Review by HighOnPhazon
"Filled with various gameplay themes and mechanics notorious to this genre, Lost Odyssey is a game made for the diehard RPGer."
Lost Odyssey is a game that many will have to put some serious time into. The enjoyment someone will get out of this tale lies solely on their taste in games. Those who have lived, eaten and breathed RPG's since the day's of Final Fantasy on NES will be right at home (Those that started later on the SNES and Playstation will also find much to like here.) Stragglers that are just beginning their foray into the genre will find some archaic and almost silly elements that are akin to this kind of game. A Japanese RPG at its heart and soul, Lost Odyssey is a throwback to the heyday of the random battle, turn based combat, angst filled main character(s), and the cliched power hungry villain. This is what ruled the roost on consoles of the past. A lot of people are going to read this first paragraph and think to themselves Wow, this guy probably has nothing good to say about this game. And not read any further. Truth be told, I do enjoy this game, quite a bit actually. It is, in my honest opinion, a game that the Xbox 360 sorely needed more than anything else. My palate for shooters and action games has been satisfied ten fold, but my old love, my escape, the JRPG, was something that I hadn't touched since FF XII failed to impress me back in '06. Many will agree with me in saying that Lost Odyssey brings to the table what FF XII should have been, but will also believe that more could have been done to strengthen this game to be a true masterpiece. As it stands, read on, and see why Lost Odyssey is worthy of an RPG gamers time, but no one else need apply.
You begin this game not unlike most other RPG games. The setting is, according to the game's mythos, the Magical Industrial Revolution. Get used to hearing the word Magic In Lost Odyssey, as it's the main force behind the scenes. Everything in this game seems to hearken back to this theme, from enemy names, to locations, to huge story elements. Magic, magic, magic. Got that? Good. Most will think to themselves Didn't we see this in Final Fantasy VI? You are correct. This revolution is very similar to the Magitek filled world of that story, where the planet is on the verge of coping with new technologies and new powers. Not to stray too far off the track and compare this game to every other game out there, I will keep it simple. In this new age, various states are warring with each other. We don't quite know why at first, (did you think it would be explained that easy?) but we take control of our main Protagonist, Kaim Argonar, a battle hardened Immortal mercenary, who is in the midst of engaging the armies of Ghotza, filled with the dog-like beasts, the Khent, and their various machines of war. Kaim is fighting alongside the ranks of Uhra, a nation beginning to tap into the dark secrets of this Magic surge. A very nice FMV of this war plays out, before we finally get to control Kaim for the first time. Throughout the game, expect to see various FMV's that will bring you back into nostalgia land where you would be glued to your T.V playing FFVIII. I really enjoyed the beginning of Lost Odyssey, its really well done, and Kaim is portrayed not so much as a bad ass, but a skilled fighter who has been around, literally, for just about ever.
The story of Lost Odyssey is obviously, far more in depth than one giant war. I can't go into too much detail, spoilers and all, but for various readers' sake, I will entice you with bits and pieces. Kaim in an agent of Gongora; a sorcerer of Uhra's Grand Council. Kaim is nothing but a shell of his former self; his memories have been stripped from his mind and he walks the earth as a sword hand and does Gongora's dirty work. During the beginning battle in Wohl, a gigantic meteor crashes down and all but obliterates the entire landscape, soldiers and all, leaving Kaim standing in the wake of the aftermath. Trudging back to this capitol city of Uhra, you meet Seth, another agent of Gongora who seems to know Kaim from some distant memory, but keeps her feelings buried for the time being. At this point, Gongora is at odds with Uhra's council, they are sniffing too deep into his schemes, and plays along with them on their mission to investigate Gongora's masterwork, the Grand Staff, a pivotal structure whose entire purpose is to draw and create Magic Energy that fuels the world's new technology and, ultimately, Uhra's war efforts. The Council believes that Grand Staff is the cause of the devastation at the Wohl Highlands battlefield. Little does the Council know that Gongora has other plans for Grand Staff, but he plays along with their decree and decides to send Kaim and Seth to investigate, along with a mole, Jansen, sent by Gongora to watch over them on their trip to the Staff.
Strangely, it turns out that Seth is also an Immortal, and she has all but lost her memories as well. The link between Kaim and Seth is further developed as the story proceeds, and we learn that they are not alone; there are other Immortals wandering the world that seem to be connected to them both. The journey that you are to undertake will lead you all over the world of Lost Odyssey, in search of the truth of the Immortal's existence, the origin of Magic Energy, and why Gongora utilizes Grand Staff for his own agenda. My first big gripe starts off right about now. As you play Lost Odyssey, its cliche's will start to fall on you slowly, but anyone who has played a number of RPG's will have seen much of the narrative and plot devices used in games of the past. Magic is not something unique or original, and the whole back-story on the Immortals is revealed far too late, and even then, it is not something that will make your jaw drop, or get you excited. Some characters actually hold this story together, such as Jansen, whose wise cracking attitude and dialogue is actually some of the best I've ever heard in a video game, and I've laughed out loud at his antics on more than one occasion. He's a nice addition to a somewhat stale cast of characters that truly should have been given more life. Kaim, the main character, is the biggest culprit. He says maybe a handful of dialogue throughout the game, and all of it is gruff, to the point, and mixed. While some of his lines and actions are very well done, most of that tapers off, or is forgettable within hours. Kaim is truly fleshed out and saved, as a character, due to the back-story revealed in the 1000 years of Dreams segments peppered throughout the game. Without these, I really think the whole story would have sunk into the abyss.
