Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: Mistwalker Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
In-Game Dolby Digital
HDTV – 720p/1080i/1080p
And so Microsoft continues in its quest to bring Japanese style RPGs to the Xbox 360. Lost Odyssey is another strong effort by Mistwalker Studios, the studio headed by former Squaresoft big-shot Hironobu Sakaguchi. This is the second of two RPGs that Mistwalker has been tapped to create, the first one being Blue Dragon. An interesting side-note is that while Mistwalker is the main creative force behind the Lost Odyssey, Microsoft actually created a studio specifically to help them during the development process. This tidbit further reinforces the theory that these titles are part of the Microsoft business plan to popularize the Xbox brand in Japan while tapping into the RPG market as a whole. Like Blue Dragon, Lost Odyssey feels a lot like something you may have already played before overall the experience is not a bad one at all.
Lost Odyssey is definitely a good looking game as it is really pleasing to the eyes during the whole quest, with only a few nagging details that are noticeable. Like most RPGs of its type the game contains quite a few cinematic scenes to advance the storyline and they are simply gorgeous. The tone of the game is conveyed very well by the art style, keeping it serious to a certain degree while never letting you forget that you are in fact in a fantasy world. Like Blue Dragon before it, which seemed to have cribbed its style from Dragon Quest, Lost Odyssey's techno-magic amalgam is reminiscent of Final Fantasy in its execution.
The Unreal 3 powered graphics engine seems to have been put to extremely good use when looking at the interactive part of the game (the one you play). The quality of the in-game graphics transitions smoothly with the use of CG. The character models are extremely detailed in both battle scenes and cut scenes alike, with some very neat graphical touches (e.g. accessories like earrings or glasses being visible on your characters during story segments).
The choice of using CG for major scenes seems like a necessary one, seeing as other titles that attempted to use the Unreal 3 engine were marred by a ridiculous amount of texture pop in (authors note: I am looking at you Mass Effect). The price for all the cinematics however is a four disc packaging of the game. While Europe and Asia got some slightly larger cases to fit the discs in, North America got a baffling package with three discs stacked on the same spindle and another one in a paper sleeve. Not exactly an elegant solution there. Overall I was quite happy with the visuals in Lost Odyssey as it managed to take me to a world of fantasy that was rich, detailed and quite an experience indeed.
While Sakaguchi is one of the big names attached to Lost Odyssey, the other big name attached to the game, as he was in Blue Dragon, is Nobuo Uematsu, former musical composer for the Final Fantasy games. While the music is nowhere near as iconic as some of his past works it still resonates very well with the feel of the game. And don't worry, the boss-fight music is actually decent this time as Ian Gillan has no association with this game whatsoever (Deep Purple's Machine Head was a rad album, but the boss fight song in Blue Dragon was horrible). Other than that, there is little to say about the audio design. One of the exceptions to this is the sound of magic-powered machinery. The high pitched squealing of these is actually a bit disconcerting at first. Also noteworthy is that the background sounds in the dream sequences as they are also a big part of the effective use of sound.
Lost Odyssey’s voice-acting is very solid, with a large amount of the in-game dialog being voiced. I actually switched from English, to Japanese, then French, then German. While the Japanophile will automatically switch to Japanese, I found the English dub preferable, with the lip-movement on the characters in this version being synched to English. It was very interesting to see that the North American version had all the available language tracks which leads me to believe we got the exact same content as Europe this time around. Emotions seem to be conveyed very well and I actually enjoyed what the voice actors had to say.
The story of Lost Odyssey has Kaim Argonar, a 1000 year old immortal, who has lost his memory. Early on there is a cataclysmic event that exposes this fact in grandiose fashion. As with every other game in this genre a party is formed and they go out into their world-saving adventure. The interesting bit is how all the characters in the story are linked to each other in some way. There are basically two types of characters in your party, immortals and mortals. How this plays into the gameplay is very interesting. The plot itself is rife with political intrigue, some humorous moments, and some plot twists you can see coming a mile away. This last one is unavoidable in a type of game that typically spans 50+ hours; since you are exposed to a character quite a bit before he is officially revealed to be evil. All in all, the storytelling is solid, and captivating.
The only qualm I have is that quite a few of the characters are immortal. Although this could have provided for some ingenious plot devices, like a break in the story that would last for decades, it did not. As well, it would have been cool to see your mortal characters grow old while the immortals stay as they are. Unfortunately, the game doesn't do this to a very great degree. Instead we get a thousand years of dream, story segments in the game that were written by novelist Kiyoshi Shigematsu. While it is not exactly a great way to expand the story of the game, it does convey the hardships the main character has gone through, with the predominant theme being the aging and death of everyone he meets. As I played I did get the feeling that some characters are actually a bit grating (kids in your party is never a good thing), but overall the link between the characters and the main party members actually enhances the experience, and their inclusion then becomes easily tolerable.
The gameplay itself is a bit of a mixed bag. If you have played any Squaresoft RPGs between 1995 and 2004 or so you'll be instantly familiar with the way this game works. Indeed the visual style of the interface itself seems to have borrowed from the creator's earlier works. It could be argued that Lost Odyssey is derivative of previous works, but I would prefer to argue that it is simply a victim of the formula's success. Like the other Mistwalker developed RPG, this game sheds a lot of the excess elements that are part of JRPGs at this point. The battle system has been smoothed down to its essentials and the game benefits for this design choice. The simplicity of the interface means it's actually very easy for someone to get into the game even with little experience in this kind of game. The fight menu only really has four choices, fight, skill, magic and item, and it is pretty easy to learn.
Where things get deeper is in the way the fights progress. Almost every enemy has a type, an element, or both associated to them the combat becomes a sort of rock/paper/scissors game of strategy. Items can be crafted to add elemental effects to your attacks, so for example, if you fight an earth element enemy equip a ring that has wind element damage instilled into it (wind being paper to earth's rock). Your magic characters will do this by casting the spells of the correct type instead of equipping accessories. A lifesaver for this system is that you can equip anything in your inventory on the fly during combat; this is especially useful if you walk into a boss encounter unprepared.
An interesting twist in the game is that immortal characters do not learn new skills as they level up on their own. Instead there are two options for learning new skills. The first being that accessories are imbued with learnable skills, such as magic, extra damage, counter attack, etc. The second option is to learn skills from a mortal character. If you think that one particular character has a great skill that causes a lot of damage you just need to copy it onto your immortals and they too can now wreak havoc on the enemies. This leads to some interesting party formation strategy, where it is always better to have about half the team be mortal so that all the characters can progress.
There are a few rudimentary mini-games interspersed throughout, but they aren't really substantial enough to have any bearing on the appreciation of the game. As noted this game spans four discs, so there is a lot to do here. I took the better part of a week to get through this game and I actually quite enjoyed it. At the end of the day it really comes down to what one may expect from an RPG. In Lost Odyssey’s case what it does it does fairly well; just don’t expect it to break any new ground as it sticks pretty close to a standard formula.
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