Insomnia | Reviews

Lost Odyssey

star

By Matt Zero / January 28, 2009

Note that Lost Odyssey is not an RPG -- it is a turn-based strategy game with a mild exploration aspect, and will therefore be reviewed as such. If this statement sounds weird to you, it'd be a good idea to read this and this.


Lost Odyssey is Microsoft's Final Fantasy rip-off, so from the off it's worth saying that the game is about five years behind Final Fantasy in terms of complexity and mechanics, but probably its equal in terms of ridiculous episodic plots that make bollock-all sense and teeth-gnashing sentimentality.

Lost Odyssey sticks to the JRPG "random battles, grinding, boss" formula. The random battles lack variety, the grinding is as tedious as ever, and as for the bosses, after some challenging early encounters the difficulty level of the majority of boss fights nosedives and you can sleepwalk through most of them. There is a pathetic reflex-based ring system (you press and hold a button just long enough to stop a ring icon at the right point, thus altering the effects of your attack), which feels like a pointless mini-game slapped over a simple battle system to make it seem more involved. There are also some sliding block/logic puzzles, but they're little more than padding as they fall into either: A) push a block about 2 fucking feet in one direction, or B) fanny about for a couple of minutes with a magic clock or some such shite until a door opens.

Outside of combat Lost Odyssey has a skill system based around two distinct character types: mortals and immortals. Mortals learn skills as they level up and can temporarily gain skills by equipping certain accessories, whereas immortals can "skill-link" to mortals to learn their skills and can permanently gain others from accessories, but won't develop skills on their own. A further twist is that mortals have access to their skills at all times whereas immortals have a limited number of assignable skill-slots to play around with. It's competently done, and the way immortals rely on mortals to develop fits in with the overarching themes of the story. It's also massively less involved than FFXII's skill board and gambit system, roughly equivalent to the skills system in FFVI.

The story concerns the immortal hero Kaim Argonar witnessing a meteor fall on a battlefield, which decimates both armies and sparks a magical arms race between their respective nations. Kaim is suffering from amnesia and is haunted by disturbing dreams that might be suppressed memories. Under command of the sinister Gongora, he sets off on an espionage mission together with a similarly afflicted immortal companion, the ex-pirate Seth Balmore, and Gongora's wise-cracking underling Jansen who is under strict orders to try and control any signs of their memories returning.

If you were having difficulty taking the story seriously to start with, the accessories you equip to learn skills (which show up on the character models in the cutscenes) are not going to help, seeing as most of them look completely ludicrous. Having Kaim accidentally attend a funeral in Pat Butcher style earrings kind of makes a mockery of the whole thing.

Graphically the game's extremely uneven. Some sequences, such as the opening battle scene, featured also on the pre-release Famitsu demo, are very well done, but many others seem like cheap PS2 fare redrawn at 720p (and especially many of the backgrounds), making the demo and all the promotional screens and trailers (which of course carefully avoided showing the cheap stuff) feel like a scam. Facial animations meanwhile are a step above what's been done before in a JRPG and the English language voice acting is actually pretty decent, right up to the point where the kids voiced by adults putting on squeaky voices turn up and it all gets a bit mawkish.

I know the story is massively important to many JRPG fans and Lost Odyssey isn't the worst offender you'll come across, but you're frequently left staring at the screen for long stretches of time, only occasionally required to make cursory button presses or walk a character down a single corridor. Worse still, it's got collecting sections and those un-loseable sham-fights that JRPG designers slot in to hide the fact you've not had any input in the game for the last half an hour. Shigematsu's dream sequences, meanwhile, are something of an in-joke: if I felt like reading literature I would of course have bought a novel.

Lost Odyssey gives me the feeling I'm finally done with modern JRPGs, barring some kind of freak reinvention of the genre. It's not that I don't enjoy playing them; I even enjoy the daft story lines -- it's just that the pacing of every single one seems to be completely fucked. I wish somebody somewhere would cotton on to the fact that you don't have to cripple the player's options, or make them watch an unintentionally comical puppet show for the first ten hours of a game they've just spent £40 on. Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that Sakaguchi will ever be that someone.