Lost Odyssey Review
Review By Steve Farrelly @ 01:47pm 18/02/08
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.