The Dreams are all text based, with sounds and uniquely colored backdrops, kind of like an interactive book really. The text comes onto the screen, stylized and sometimes on the cue of sounds. Each story is different, and there are a lot of them. Kaim is mostly the focus of these dreams, while a couple other characters have their own. The stories are really emotionally strung together, and sometimes gut-wrenchingly sad. Kaim is portrayed nicely in these dreams, giving you a feel for what he has seen, and accomplished in 1000 years wandering the world. It gives him somewhat of an understandable demeanor in the game's main story, but reading all the dreams, and then seeing him act, makes you wish he would put a bit more into his actions; to be more like the Kaim you read about in the dreams. Each dream is upwards of 15 minutes long, and thankfully can be read at anytime, upon loading the game, or staying at an inn. Those that want to witness them on the spot are also welcome to, but sometimes the dream's can string together at inopportune times in the game, such as questing in a town or dungeon, and happen within minutes of each other. I'm very thankful the developers let us have the option to save them for later.
The story will not be something that you will remember years down the road as one of the most standout things of Lost Odyssey. The 1000 years of dreams will, however, echo in the back of your mind as one of the better things about this game's tale. One thing I would have liked to see is a more animated and personal dream sequence, giving us a chance to watch Kaim in these dreams, interacting with these people and places of the past. I guess I can always dream
What RPG isn't without some sort of wild and exciting combat system? The one you have here in Lost Odyssey is a little rusty, but manages to be full of strategy and some intense moments, at least for half the game. This system is old school right down to the menus. In battle, your party of up to 5 characters can Attack, Defend, and Use a skill, Magic or an Item. Upon pressing right, you can flee, or change your equipment on the fly, in the midst of battle. This feature is very important, and I'll explain why. In this game, your characters attack command is followed up by an Aim Ring, and only if your character is currently equipped with a ring. Holding down the right trigger will cause the ring to expand, from outside the screen, onto the target monster or enemy. Letting go of the right trigger at the right time will allow you to get either a bad, good or perfect hit. Depending on what ring you have on, a perfect hit will bestow various benefits on you, such as increased elemental damage, health and magic leech, or rare item thieving. Rings are made from items dropped, bought or found on your adventures, and it's a pretty simple process. While in the main menu, you can combine components and make a ring, its pretty much all based on what you have found. Once a ring is made, you equip it and go to town. The rings you create and equip in battle will make or break your battle plan. An enemy that is fire elemental based will not like the fact that you will strike it using water based rings with increased damage.
All enemies in this game will have some sort of modifier that the rings can take advantage of. Beasts, Aerial, Magic etc. all have rings that you can make to help you dispatch them more effectively. You won't always have the right ring at the right time, but even a ring with increased attack and critical will help you. As I mentioned before, changing rings in battle is helpful because while you may be facing an enemy that is fire based, there is another enemy that is a flying beast, and might have a water element status. Taking off that water enhancement and swapping it out for something else is beneficial.
Characters in this game level up like old school RPG's, and gain skills based upon their current level. All non-immortal characters will have special skills and magic tailored to their class. Jansen is a Caster, and contains low level White magic, and gains high level Black magic, and other various skills. Immortals, like Kaim and Seth do not gain skills upon level, but can learn any skill they want from a mortal like Jansen, and once learned, can use that skill any time they want. Immortals in this game are highly customizable, but each character is, stat wise, built for a specific purpose. Those dreaming of making a battle mage out of Kaim with high amounts of HP, damage and sick magic attacks will be disappointed. Each character has stats that will determine what they can and can't do very effectively. Kaim is your stereotypical fighter, with stats built around defense, attack and HP. His attack time is probably one of the slowest in the game, and his magic attack is pretty poor. While you can have Kaim learn and use Black magic, it wouldn't be in your greatest interest. Seth is a more rounded character, whose speed will be her greatest asset. Her being a jack of all trades is a good build idea.
