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Impressions: Lost Odyssey
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 12:27pm 16/01/08 | Comments
Blue Dragon, a Japanese RPG from super-group Mistwalker, failed to deliver anything at all ground-breaking, compelling or new, so it was with caution I approached Sakaguchi and Mistwalkers latest RPG outing for Xbox 360, Lost Odyssey, when Microsoft handed me a preview disk recently. I did see the game at last years E3 and can also say it did very little to impress me then as well, however, just 10 minutes into this version of Lost Odyssey and all my preconceptions and misgivings went out the window...

Lost Odyssey - Quick Facts

Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: Mistwalker
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studio
Genre: RPG
Players: 1
Available: February 7
Rating: MA15+

Last year we took a look at a game with all the talent its respective genre could muster. Blue Dragon, a Japanese RPG from super-group Mistwalker, failed to deliver anything at all ground-breaking, compelling or new, despite having the likes of DragonBall creator, Akira Toriyama, behind character design, composer, Nobuo Uematsu, most famous for his scores on Final Fantasy VII and Chrono Trigger and producer, Hironobu Sakaguchi, who is most famous for creating the Final Fantasy series. The development team behind the game was Artoon who is made up largely of ex-Sega Sonic Team members. Yet despite all this, the game did very little to live up to its pedigree and scored a miserable three out of 10 right here on AusGamers.

From the review:
"...sounding as though anything produced by these guys would redefine the genre, Blue Dragon comes out looking less than passable as a RPG. There is almost no life in the game and you're constantly being told what to do, how to do it, and why it's being done. At no point are you ever overly left to your own devices and as such the game not only comes across as patronising, it almost feels like a Fisher Price toy - something along the lines of "My First RPG" comes to mind..."
So it was with caution I approached Sakaguchi and Mistwalker’s latest RPG outing for Xbox 360, Lost Odyssey, when Microsoft handed me a preview disk recently. I did see the game at last year’s E3 and can also say it did very little to impress me then as well, however, just 10 minutes into this build of the game and all my preconceptions and misgivings went out the window.

Lost Odyssey
For many, the opening CG sequences of any SquareEnix title are almost worth the price of admission alone. With Lost Odyssey, the same formula has been applied, though I can honestly say, no Final Fantasy opening has ever been as intense as this. Lost Odyssey throws you into the thick of a muddy battle among fantastical warring factions of the grandest conception. The opening movie is so perfectly directed, it could, itself, be the next big fantasy/action blockbuster. Massive swords, crazy armour, behemoth machines ploughing through the masses all make for an intensely brooding battle, but it’s the action-packed introduction to the super cool Kaim that really gets things going.

As the game’s obvious protagonist, the nimble, powerful and stylish Kaim makes an immediate impact on the field of battle, tearing apart the opposition like so much opposition to be torn apart by the likes of a protagonist for this type of game. The quality of the pre-rendered visuals up until this point has not faltered once, but it’s when Kaim is ultimate surrounded by hordes of bad-guys the game gets really cool, because suddenly you’re in control and the drop in quality is so minor you won’t believe it (click here for more screens).

Naturally for this type of game, the action is turn-based. However, you’re not shown how any of the battle system works, you’re just dumped into it. But that’s okay, because you really only have one coarse of action: Attack! Doing this for a bit you get an angle on the cinematic scope of the game. Sakaguchi’s vision is unbelievably present here, and it shows from every angle. Eventually you’ll tear through a bunch of soldiers before having to face off against a massive machine. Like so many other Japanese RPGs, Lost Odyssey is set in a fantastical land where magic and technology combine at a time when technology is likely steam-powered. The drab setting for Lost Odyssey so far, though, has managed to keep it just out of reach of a breach in common JRPG practice.

Lost Odyssey
Without giving too much more of the awesome intro away, a catastrophic occurrence disrupts the field of battle, yet somehow our hero has survived. Alone, he must head back to friendly territory where everyone is in disbelief the event happened and that Kaim survived. News of this spreads to the Uhra Council and he is summoned to their chambers to discuss his brush with death.

