Xbox 360 owners are set in every other regard — platformers, shooters, sports games — but the 360 needs role-playing games, just as its predecessor did. Those who are fond of Japanese-designed RPGs like Final Fantasy are instead forced to contend with half-baked titles such as Eternal Sonata and Enchanted Arms. While those games are fun for a single playthrough, nobody is going to place them up there with the likes of Final Fantasy and Shin Megami Tensei, or even Shadow Hearts and Suikoden. Lost Odyssey from Mistwalker Studios is the latest attempt to finally bring this long-ignored genre onto Microsoft's console. Unfortunately, much like the previous Mistwalker release, Blue Dragon, Lost Odyssey never manages to go beyond being a decent game.
Lost Odyssey's hero is rather unlike any you've seen in a Japanese RPG before. Kaim is an immortal being, so he can't be killed, can't age and will live until the end of time. Unfortunately for him, he also has amnesia, so he can't remember any of his life prior to 30 years ago. When the story begins, Kaim is working as an Uhra soldier on a battlefield, just in time for a magical meteor to come down and crush both sides of the conflict, leaving the immortal Kaim as the only survivor. Along with fellow amnesiac immortal Seth, he is drafted to go and investigate the Grand Staff, a magical generator of incredible power, in order to figure out why the battlefield tragedy had occurred. Of course, nothing is quite that simple, and before long, Kaim's own past comes back to haunt him as the entire world speeds toward a seemingly inevitable war.
To be honest, most of Lost Odyssey's storyline is similar to what you've in other RPGs. A lot of familiar archetypes show up, and most of the plot twists can be predicted from a thousand miles away. The most interesting element of the story is the immortals themselves and how they relate to the world in general. The game does a lot of unique and curious things with that to make you feel like Kaim has been around for a millennium.
The real story in Lost Odyssey isn't the one through which you play. For all of its interesting ideas, the actual plot is a healthy dose of clichéd concepts sandwiching a few honestly interesting ideas. The really appealing story involves what happened to Kaim before the adventure started. As he regains his memories over the course of the adventure, a series of short stories called "Thousand Years of Dreams" is unlocked, with each tale centering on one of Kaim's adventures during his immortal wanderings of the world. Readable from the game's menu, these tragic and interesting tales entail Kaim dealing the mortality and the actions of mortals around him. Those who prefer their stories told in a more visual format may be upset that they'll have to read here, but the stories are fascinating enough that it is worth your time to do so.
There are actually two kinds of party members in Lost Odyssey: mortals and immortals. Mortals are … well, mortal. They're everyday human beings and play as any character does in 90 percent of RPGs out there. They gain experience as they level up, learn new abilities at certain levels, and are functionally quite easy to use. The more complex party members are your immortals, who perform skill links with their mortal party members during battle to learn their abilities. They can also learn new moves from various bits of equipment in the game. In the long run, immortals are going to be far more powerful than mortals, but since mortals are the only ones who can learn moves and must participate in battle in order for an immortal to learn from them, players have to learn to switch between the two for full effectiveness.
Combat in Lost Odyssey is your standard Japanese RPG turn-based fare. If you've ever played a Final Fantasy title, the basics are going to jump right out at you. Attack or cast magic to defeat enemies, use items or healing potions to restore your own HP and MP, and earn experience points and prizes for victory. However, there are a few twists that turn the rather generic battle system into something quite fun, if not entirely unique. The first is the addition of rings, which are equippable and have various attributes, ranging from "improved critical hits" to "chance of poisoning with every blow." When your character performs a regular attack, a shrinking ring will appear over the animation. Stop the ring at the correct point, and the equipped ring's attributes may take effect, but stop it at the wrong point, and your attack will just be a regular attack. If you've ever played Shadow Hearts, this is going to seem familiar, although it isn't quite as vital to the gameplay as Shadow Hearts' ring system is. It may initially seem to be a useful addition, but the ring system actually becomes much less useful once you get into the second disc. At that point, characters gain access to powerful skill moves that are almost nonexistent in the first disc, and you'll finally have enough MP so that magicians don't have to be frugal with their spells. As a result, the odds of you launching regular attacks against foes significantly drop, so the usage of rings becomes far more limited.
