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System: XBox 360
ESRB Rating: Teen
Developer: Mistwalker
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios


One role I’ve embraced during my MCP tenure is that of resident Final Fantasy Apologist.  Final Fantasy is by far my favorite game series, and despite its flaws (namely everything involving Final Fantasy VIII), it is truly a legendary video game series.

 

Accordingly, when Mistwalker, headed up by former Final Fantasy executive producer Hironobu Sakaguchi announced Lost Odyssey, I put a giant anime circle on my calendar.

 

From the opening moments, it’s clear that Lost Odyssey is not only in the line with the other JRPGs that have made their way to the US, but truly a spiritual successor to the Final Fantasy franchise that Sakaguchi left behind when he started Mistwalker. 

 

The game taking the look of the well made, but melodramatic (even for a JRPG) Final Fantasy X, implants the familiar, but somewhat antiquated game mechanics of the RPGs Sakaguchi popularized in the US. Experience Points, eight levels of spells, random encounters and turn-based combat, all standards of the JRPG, are all prevalent in the game, but work as well as they ever did.
 

As for new wrinkles, Lost Odyssey has done something that had become the Achilles Heel for JRPG gameplay, overleveling.  One of the biggest problems for early console RPGs was that a player had to spend hours upon hours battling random enemies, raising experience levels, just to be able to survive in the next part of the game. This made what was about 10 hours of true gameplay stretch into 20 or 30 hours. Not very exciting. 

 

In an effort to move gameplay along, games like Final Fantasy IV devised a system where as long as the player engaged in every random encounter, their player levels would be in perfect shape to move on to the next area.  Unfortunately, this caused the problem of “overleveling,” where players would grind in an effort to make future battles virtually impossible to lose.  As a result, RPGs lost their edge.  In a game like Dragon Warrior, a player could easily die at a moments notice.  However, RPGs in the past decade have been about as tough as Glass Joe.

 

Lost Odyssey, however, utilizes a system which only allows players to reach a certain level before cutting off the ability to gain experience.  This allows players to move the story along, but not allow them to become demi-gods prior to the end of the Prologue.  Additionally, it has made for every battle to actually mean something. J RPGs had reached the point where most battles involved holding down the “A” button and watching the characters dominate, until the boss battle, which would require about as much effort to get Alex to play Apollo Justice. While the shift is simple, it has me completely engaged in battles, making them welcome interruptions from dungeon crawling, rather minor nuisances.

 

Now before all the Grinders get thier metal slimes tangled, you’ll be able to reach your precious level 99, just not until very late in the game (basically when all the side-quests and bosses unlock).

 

One common thread running through JRPGs are character skills, whether it be the ability to steal, cast magic or heal.  Modern RPGs have basically left the characters a blank canvas, with the player determining what skill and attributes to give each character. Lost Odyssey goes more “old school” and each character has its defined role.  However, certain characters, the “immortals” are able to learn abilities from items or “mortal” characters who acquire skills be raising levels. 

 

Early on in the game it is very easy for the immortals to learn all the mortals skills, making them, by far, the most useful characters.

 

Given the very ridged gameplay structure of the JRPG, most rise and fall on their story.  If a game can overcome the usual traps of melodrama, poor voice acting and backstories more cliché than last Tuesday’s All My Children, a JRPG will more than likely be a success.

 

Lost Odyssey’s main character Kaim is a thousand year-old mercenary, who is the only survivor of a battle that ends in a cataclysmic meteor crash, but in the interim has lost his memory.  As the game progresses Kaim’s history is retold in a series of dreams.  These “dreams,” which are essentially fables with Kaim as a side character, are essentially only told through text and are littered throughout Disc 1.  While these dreams appear to have no impact on the storyline, some, mostly those that have the least to do with Kaim’s struggle as being an immotral and more to do with the meaning of life. Y es, I know I’m really stretching here, but fables like “The Upstreamers” are very extremely well presented for a video game.

 

Lost Odyssey’s desire is to build a strong storyline, and thus the focus of Disc 1 is setting-up that overarching story.  Additionally, a disproportionate amount of Kaim’s dreams are placed in Disc 1, attempting to build Kaim into a more-rounded character, as opposed to the whiny-blonde haired brats that have littered the JRPG scene for the past decade.

 

As a result, ithe game moves incredibly slow.  Battles will be few and far between. The other aspect of Disc 1 that stands out is that it could be the most depressing game I have every played.  For the first twelve hours of the game, everything that can go wrong goes wrong.  By the conclusion of Disc 1, however, the traveling party begins to take shape, the enemy lines are drawn, there are some postive events and the game gains steam.

 

Final Fantasy series composer, Nobuo Uematsu adds to Lost Odyssey with his recognizable, but strong soundtrack.  As for the graphics, there are basically the next step forward from the PS2 days.  More detail, which leads to the usual JRPG trap of heavy Anime influences.  This includes Kaim, while the least feminine of recent JRPG protagonists, is still nowhere near manly.  The biggest complain is that the women only come in two sizes, thin with normal boobs and thin with giant jugs.  With the addition of HD, this has reached the point where its clear that painstaking detail was put into one characters Hewitts, including adding the veins.  God only knows what this means for poor Taki, when Soul Calibur 4 comes out later this year.

 

While not being perfection and falling into some of the JRPG traps that dissuade modern gamers, Lost Odyssey is a strong game and a must play for any fan of the JRPG.

That’s all for now.