Lost Odyssey – A game to truly lose yourself in
By Sutton Dagger
©2008 Steven Sutton
The Microsoft Xbox 360 has a spectacular line up of games from many different genres, feel like a FPS title, no problem. Maybe a sports game, or perhaps your into the RTS experience. That’s all well and good but where are the Japanese role playing games you ask? We have Blue Dragon and Eternal Sonata but their is something still missing, a JRPG which stands out from the rest. Will we ever find that diamond in the rough? Will Lost Odyssey fill that void? Lets find out shall we.
Lost Odyssey is developed by Mistwalker studios, the founder of which is legendary creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, the father of Final Fantasy and the perfect candidate for creating an RPG masterpiece.The story of Lost Odyssey is epic in its scope (the game spans 4 disks), with the Protagonist, Kaim Argonar struggling to regain the lost memories of his past.
Kaim is an immortal, living for a 1000 years he has witnessed both the wonders and tragedies of life. Disillusioned with his existence, he wanders the land, a mercenary for hire, caught between the forces of opposing nations. Beginning the game in the midst of an epic conflict, a meteor appears in the sky above the battlefield, crashing to the ground it obliterates everything in site, accept for Kaim. What caused this disaster? Who caused this disaster? These mysteries must be uncovered. The opening sequence is one of the most spectacular scenes ever conceived for a video game and certainly sets the tone for subsequent events.
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Both full motion video (FMV) and in-game cut-scenes drive along the story, with the latter employing some great techniques to enhance the unfolding tale. The camera often pans in and out, shifts direction and the picture-in-picture method is utilized to add a cinema like quality to the scene.
A major feature in Lost Odyssey is the “A Thousand Years of Dreams” which is basically a collection of short stories, unlocked at various points in the game and thereby becoming available to read. Read you say? Some might think that this is a strange direction given the movie characteristics of the other story elements, yet these “dreams” are something different. These pieces of literature are beautifully well written and juxtaposed with subtle sound effects and melodies. The stories are quite lengthy and each memory recalled sheds some light on the mysterious immortal Kaim. The dreams go a long way in developing the main character and certainly give weight to the fact that he has experienced countless hardships over his never-ending life.
Travel via the world map in Lost Odyssey is done through a simple location selection system, whereby you pick your destination and the onscreen marker travels to that point. Like many RPG’s before it, other forms of transportation become available throughout your journey, which I will let you discover for yourself.
For an RPG to succeed it must have a combination of elements that all work in unison, story must be engaging, characters likeable and of course it needs an interesting battle system. Lost Odyssey uses traditional methods in combat; it adopts a turn-based structure (though it certainly is more strategic then simple taking hit for hit) and also uses the familiar command options of Attack, Skill, Spell, Item and Defend.
Enemies are encountered at random when travelling through certain areas but unlike a lot of other games in the genre, they are mild in comparison and your often wondering when that next encounter will actually be. Though the foundations of the battle system stick to JRPG convention, its when Lost Odyssey braches out that it really begins to shine.
The first of the two interesting concepts involve the formation of your party, with up to five characters involved in combat its up to you if you want them in the front or the back row. Sounds easy enough right? Well Lost Odyssey uses something called the “Wall System”, by which the cumulative hit points (HP) of the front row adds a defensive barrier or wall to protect the back row from the full force of the enemy attack. As the battle progresses and the front row members take damage, the walls strength deteriorates, leaving the back row characters open to attack.
To add another layer to the mix your adversaries also have the Wall System protecting their back row, enemies must be engaged with a sound strategy in mind or you will get know where fast. This is all easily monitored with a status bar representing the current power of the barriers displayed in both the top left and top right hand corners of the screen.
The second of these combat features is the “Aim Ring” though not a new notion it adds a level of interactivity to the usual turn-based system. When a ring is equipped (a little about that later) players have the opportunity to increase damage done to the opponent with some careful timing. As the selected character runs in to strike the foe, holding down the right trigger button will result in a fixed aim ring circling the enemy, at the same time a larger ring contracts from the edges of the screen, if you manage to line up the opposing rings it will result in a “perfect”hit, dealing greater damage.
Its not just Lost Odyssey’s actual combat system which is engaging, it has an in-depth inventory structure which leads to some serious micro-management opportunities, every JRPG fans dream. Those rings which are used in battle are actually derived from various components scattered about the land and obtained from defeated enemies. These components can be synthesised to create unique rings with varying properties, which in turn can be added to other elements to make even stronger rings, the process is simple yet quite extensive.
Another of Lost Odysseys strong points is its emphasis on acquiring skills through a technique called “Skill Linking”. Characters are either categorised as immortal or mortal and learning a skill differs greatly for both. A mortal individual learns their set skills as they gain experience (XP) from conflicts. Immortal characters gain skills by “linking”with a mortal character or from accessories equipped. A linked skill requires a set amount of Skill points (SP) to become available for use by an immortal; SP is also obtained after battle.
Graphics wise Lost Odyssey is a marvel to behold, it uses the Unreal Engine 3 in some very interesting ways to say the least. Other recent releases which use the same engine seem to suffer from blocky, somewhat clumsy animations, yet Mistwalker have been able to smooth out these issues and what we’re left with is a fluid, beautiful experience. Also, character models are superbly detailed from moving hair to actual tears welling in their eyes – this is the “Next Gen” JRPG you have been waiting for.
Its not just Lost Odyssey’s main characters which look amazing, enemies you encounter all the look the part, with often monstrous appearances, you certainly have a wide range of foes to take down. Magic effects have also been taken to the next level, HDR lighting and particle effects make every spell a joy to use. The environments are also richly detailed, bustling cities, lush forests and the open ocean all look fantastic.
Though it has been widely discussed by other reviewers Lost Odyssey does suffer from the occasional framerate issues and load times. I can assure you that the final build doesn’t have the lengthy load times encountered with previous review builds, though present, they are nothing to write home about. Concerning the framerate, it does seem to dip at times, especially in cut-scenes with multiple character models on screen, again nothing significant and it doesn’t take away from the overall experience.
Lost Odyssey benefits from the expertise of famed Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu, with a thriller musical score, ranging from soft ballads to upbeat techno tunes. Each piece fits perfectly into the scene, enhancing the atmosphere and depth of the experience. Credit must be given for the inspiring music during the dream sequences, without the visuals to back it up; each composition manages to invoke imagery not possible through normal cut-scenes.
Its not just the musical score which stands out, the voice acting is also top notch. From a lonely warrior to young kids, each voice ties in very well with the character they are portraying. Listen to Jansen mumble on; you can’t help but smile at his witty, humorous comments. Sound effects do well to compliment the music, again standing out in the dream sequences where they signify key events in the memory.
We finally have that game, the diamond in the rough we have been waiting for. Lost Odyssey blends story elements, loveable characters, an interesting battle system and a breath taking musical score into an all round package, which every Japanese role playing game fan should not miss. Spanning across four discs and taking between 40 – 60 hours to complete its an epic journey which leaves a lasting impression.With some minor technical issues aside this game demonstrates everything we love about the genre.
©2008 Steven Sutton
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