and variety, but I say; "hey, Japanese developers, you aren’t fooling anyone
Four disks mean you’ll be at it for a while, and if this is completely your type of game, we’ll likely not hear from you for months, however, if you’re just getting into the Eastern RPG realm, its scope and length might prove something of a deep-end. One thing’s for sure, this is a game you can’t simply hire for the weekend. If you’re willing to take the jump though, there’s a lot here to really like. Here’s hoping the Japanese think so too, so Microsoft might actually get a leg up over there.