Review by riderwaite
"Technically excellent, but patchy and unadventurous."
There's some minor spoilers here, but nothing serious. There's some mention of breasts too, so if that makes you blush please stop reading now.
Japanese-style rpg for the xbox 360.
19" HD TV, TV speakers, EU release, no DLC
Tough call. If you really, really love JRPGS, or if you're completely new to them, this is probably one to buy. There are many better JRPGs than this (but not on the 360), so if you own other systems or aren't bothered by graphics, I wouldn't pay full price for this.
Let's get the elephant in the room out of the way now: if this was called Final Fantasy, it would be considered a poor entry into the series. This is not as good as any of the Final Fantasy games on the PS2 (except in the technical department, of course).
It's a strong technical game that I wanted to like, but it's just a bit too old-school, unadventurous, and patchy. It has some awesome sections, and then some sections that just make up the numbers, or are downright irritating.
It's still a big step up from Blue Dragon- Mistwalker have probably got a classic RPG in them, and this is getting closer. I'm not giving up on Mistwalker- with a bit of patience and cash from Microsoft, and a bit more risk-taking on the stock elements they could really create something superb.
Lost Odyssey is a fantastic graphical treat. It's clean, sharp and detailed (as expected from the Unreal III engine). There's a bit of inconsistency though (that's pretty much the word that defines Lost Odyssey), with some textures being very last gen. There are superb weather effects, large environments and the ability to zoom in to close detail. Many screens have large numbers of characters, and there is little slowdown.
The characters look up with anything on next-gen consoles too, with plenty of animations, and little touches (like earrings and accessories showing on the characters). The monsters are equally pin-sharp and varied.
The cutscenes are a mix of pre-done and in-engine. The pre-done scenes are excellent both in direction and scope. The in-engine scenes are a mixed bag, with some being good, and others a bit of a mismatch with odd-looking repeated animations.
The menus are clean and functional, and attractive both in battle and in the fields. The 2d art, backgrounds and loading screens are also stylish. There are zoomable, helpful
The sound is a strong point too. The music is top-quality and varied, and often surprising (I enjoyed an odd bossa nova track during a boss fight, transitioning to a heavy Malize Mizer-style j-rock track on the subsequent escape- peculiar, but it worked). There's a lot of incidental sound effects during battle that add to the immersion.
The voice acting is lip synched well enough, and there's a lot of it. The stock phrases in battle become mildly annoying, but don't significantly detract. The voice actors do a fair job (particularly the children and Jansen), but some just don't seem to fit well. This ia partly the dialogue, which suffers from the same inconsistency, and is downright poor in places.
There is some significant loading in Lost Odyssey- you'll see quite frequent loading screens, but such is the cost of detailed environments.
Design and Gameplay
Lost Odyssey suffers badly in the gameplay area. Everything is well implemented, but it's just been done before many, many times before. It plays like a game from ten years ago- turn-based combat with a bit of button pressing to get extra effects, and matching elements and types to exploit weaknesses.
The battle 'twist' is having a front and a back line, with the back line taking less damage until the front line has been hurt enough. This could have been interesting, but is marred by two basic problems- optimal strategy is relatively obvious (tanks in front line, spellcasters in back, tanks defend until the spellcasters get powerful nukes off), and that characters are either utterly melee oriented (so there's no point having them on the backline) or utterly magic oriented (so they are useless in the front line).
It has the 'classic' format- investigation, shopping and plotting in towns or villages, then random battles in the field, along with mid-late game ability to travel around the world. There's actually not that much battling to follow the plot, and the enemies are of a decent challenge throughout without being overwhelming.
Random battles are not the only 'old school' part of gameplay- there's plenty of tedious picking up items from pots and cupboards (its works in Dragon Quest, because they've *always* done it, but Lost Odyssey doesn't have that heritage to build on), and levelling is boring- it just gives you more stats. Final Fantasy has shrewdly made managing levelling a game in itself (the Sphere Grid of FFX, the costumes in Final Fantasy X-2, and the licenses in XII), so the lack of anything like this is a let down.
The ring-making system is similar to the alchemy systems in many more recent jrpgs, but doesn't really have enough depth. The only distinguishing feature is the difference between immortals, who learn off mortals or items and can equip a number of skills, and mortals who learn skills as they level and have all their skills active. However, in practice it's very easy to learn the useful skills for the immortals as the game progresses, and the only choice is what to equip.
