QJ.NET reviews Lost Odyssey

QJ.NET reviews Lost Odyssey - Image 1Since its inception, the Microsoft Xbox 360 exclusive Lost Odyssey already promised RPG fans a real next-gen experience in the name of Mistwalker head honcho Hironobu Sakaguchi.

Final Fantasy‘s creator teamed up with a group of seasoned developers from Feelplus, a company joined by the masterminds behind the cult hit Shadow Hearts series, to deliver an emotionally evoking epic adventure. Was it worth the excitement? Check out our review at the full article to find out.

QJ.NET reviews Lost Odyssey - Image 1  

Since its inception, the Microsoft Xbox 360 exclusive Lost Odyssey already promised RPG fans a real next-gen experience in the name of Mistwalker head honcho Hironobu Sakaguchi. Final Fantasy‘s creator teamed up with a group of seasoned developers from Feelplus, a company joined by the masterminds behind the cult hit Shadow Hearts series, to deliver an emotionally evoking epic adventure.

While the lengthy tale of 1000-year-old immortals contained in four discs was able to make use of this generation’s hardware, Lost Odyssey did little to go beyond the box. What it managed to pull off was crafting of a solid game that could easily be branded as the best next-gen JRPG to date, and proved that the genre need not evolve to stand the test of time.

With that said, Lost Odyssey won’t turn any converts in. If you’re expecting a gripping story that takes time to develop and a character growth system that encourages harvest of experience points in massive amounts to access a wealthy pool of skills and spells, you won’t be disappointed after picking this up. Perfectionists will have to spend around 70 hours to collect everything the first run, while a New Game+ mode invites subsequent playthroughs.

For everyone else, Lost Odyssey has technical issues and other pitfalls that may scare non-RPG gamers. The plot, which ultimately leads to a foregone conclusion, only heats up halfway through, and the events before that are heavy on character interaction without offering much else. Random encounters and turn-based combat are also showing age with frequent loading times salting the wound.

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A thousand years’ tale

Unless you’re able to completely exploit its combat mechanics and have no qualms about skipping cutscenes, Lost Odyssey will last over 40 hours by following the main storyline alone. Challenging battles and well-designed puzzles can be difficult to conquer when luck allows frequent random encounters to bar your progress, though these ensure you’ll be doing a lot of hands-on work. On the side, there’s also a healthy dose of side quests and minigames.

The Thousand Year’s Dream, a series of novellas (with its text appearing on screen as if someone is playing with Microsoft Powerpoint) written by the famed novelist Kiyoshi Shigematsu, can considerably extend your playing time. These also solidify the fact that Lost Odyssey is indeed more mature than your typical JRPG fare.

The dreams, coming from Kaim’s (and sometimes from other Immortals) memories, are composed of adult-oriented stories tackling the pains of losing loved ones, casualties of war, and other themes that comply to Sakaguchi’s “emotional storytelling” style. It’s easy to skip them by pressing a button, but doing so will keep you left out on the game’s most touching moments.

Players take the shoes of main character Kaim Argonar, an immortal who lived a thousand years and has more than a few stories to tell. The premise is simple: a thousand years passed since Kaim and his invincible crew began walking on the land where people die, and the magic industry revolution is in order. If you’ve been playing Final Fantasy titles back when its father Sakaguchi was still involved, Lost Odyssey will be familiar ground.

Interesting party members make up the rest of the roster, including Kaim’s mortal grandchildren and other Immortals. One of the guys you’ll acquire late in the game is the aged, white-haired 60-year-old son of your comrade who easily looks like she’s in her late 20s. Amidst archetypal albeit well-executed personalities, the jolly dude named Jansen stands out. His excellent voice actor brought to life the funniest comic relief we’ve seen in an RPG since a long time.

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It all begins after the first step

Like what a certain pirate in the game said, people get cranky when they’re a thousand years old – Kaim is not a very happy person, and he’s as gloomy as a certain blonde, spiky-haired man who also wields a sword. The rest of the Immortals have their own share of suffering, but aren’t as brooding.

Lost Odyssey, as Sakaguchi previously stressed, is an emotional ride involving a group of Immortals who’ve gone through centuries of pain and the mortals they meet soon after losing memories of those tough days. While slightly slow in building up its impending plot, the game wastes no time in letting us in on why Kaim’s a bit emo (note: it’s not the hair covering his face).