Equipping various accessories also allows you to gain and utilize various skills as well. A lot like FFIX, you gain points towards both skill-linked mortal powers, like Jansen's steal, and from powers and abilities on accessories. Kaim and the other immortals can eventually learn multiple different things from mortals, and items all at one time. The only limitation to what skills you can and cannot use, other than stats, are the slots that your Immortal currently possesses. Finding various slot seeds will boost the amount of skills that Kaim and the Immortals can equip at once, eventually leading to 30 different skills that you can tailor to your linking. All accessories and magic can be found or bought throughout the game, so those that do not plunder every treasure chest in every area will be missing out on a huge chunk of the battle system.
As you play further into the game, the usefulness of the mortal characters will diminish into nothing more than batteries for your Immortals to leech off of. Once you gain access to all four immortals, tedium will start to set in on learning all of the skills you need and want, and not having enough patience to do so. I found myself surrounded at one point, by more magic using characters than I really needed, and you will make more than one balancing act in this game before the end. This is one of the first RPG's I've played where I actually really had to use just about everyone in my party to get the most out of it. Two of your Immortals are almost identical in purpose and stats, and once they learn Jansen's magic, he will be utterly useless. Those wanting to continue to use the mortal characters will soon realize that they are inferior in their own class than any Immortal. Cooke, another mortal character, a white mage, is particularly less useful than many of the other characters due to the fact that two Immortals can essentially take her, and the aforementioned Jansen's place, all at once, and still do their jobs better than they can. Not only that, both Immortals feature more options for customization making them even more suited for battle. This is both neat, and somewhat lacking. I kind of wished that the mortal characters had an edge in terms of their own pre-determined class than the Immortals, thus having them be far more useful in battle. I would have also liked to see more variation in Immortals, instead of having one great fighter, a fast fighter, and two identical mage characters.
One gripe I had late into the game was the abundance of skills that are really just there for show. There are only really, a handful of skills that you need that can take you through the game's side quests and powerful bosses. A lot of the skills on some of the mortals are some that you wouldn't bother wasting a turn to use, and some are just there to learn for no good reason. By the time you have access to certain skills you will find something better that will take the place of all the previous skills you already learned. Those out for achievements will not be put off by the tedious skills and redundancies that you have to learn with the Immortals, but practical players, such as myself, were put off by the fact that I needed to learn black magic 4 only to find an item that then teaches me black AND white 4, all at one time, an hour later. The strategy of using all of these skills also diminishes not far into the 3rd disc of the game, where Magic, for over half the game being the best and most effective means of dealing damage, turns into rubbish. Fighters, like in a lot of RPG's bloom far too late, but once they do, put everyone else to shame.
I've hit pretty hard on the battle system and story, but one of the best aspects of this game is the music, and at the same time, the voice acting and sound is somewhat bland, making this section a mixed bag. Nobou Uematsu of Final Fantasy fame has returned to helm the orchestra behind the amazing soundtrack. This is probably one of his best works, easily. Out of all the soundtracks he's done for Final Fantasy and beyond, this one truly stands out. There are many memorable tracks that I can think of in this game that will cause any fan to stop and listen, and want to listen immediately again. I'm actually considering ordering the OST if I can find it, it's that good. Do not listen to the professional reviews stating that this game features a forgettable score; they are flat wrong.
While the music is outstanding, the voice acting is pretty hammy. From the start, some voices seem pretty amateurish and corny. There is a particular scene early in the game in Uhra, around the council when you first meet Gongora. The council has some of the worst dialogue and voice acting I've ever heard in a video game, and that scene almost caused me to mute the T.V. There are lots of sections where voices are bland, or overly acted to the point of cheesiness. One scene later in disc two, you overhear two technicians talking. They basically, in some of the worst, corniest voices I've ever heard explain EXACTLY what is going on and why, as if the player (that's us guys) doesn't have a clue, or we are watching a Saturday morning cartoon. Gongora is a pretty bad voice actor as well, and he tends to do the same thing. I've heard much better in many other games.
Lost Odyssey will give you a good many hours of play. Spanning four discs, three of which will be solely related to the main plot, you will trounce through them in about 30 hours, and have disc four be open to you to pursue many side quests and challenges. This game does not disappoint in this aspect, and those who like added content will enjoy what they see with this game. Another 20 to 30 hours can easily be tacked on to your total time before completing the fourth disc, and wrapping up this adventure.
While I do have many complaints, none of them are things that should turn anyone away from this game. It was developed with one thing in mind: To bring an old school JRPG to the big American Box, and I think it succeeded. There is a huge list of things wrong with this genre, and in the future I hope developers in Japan will get the hint that you can only pull the same plot card so many times before we've played, read and seen it all. Lost Odyssey, hopefully, will be the last of its kind: A stereotypical JRPG that narrowly escapes the tedious norm. Let's hope for an astoundingly original sequel. In the mean time, enjoy what is here, and take it with a grain of salt. Typical Xbox players should stay away; this is not their game and it never will be. This is for the die-hard RPGer, a dying breed. This outing was nice, but we want something different, and we want it soon.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 03/03/08
Game Release: Lost Odyssey (US, 02/12/08)
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