The most important and unique element of combat in Lost Odyssey is your character's formations. Characters can be placed in the front or back row of your team, but the twist is that characters in the back row are functionally invincible. Any enemy who bypasses the front line to attack them will do almost no damage. Instead, the only way for an enemy to damage back row characters is to attack front row characters. Besides HP and MP, the entire front row also has a "GC" meter, which measures the protection the front row is providing for the back row. Every time they get damaged, the meter goes down, and the back row begins to take more and more damage from enemy attacks. If it reaches zero, the back row becomes defenseless, which is quite bad, considering that it houses your precious mages. Likewise, enemies also have front and back rows, so players will have to whittle down enemy GC as well.
For the most part, the battles in Lost Odyssey are fairly average. Early on, they skew a bit on the tough side and force gamers to dive into the deep end, but that averages out about midway through the second disc, once gamers have a full party and a wide variety of skills. The most enjoyable part of the battle system comes from the various bosses, many of whom have some sort of trick or gimmick that requires a bit more strategy than "hit attack, heal when necessary." Admittedly, the interesting battles also sort of taper off toward the middle of the game, once players gain access to the most powerful skills that allow damage to win the day, but the boss battles still require more thought than many recent RPGs call for, which is much appreciated.
The biggest problem with Lost Odyssey's combat is that it is slow. It is excruciatingly, unbelievably, agonizingly slow. A random battle can take somewhere around five to 10 seconds just to get through the opening animation of the battle. This is compounded by Lost Odyssey's rather lengthy loading times, which occur quite often and last for what feels like an eternity. Between the loading times, the pointless camera panning and the incredibly time-consuming animations, combat slows to a crawl. It is, admittedly, an occasionally nice-looking crawl, but a crawl nonetheless. This only grows worse when you consider Lost Odyssey's quite high random encounter rate. It's bad enough that it can take you two to five minutes per battle if you're unlucky, but when you're getting into fights every five steps, even the quality battle design quickly becomes boring.
Lost Odyssey may technically be next-generation, but it certainly doesn't look it. Don't be mistaken; the battle animations are competent enough, but everything outside of battle just … isn't. The locations you visit tend to be fairly bland and boring, and in some cases even look less majestic and interesting than PlayStation 2 RPGs! To be fair, there are a few really impressive areas, but they're few and far between. The real graphical issues come from the character models. Mistwalker insisted on making every single cut scene in the game focus directly on the character's faces, which is quite bad since their skin is fake and waxy-looking, their hair is a solid block of ugly textures, and their eyes are hollow and creepy. There is nothing about these characters that justifies zooming in at every possible opportunity. They're incredibly artificial-looking and seem incapable of expressing any of the emotions or actions that the cut scenes themselves seem to be conveying. As a result, what should be a tragic or depressing cut scene is instead rendered comical by the hilarious expressions the characters make when trying to be "serious."
Another admittedly small problem comes from the developer's insistence of allowing accessories to appear on the character models. This means that if you have a bandanna and a pair of sunglasses, they'll show up on the character, even during cut scenes. It's a neat idea, but it just doesn't work for the story. When Kaim ends up wearing a neon-pink pair of sunglasses during one of the most important scenes of the story, it ruins any drama the cut scene may have had.
Lost Odyssey offers voice acting in five different languages. You'll be quite grateful for this, as the English dub is simply awful, and the Japanese isn't much better. Characters have voices that range from just plain wrong, to so annoying that you'll refuse to use the character just so you don't have to hear him or her talk. They frequently misread lines or miss the tone of the scene completely. The German and Italian dubs, however, do a much better job matching the tone and intent of the characters' actions, and having the option of listening to them is quite appreciated. The music is surprisingly average, considering that master composer Nobuo Uematsu was on board. Although it's good, there are no particularly memorable songs, and one can't help but expect more from Uematsu.
Although the Xbox 360 has little to offer in the RPG area, it is difficult to recommend Lost Odyssey over RPG offerings on other consoles. The gameplay is fun enough, but so agonizingly slow that the enjoyment of combat is seriously marred. For the most part, the story line is average and clichéd, and the dramatic moments don't entirely make up for that. The best part is the Kaim's "Thousand Years of Dreams" short stories, but the lackluster graphics and average soundtrack do little to make this game feel next-gen, and the few times it does shine are not enough to make up for the many times that it doesn't. If you're a die-hard RPG fan with a 360, Lost Odyssey is worth buying simply due to the lack of other choices. However, beyond that, it has little lasting appeal, and once you've finished it once, you probably won't pick it up again.
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