After booting the game disc, you’ll be treated to a battlefield of epic proportions and introduced to what stunning CG movies are in store. A meteor comes from out of nowhere to obliterate both sides – you, as someone who actually survived, is unsurprisingly asked by the government to investigate.

There’s really nothing mind-blowing about the plot that follows, and as you play further, you’ll realize that no attempt was made to break the mold – at its core, Lost Odyssey is a traditional JRPG. Amnesiac protagonists and a bad person trying to rule the world says it all. Of course, for fans of the genre, this is great news. Turn-based combat, dungeon crawling, and character growth management are all intact.

Akin to Final Fantasy X, travelling from one place to another is linear and it’s easy to go wherever you want via waypoints. The overworld is accessible via ships at certain parts, though exploration is very limited since you can’t set foot on land or dock wherever you want.

Seafaring is often a simple matter of reaching a port or underground cave that you haven’t unlocked. Even when you earn the ship that can fly, it’s always easier to travel by choosing locations on the map. Manual travel is only a good thing when you’re looking for secret caves and jungles.

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A thousand years of experience, yet there are still lots to learn

Lost Odyssey is a turn-based RPG so its combat system may feel a little dated, but it provides ample space for strategy. With the wall system, you have to be wary about your party’s formation – the fighters in front take full damage, while those in the back aren’t hurt as much if the “Guard Condition” level is high.

Guard Condition effectiveness is determined by the HP values of characters in front, making it possible to protect fragile members by using the tougher ones as cover. However, when GC level drops, HP recovery of the frontline won’t help; only certain skills can bring the barrier back up. It’s very important to keep GC up, because staff-wielders significantly have less health and a few attacks could spell their demise.

Another feature that sets Lost Odyssey apart is the ring system. Instead of imbuing weapons with special attributes, characters – both Immortal and mortal – can equip attack-altering rings with effects that increase damage, add elemental power, cause status ailments, or even steal from enemies (think Shadow Hearts). Switching rings on the fly is an easy process, so you can pull out an anti-beast ring to defeat a beast-type enemy then equip a fire ring to deal more damage against the remaining wind element monsters.

Here’s the catch: for the rings to work, you have to hold down the right trigger for the aim ring to appear as you attack, then it will shrink closer to overlap the smaller target ring placed on your opponent – release the trigger when the rings combine to get a “Perfect” and unleash the full effect of your equipped ring. “Good” also works, though not as effective. Mess up your timing and you’ll get “Bad,” which nulls the ring’s effect.

While having the right ring (among dozens) at the right time is not necessary and merely helps in quicker dispatching of foes, searching for rare materials to forge the most powerful ones leave us something fun to do. Traditional elemental damage plays a major role, and strongly suggests the smart use of elemental magic both by spells and rings when getting physical doesn’t cut it.

A good amount of special abilities make up your arsenal, but a considerable chunk only becomes available when you’re several hours in. Depending on how you look at it, this could actually be a blessing – mastering every skill is no easy feat, especially when there’s plenty of them.

Immortals can learn all skills and spells, while mortals are limited to learn what’s destined for them. To learn from a mortal ally, an Immortal can set a “skill link” to learn certain abilities. Equipping accessories is an alternative for Immortals to acquire all kinds of white, black, spirit, and composite magic along with attack and passive skills. Like Mistwalker’s Blue Dragon, SP earned during battle is needed to permanently gain such abilities.

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The fighting never ends

Unlike contemporary RPGs that are beginning to lean towards casual gamers by offering easy difficulty, Lost Odyssey is no cakewalk. Random battle encounters mean no fight is unavoidable, so you’ll be slaying monsters left and right. It’s an old formula, but given Lost Odyssey‘s slow pace and healthy number of cutscenes, sufficient time spent in swinging swords and casting spells help balance things out.

The first couple of bosses you’ll have to vanquish are formidable, and they’ll school you on how to use skills and turns wisely. No need to worry though, because you should be up to snuff if you haven’t been fleeing from combat too much. Mortals only need to gain a few levels to learn extra skills, while Immortals can copy what they need after picking up a few SP.

Without proper preparation against the big guys, you’ll likely use the “Retry” button a lot – that’s where the convenient checkpoints come in handy. Before major battles, when there are no save points nearby, checkpoints are set automatically to which you can go back to by choosing Retry after seeing the dreaded game over screen. However, during the latter half of the game when stages are longer, the lack of save points and the option to create temporary save files can be frustrating.