The world of Lost Odyssey is now presented to us, which follows a lot of traditional Eastern RPG rules. To begin with, the game is heavily story-driven with epic cut-scenes running both off the game’s engine and as pre-rendered CG sequences. The main engine, which is actually using Unreal technology, is among the best in the genre. Depth of field blurring goes a long way to realising the cinematic scope and tone of the adventure, while the excellent textures and NPC bustle bring Lost Odyssey to life. Animations during the Field portions of the game aren’t great though, and despite Mistwalker’s attempts at giving the game-world an organic feel, the invisible walls and locked paths make it feel like you’re jamming a square peg into a round hole. It is preview code, and for that we’ll save final judgment, but at this stage I can’t see this element changing.

Battle sequences on the other hand are dazzling to watch. The stages aren’t necessarily presented in real-time (ie one background for an entire area as opposed to immediate area visual representation for individual battles), though this could change in the final code. For the most part action moves are handled very well with great animations, but it’s when you get into the massive magic moves the game really starts to gloat.

Lost Odyssey
The thing with said massive magic moves is Lost Odyssey doesn’t give them up too easily. I played through at least five or six hours of the preview code and knew that I’d barely touched the surface, and the last boss I faced not only kicked my arse several times, but had me really beginning to understand the uniqueness of some of the battle elements here.

For example, rings play a fairly large role in upping the damage ante against your foes as equipping them can allow all kinds of attack and defense bonuses. Once equipped a circle target will be over the selected enemy when you attack, pulling the right trigger and lining a second circle up with the existing one will determine your bonus. Lining up can come in Bad, Good and Perfect results, Perfect obviously being the one to aim for. These rings can be found whole or in parts, and various combinations of obtained components will result in different bonus outcomes. The game encourages you to try as many different types as possible and you can easily switch up who wears what ring at what time. For the most part much of it is trial and error though, but it's very easy to switch in and out to ensure you're getting the absolute most out of the game's great micro-management system.

Other battle rudiments include the likes of elemental damage (eg, Aqua attacks are stronger against fire-based enemies, etc), as well as damage bonuses against particular types of enemies (organics, spirits, et al). All of this is controlled via a very easy-to-navigate-and-understand party management menu that is in no way like many other systems from JRPGs where everything is convoluted and difficult to grasp (I’m looking at a lot of your menus Namco). Equally, the battle menu is just as easy to grasp and not at all intrusive or over-the-top. A real nod to this type of game.

Lost Odyssey
For a lot of the early part of the game your party will consist of three characters, and like most RPGs of this nature, you’ll explore in the guise as one. As expected though, the deeper you get into the game’s cavernous plot, the more characters you’ll acquire. You can form them up in various positions on the battle-field so as to have the tanks up the front to protect your casters and range fighters who’ll attack better from the rear. However, certain scenarios will undoubtedly have you mixing this up also.

Speaking of the game’s deep story, another unique facet of Lost Odyssey is the use of Dreams. Kaim is the game’s central character, and like most JRPG protagonists he has no memory of his past. However, as you progress through the game certain sights, actions and the like will trigger memories. These are then played out as background story pieces that can be ‘dreamed’ when you sleep at an Inn or they can be accessed from the game’s menu. It’s a neat little system and adds to the game’s already mammoth plot, so story junkies will likely get a lot out of it, and given you can actually skip them, quite thoughtful on Mistwalker's part to know some people just want to get in there, level up their characters and fight it out more than soak up plot.

Despite all this hype, Lost Odyssey still has its genre pitfalls. The Field movement I mentioned earlier that is anything but organic, also comes replete with arbitrary actions. Things like jumping small halls or chasms just seem more like a chore given you need to wait for the on-screen command to appear, while the small handful of Field puzzles you’ll encounter do very little to maintain the flow.

Still, as Microsoft have drummed into us, this is a preview build and anything can happen between now and when the game goes gold. So far so good though, and the aforementioned pitfalls aside, Lost Odyssey is shaping up to be a grand Japanese RPG experience – something the Xbox 360 sorely needs. So for those of you who played Enchanted Arms to death or stuck it out with Blue Dragon, never fear, on February 7 Lost Odyssey will be here.