The Japanese RPG is a genre that shows signs that it’s on the way out. Well at least that’s what a lot of other media outlets would leave you to believe with their scathing reviews that complain about pacing and narrative. Most outlets would like you to believe that every game needs to follow the Oblivion model, with its hands off way of giving the user the story. Sure you can play something like that and get a fulfilling experience, or you can play something like Lost Odyssey and get the fulfilling experience, just in a different manner. Lost Odyssey embraces the common JRPG conventions and builds off the strengths of a strong narrative, and interesting characters.
Lost Odyssey is an emotional game. Hironobu Sakaguchi’s Mistwalker Studios was able to learn from the downright unlikable characters of Blue Dragon and create a much more compelling cast this time around. Every character has something that drives them, and it is through good writing that each of those characters is properly developed. The first disc alone is packed with more emotional moments than a lot of games released within the past five years combined. A lot of the events sit heavy, and a lot of it comes from thinking about your own mortality. The only unfortunate aspect is that by the time a lot of this is hammered home, you find it a little pretentious and unnecessary.
The story follows Kaim Argonar, a man who simply cannot die, an immortal who is “doomed” to walk to Earth. He spends his days wandering the planet, witnessing the everyday events that most people would take for granted. A lot of these events are told through dreams that Kaim will recall as he experiences events that remind him of the past. Unlocking all these events gives you a deeper understanding of what Kaim has experienced in his immortal life, all the people, the rise and fall of empires, the love of his life and more. And like your typical Japanese RPG he’s got amnesia and he’s forgotten a lot of the events of the past. After meeting the ex-pirate Seth Balmore on the field of battle, Kaim realizes that he and Seth are slowly recovering their lost memories. From there it’s a trip down memory lane so to speak.
The story is rife with twists and turns, a few of which you can see coming a mile away and some of which are terribly cliché. And while the story and characters are the strong suit of the game, they do become a little tired towards the end. I eventually reached a point where I had had enough of hearing about how Kaim lives forever, and has to see what he sees, I get it, life is a short and we should treasure the experiences that we have, and that there is something tragic in having to experience a lifetime of passing, knowing full well that your time will never come. Thankfully the other characters are just as vested in this story, some immortal and some not, so you have an interesting dynamic there between the mortals and immortals. Especially at the end of the first disc, which has one of the most emotional scenes I’ve ever seen in a game. If Aerith’s death pushed you over the emotional edge in Final Fantasy VII, I’m scared to think about what Lost Odyssey’s going to do to you.
The inclusion of Jansen in this story is also a huge help. He may play the comedic relief more often than not, but his actor does it so well that you can’t help but love him, and his interactions with Seth and his love story with Ming. His ability to make any scene more lighthearted is greatly appreciated. It’s too bad that he’s offset by Cooke and Mack who happen to be quite the polar opposite of Jansen. And bless her heart, Kath Soucie needs to stop being type-cast as a spunky child role. She was the last person I expected to be present in this game, but sure enough, she showed up and while her work is admirable, I just can’t shake the mental image of Rugrats from Nickolodeon whenever I hear her voice.
Lost Odyssey is a pretty damn good looking game. The team at Mistwalker Studios and feelplus made an excellent use of the Unreal 3 Engine. And a lot of the reviews that complain about massive load times or bad frame-rate must have been on pre-production builds as I never experienced a load time longer than five seconds. There are occasional frame-rate drops but it’s not in the realm of unplayable like some have made it out to be. The colors are bright and vibrant and don’t suffer too much from earthy-tone syndrome that some games are guilty of. There are also no shiny textures to speak of (unless there needs to be, like with ice), which is a nice touch as well, as that’s another look that needs to go with all these next-generation visuals. Some of the monsters are huge and massively detailed, and surprisingly aren’t recycled all the much through the game, at most I think you see one palette swap of a given monster in the game.
Music in Lost Odyssey is sort of a big deal when you have a name like Nobuo Uematsu attached to the title, and he really does not disappoint in the slightest. His musical efforts are classic Uematsu, which you’ll feel right out of the gates when you hear the opening theme on the title screen. His battle music is also highly recognizable as his style, especially when you get into boss fights, some of which are driving rock tracks while others feel a bit more epic, and thankfully there are no tracks like “This is the Beginning,” though the ending theme by Sheena Easton does come from out of nowhere. The final boss battle in particular emphasizes how massive and important this fight is, which some games these days don’t do so well.
An RPG can live or die by its combat system, and Lost Odyssey for the most part feels like it’s trying to doggie paddle in the middle of a deep pool. Overall it is the hardest thing to like about the game. It’s a slow, plodding dinosaur of a system that makes me appreciate Valkyrie Profile and Chrono Trigger more than ever. Combat in Lost Odyssey is a typical turn based affair, you queue up your actions and then your guys cut loose. The problem is that the setup time feels like it takes ages to complete, and then when the combat actually begins you spend a lot of time waiting for everything to happen. Which is odd because the team that worked on this has Shadow Hearts in their previous resume, and of course having that on your resume means you are going to include rings in the system somehow. Lost Odyssey does have a ring based system, once you attack you charge your character’s attack by holding the right trigger button and based upon when you release the trigger you can perform extra damage or steal from your enemies. It helps break the tedium of waiting for things to happen, but if the combat were just faster, then this wouldn’t be an issue. As a comparison, battles in Persona 3 were lightning quick and yet they follow the same formula used in Lost Odyssey.
To sum up Lost Odyssey in one word, I would have to use “Safe.” It doesn’t do anything magical, in terms of combat or storytelling, but it does them well enough to be an above average title that is enjoyable. Some of the themes of tragedy can come off as a little forced as the game drives onward towards its finish as it hints at future titles. But that’s what you do when you want to build a franchise. And I for one will be happy to play them, so long as Mistwalker can speed up the combat, and not try to make us sit there and feel sorry all the time for a guy who’s never going to die. Well, at least he’s more likable than the entire cast of Blue Dragon.
Lost Odyssey doesn't break the JRPG mold, but it does fill it out quite nicely with a strong story and great characters.