Lost Odyssey – Staff Review

Though the Xbox 360 has had more than its share of first-person shooters, the RPG genre has been largely overlooked. Fortunately, when Sakaguchi, the famed creator of the Final Fantasy series, left Square Enix to form Mistwalker Studios, he intended to change that. Lost Odyssey is the second offering from the new company, and it shows that RPG fans do, in fact, have a reason to own Microsoft’s white box.

Lost Odyssey begins on a battlefield in the Wohl Highlands. Kaim Arganar finds himself embroiled in a battle as a mercenary hired by the Uhran army to fight the Khents. The two armies show off their most impressive siege crafts momentarily shifting the tide from one side to the other, but no matter what the Khents throw at Kaim, nothing seems to be able to take him down. Suddenly, the skies open up, and a meteor crashes down on the battlefield. In an instant, both armies are annihilated, but Kaim miraculously survives without a scratch. Though everyone else is amazed at his survival, it is nothing new to Kaim; he is an immortal that has lived for a thousand years.

After the disaster, Kaim is sent back to Uhra where he learns that another survived the attack, and like him, she is apparently immortal. The Uhran people believe that the meteor was caused by a malfunction of a Grand Staff, a giant magic engine that is currently being built. Since investigating Grand Staff is potentially dangerous, the pair of immortals are the perfect candidates to see what is the matter. Before they can leave, Kaim and Seth, the other survivor of the Wohl tragedy, are joined by Jansen, a multi-talented man that is skilled in magic. But unlike the other two, Jansen is mortal and not quite as used to adventuring as his companions. Thus, the three set off on what looks like a simple quest but turns into an epic journey.

One of the most important themes in the game is mortality, or the lack thereof. Kaim has lived for a thousand years, but he has no memory of his past. Oddly enough, Seth has the same amnesia. So not only is the journey to face a great evil, it is also to regain the lost memories that have been locked away. This is done via the “Thousand Years of Dreams.” Periodically, Kaim will see something like an old woman waiting by a pier, a baker selling his wares, or even a child running through the streets. These common sights remind him of some moment from his past, and the player is invited to view a dream, a long stylistic narratives that is more often than not a little sad. Though the stories are told entirely with text and a little background music, they are arguably the best part of the game. Each one details some interaction with a person which show the frailty of human life and the simple joy of just growing old and living a good life. Kaim frequently laments that he will never have these joys as he walks endlessly from place to place. The dreams are entirely optional and can be skipped if the player so desires, but even though they tend to break up the action a fair bit, it is well worth investing the five to ten minutes to read each one.

When not walking through towns uncovering hidden memories, the party will engage in frequent random encounters. Battles are turn-based, and all actions are based on relative speeds and activation times for skills and spells. Characters with faster speeds will always attack first, and spells have designated casting times. Everything is detailed to such a fine point that one need not wonder whether one attack or another will happen first. This simplicity is one of the things that sets Lost Odyssey apart from other recent games. There are no complex systems to master nor any grids to fill in. Characters have set roles from the beginning, and they never really deviate from them. Though immortals can eventually learn any ability, Kaim is and always will be a fighter. Mages may learn physical attack skills, but they will use them to little avail.

The differences between mortals and immortals is most pronounced on the battlefield. Should an immortal fall in battle, they will be revived two turns later. This is certainly a plus, but the mortals have their advantages, too. Only mortals learn skills by leveling up. They also get character-specific weapons that are generally better than those that can be used by any character. Immortals must learn skills by equipping accessories or by learning it from a mortal. This leads to a bit of micromanagement, but in the end, it’s not all that hard to keep track of who is learning what. Important skills can be quickly learned by participating in enough battles to get the required amount of AP. In general, each slain monster will yield a single Ability Point regardless of the relative strength of the foe. Conversely, the rate by which a character gains experience points for increasing in levels is built upon a formula. All areas have a soft level cap, and levels can be gained very quickly up to a certain point. After that, the EXP gained for killing monsters will quickly dwindle to a single point per monster. Since dungeons are generally selectable from the world map after going through them, to easily gain abilities, all one must do is go back to an earlier location to quickly learn whichever skills are needed for the party.

Though battles are pretty straight forward, there are two systems in place to spice things up a little. The first is the ‘wall guard’ system. In battle, all units in the front row produce a wall that protects those in the back row. The strength of the wall is determined by the cumulative number of HP of the front row, and as they take damage, the wall is weakened. This means that in order to effectively damage units in the back row, the front row must be weakened or killed. The wall is definitely helpful to the player’s party, but more often than not, it is most beneficial for the enemy teams. Powerful monsters are frequently protected by a group of weaker monsters that must be killed before the stronger one can effectively be hit. In the end, the system adds little to the battle experience.

The other new mechanic is the ‘ring targeting’ system. Each character can equip a ring that will provide a bonus when using physical attacks. These bonuses range from a slight increase to damage, the ability to steal while attacking, add an elemental property to an attack, or do increased damage to monsters of a certain class. This system is then accessed in battle by holding the right trigger until a large circle shrinks down and eclipses a circle around the enemy. Though it isn’t really explained very well via the in-game tutorial, it is simple enough to figure out with a few tries. After one learns the proper timing, battles become a little more interesting since a little skill can make a pretty big difference in how quickly enemies are dispatched. It is by no means overly difficult, and all rings have the same timing. And since rings can be switched out on the fly in battle, it can make a difficult battle that much easier. Fully assembled rings can be purchased in stores or be crafted using items received in battle or purchased in shops.

Since the game is on the Xbox 360, it isn’t surprising that the graphics are stunning. This is most apparent during the many cut scenes that frequently occur. Though the visuals are impressive, they do tend to slow down when the action gets busy. This is surprising because other games have used the same Unreal engine in more demanding ways without any noticeable slowdown. This might be a problem for people that insist that their games run at a constant 60 frames per second, but for most gamers, it is an easily overlooked flaw. Aside from that, all of the locales in Lost Odyssey are highly detailed, very colorful, and varied. It is clear that a lot of time and effort was put into the game to make the world look believable.

Lost Odyssey is certainly impressive visually, but the game truly shines in the aural department. Once again, Sakaguchi has teamed up with Uematsu to produce the game’s score, and it is one of his best yet. Most tracks are memorable, and none get old by the game’s completion. But as great as the music is, the voice acting is even better. All of the lines are delivered naturally with characters responding to one another without the pauses normally found in games with voice acting. All of the spoken dialog is quite good, but Jansen is worthy of extra praise as one of the best-voiced characters in any RPG. His voice actor ad-libbed many of his lines, and by doing so, he really brought Jansen to life.

Going through all four of Lost Odyssey‘s discs will take most players anywhere from 50 to 70 hours. The plot is extremely linear up until the very end, at which point several optional side quests open up that give the game a tremendous amount of depth. Considering the high level of difficulty of several of the bosses and even the regular encounters, the time shown on the game’s clock may be quite a bit less than the actual time spent playing. Though some of the battles can be frustrating, it is usually very rewarding when one figures out the necessary strategy to win a particular boss fight. Each boss will require a bit of planning before it can be successfully defeated, and fortunately, save points are plentiful.

In the end, Lost Odyssey is an excellent game. Though some will fault it for not being progressive enough, its slight graphical hitches, or just the sheer amount of text one must wade through to fully enjoy the game, it is one of the most rewarding RPGs that has been released recently. With a solid plot that only gets better as you delve deeper into Kaim’s memories and some of the best music and voice acting ever, anyone that has a 360 and enjoys RPGs should give this a shot.

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