There are also some sections involving stealth and QTE-style gameplay. These are distinctly average and add nothing to the game, and are outright pointless.
The environments for Lost Odyssey are very strong- there's a massive variety (snow and ice, ruins, haunted forests and mansions, cities, palaces, cliffs throne rooms, sewers, trains, submarines, beaches, places under construction, caves and so on), and all look different and have exquitise flora and colour. In fact, most are under-used given the obvious time and care put into them. Most only have a single part in the plot, which is a pity given the sheer quality on show here.
There's plenty of game here too, with four discs and the ability to travel the world in the lategame to discover various items. Obviously, this is only of concern if you like the game enough to get this far and want to complete these subquests, but there's certainly enough to do.
One of the most satisfying parts of the game is unlocking short stories related to the immortal's thousand year lives. These have been penned by a good Japanese author, and are moving and emotive. This is certainly a fine feature, having well-written prose in a game to enhance the character's lives.
Story and Characters
This is the one part of the game that should be much better. The main heroes and villains are simply not good enough.
Kaim Argonar is a potentially good character- a thousand year old immortal, who is jaded and listless; an Elric-style anti-hero. In practice, he starts off surly and uncommunicative and develops to be slightly less surly and uncommunicative by the end of the game. He would be a fine supporting cast member, but just is not well-drawn enough to sustain a whole story. He's more of a Auron than a Tidus- a good ensemble character, but not capable of carrying the whole narrative. Kaim has some excellent scenes (the funeral, in particular, is very moving) but too often, he just grunts and wanders off.
The other heroes are equally slight on personality- Seth is feisty but doesn't develop at all until the late game; Queen Ming is under-used; Jansen is a clown and comic relief; Sarah has no discernable personality at all; Tolten is a buffoon and Sed only joins very late-on. The children are the best of the lot, most of their dialogue and sections are decent. The heroes, perhaps, are not melodramatic enough- there's a bit of romance, a bit of vengeance, a bit of regret and sadness, but all of it feels too light. There's scant character progression on any of them.
Part of this is cliched dialog- much of the storytelling is not as good as other RPGs, and the dialog is not subtle or natural. The voice talent is a bit lacking too compared with the excellent voicing in many recent games -purely average is not good enough for 'epic' games based on plot.
The real low of this game is the villains, who are awful. The main villain, Gongora, is a pantomime villain- his face and animations look cartoon-styled compared to the other characters. After a thousand years, he's still not managed to get a decent haircut, and has what looks like a ridiculous wig and comedy glue-on facial hair. He laughs maniacally at his own plots. He's not sinister in the slightest, and it's hard to get worked up about defeating him.
The other villain of the piece, General Karkanas, is like a WWE-character auditioning for the Village People- a complete idiot. His dialogue is terrible too.
The story itself is cliched to the maximum- not necessarily a bad thing for this style of game, but it's just not interesting. It suffers from the classic bad fantasy writing- saving the Kingdom of Bland from the Empire of Blandity, averting war, dealing with traitors on a journey of self-discovery, then saving the entire world. There's just not enough self-discovery, no decent twists, it's utterly linear, has little underlying moral interest or subtlety.
If you've not played many RPGS, then Lost Odyssey will probably seem good enough on the story front. Ten years ago, the story would have been very good. Five years ago, it would have been good. But there's been so many advances in video game narrative, that merely sticking to old conventions is not enough.
I've covered most of my criticism in the other sections- Lost Odyssey is a detailed, technically superb game dragged down by cliched narrative and underwhelming characters.It's the best JRPG on the 360, but that's damning by faint praise.
It feels designed by committee for the western market- replacing the usual androgynous teens and stylish, effeminate villains traditional to jrpgs with 'western-style' surly, military, manly anti-heroes so it feels more acceptable for the 360 audience (male, 18-30, western, like sport and shooting), rather than aspiring to genuine excellence in itself.
On a related note, I'm going to mention breasts here. Clearly, the magic-industrial revolution in Lost Odyssey managed to enhance and defy gravity on female chests. I'm actually embarassed for Ming's lack of clothing and vast cleavage, and Sarah (the bookish librarian type) has managed to find a costume that covers everything except her wonderbra cleavage.
I like attractive characters in games as much as anyone, but this almost crosses the line from sexy to sexual. You'll probably see more flesh in the cutscenes with Ming than you do in Mass Effect's sex scenes. To be honest, I just found it a little cringeworthy and unnecessary.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 04/28/08
Game Release: Lost Odyssey (EU, 02/29/08)
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