Linear it may be, but Lost Odyssey‘s caves, dungeons, mountains, and other mysterious backdrops require wits to pass. Traditional that it is, pressing switches and pushing boxes are going to be your favorite work-outs. Thankfully, with the exception of later stages, puzzles only take a few minutes to figure out due to low random encounter rates that won’t hamper your thought process. Level design is topnotch for the most part, and graphic prowess of the Unreal Engine 3 coupled with inspiring art results in sights to behold.

It’s nice that there’s good variety brought about by the inclusion of freezing mountains, steamy geysers, and other places littered with environmental hazards. There’s also a stealth action section that many frown at, but like other mind-bogglers, it’s fun when you know what to do.

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It’s not always about war

A plethora of other activities await if fighting monsters becomes tedious. It’s easy to be distracted from your noble cause of saving the world when sidequests are around every corner. You can participate in auctions, run errands, play cube music, search for dreams, hunt boss monsters, find treasures, and uncover other secrets waiting in previously visited locations.

Superb writing puts Lost Odyssey together. Notwithstanding cheesy lines such as Kaim’s “Just like taking candy from a baby” victory cheer, narration is done well without pulling any punches. Abundant cutscenes and high-quality CG movies that could only fit in four discs push the plot forward.

It is disheartening that NPCs only speak through speech bubbles and numerous dialogues remain from the game’s beginning to end. For instance, your crew members in your ship say the same things over and over even if pressing events consistently happen.

Character interaction in Lost Odyssey, similar to Sakaguchi’s other highly praised works, is one of the strengths of this immortal tale. Not only do we get to know more about Kaim through his dreams, we also see how he forms relationships with companions in the group he eventually formed.

In fact, threading the line that binds your group to the villain is not as fun as watching Kaim gain personality or Jansen cracking wise jokes. Many heartfelt moments, some coming from Kaim’s dreams, don’t always pertain to saving the world – these are what will keep you emotionally hooked.

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A beautiful odyssey

Powered by Unreal Engine 3, Lost Odyssey is a visual treat. Character models are finely detailed, graphic effects of skills and spells are astounding, and all the bells and whistles of a next-gen title are running. Crisp facial expressions succeed in relaying the characters’ feelings, and it’s always nice to equip Kaim with cutesy bunny ears and whatnot then see them on his head.

Monsters look great, and while some are recycled with palette changes, each one is brimming with detail. There are enough of them so you won’t feel like you’re fighting the same critters over and over. Like in most RPGs, different variations allow magic engine-powered bugs to somehow also appear in ancient ruins as organic insects.

CG movies that probably took up most of the four-disc space are also impressive, albeit not of quality we’ve never seen before. The cinematic feel is present, but you have to wonder why some fillers couldn’t just be rendered in real-time cutscenes.

Unfortunately, frame rates are erratic and the loading screen is trying too hard to make friends. It usually takes a few seconds before combat starts, while cutscenes occasionally provide up to 30-second waiting times. Some say loading can last up to two minutes, but we were lucky enough not to face what seems to be unbearable.

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Immortal saga wrapped up

Nobuo Uematsu of Final Fantasy fame rolled up his sleeves to help with another Mistwalker title’s musical score. As usual, he did a magnificent job composing pieces that accentuate the game’s diverse locations and scenes. For Final Fantasy followers, many tracks will strike home.

The main theme is definitely memorable, and the most common one that plays during battles is worth rocking your head to even outside the game. Sheena Easton’s “What You Are” which plays during the credits isn’t bad neither, and Uematsu’s rap-flavored final boss theme is worth noting even if it isn’t as moving as “One Winged Angel” or “Liberi Fatali.”

Voice acting is solid, most notably Michael McGaharn’s job on Jansen. It is safe to say Jansen is unmatched when it comes to lifting the mood even during intense moments, and McGaharn did well in bringing the character to life. Veterans Tara Strong, Michael Bell, Kim Mai Guest and Kath Soucie also did remarkably well.

Lost Odyssey won’t last an eternity, but what you’ll get from 50 hours or so of playing it is well worth the purchase. Lost Odyssey is certainly a must-buy for RPG fans, even if only for the lengthy and engaging tale, challenging gameplay, and the sake of having one of those rare next-gen RPGs. Oh, and to meet one of the best supporting characters ever.

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