Early on in this generation, Microsoft was putting quite a bit of effort into trying to get the Xbox 360 to catch on in Japan. While at this point the 360 is well and truly dead in Japan, it performed far better in the region than the original Xbox, even if it was still well behind the Wii and PS3. Any success the 360 did achieve in the land of the rising sun can be largely attributed to the several exclusive Japanese style role playing games Microsoft scooped up, like Blue Dragon, The Last Remnant, Infinite Undiscovery, and the subject of this Bargain Bin Review; Lost Odyssey. Lost Odyssey was developed by Feel Plus under the direction of Mistwalker and was released back in early 2008.
As one would expect from a JRPG, story is a main focus of Lost Odyssey. By now most people are aware of a lot the classic tropes and clichés that JRPG stories tend to rely on, and while there is some of that in Lost Odyssey, it manages to avoid common JRPG storytelling traps; for the most part. I actually found the story in Lost Odyssey to be the best part of the game, which isn’t to say other parts of the game aren’t good as well, the story is just excellent. You play as Kaim Argonar, and immortal that has lived for over a thousand years, though he can only remember the last few decades. As the game progresses he meets other immortals and eventually pieces together their connection to one another and the nature of their immortality. The characters are a major highlight of the story. Each of the game’s 9 characters feels unique, and they mostly avoid falling into the classic anime archetypes. You’ll find yourself actually caring about most of the characters by the end, even if some can be a bit annoying at times. The story takes several twists and turns along the way and remains interesting throughout, which is mostly a result of the great writing.
A lot of JRPGs can tend to be very cheesy, whether because of bad translation or just cultural differences, and while there is some of that in Lost Odyssey, for the most part the story keeps a serious tone and presents the situations that arise with the proper weight. The game deals with love, loss, betrayal, ambition, and war in very thought provoking ways and you can expect the game to elicit genuine emotion as you play. In addition to the excellent storytelling of the core narrative, the game also features some extremely well written, emotionally moving short stories in the form of dreams. At various points in the game, Kaim will remember something from the past thousand years, and the game will prompt one of these dream sequences. There are no graphics or voice over for these dreams, just text with music and ambient sound effects. The minimalist style works because the short stories are so interesting, usually illustrating a specific theme, often showing just how much immortality would color an individuals view of the world. If you play games at least in part for story, you’re likely to find a lot to like about Lost Odyssey.
While the story does a lot to avoid the common tropes of the genre, the design and gameplay is rooted squarely in the mold of classic JRPGs, which is at times both great and frustrating. Many modern JRPGs make misguided attempts to “modernize”, or even worse “westernize” the design or gameplay, but luckily Lost Odyssey knows exactly what it is and doesn’t try to be something else. The game was directed and overseen by Hironobu Sakaguchi, the legendary creator of the Final Fantasy series, and it unsurprising shares a lot in common with Final Fantasy, particularly the PS1 era games. You move through the game in a linear but unrestricted fashion, with combat areas and dungeons being broken up by the occasional town. The game has a very traditional leveling system, meaning you level up quite often, but don’t any have any control over stat points. There are some unique elements though, mostly involving the immortal characters.
Of the 9 characters, 4 are immortal and the other 5 or mortals. Mortals gain skills like any JRPG, meaning skills are learned at predetermined levels. Immortals don’t learn skills naturally, instead learning them from the mortals. This basically means that your immortals can learn any skill in the game, as long as the skill is linked and the immortal fights alongside their benefactor long enough to gain the necessary skill points to learn it. Immortals have a limited number of skill slots, though more can be added as the game goes. While the system does give you great control over outfitting your immortals with the skills you want, it does necessitate a lot of grinding, first to level your mortals to learn new skills, and then to link them to your immortals. The need for grinding is somewhat alleviated by the fact that your party consists of 5 characters, allowing you to level more than half your total group at a time.
While it is great to see a current generation JRPG get back to the roots of what made the genre so popular in the ’90s, with the classic format also comes some of the classic issues. This game has random encounters, a rather frustrating design feature that was made obsolete all the way back in ’95 with Chrono Trigger. While the very fact that random encounters are present may be enough to turn some people off immediately, I must stress that they aren’t as bad here as in some of the older Final Fantasy games. The frequency that the random encounters occur is quite low; often enough so that you’re fighting an appropriate amount in dungeons but not enough so that you’re getting in fights every two steps. Another frustrating hold over from classic JRPGs is the fact that only the characters in your party level up, meaning you’ll need to grind with your bench to keep all the characters around the same level. I mentioned earlier that the skill link feature can involve some grinding,which is true, but overall the game doesn’t demand much grinding to progress. I wound up grinding a lot simply because I was a perfectionist with skill linking, but the difficulty increase is such that simply making your way through the game at a normal pace should keep you appropriately leveled without much need for grinding.
The main gameplay component of this type of game is obviously combat, and like most of the game, the combat in Lost Odyssey is very traditional. The combat is purely turn based, no active time and no action element. There is timing element involved in physical attacks to determine how much of an effect your weapon enhancements will have, but otherwise it’s a pretty standard turn based system. While I personally love a really well done turn based battle system, if you’re looking for some innovation here, you’ll be disappointed. The combat is very simple, with your basic attack, skill, magic, item system of commands. It’s got your typical weakness/resistance system governed by enemy type and elemental affinity, status ailments, and buffs/debuffs. A slightly unique feature is the notion of party formation, with back row characters taking less damage than front row characters. While the combat is very standard, it’s got enough nuance to require strategic thinking. I know when it comes to JRPGs I’ll always take a well done strategic turn based battle system over bad real time action, and Lost Odyssey certainly fits that bill.
Visually, there is a lot about Lost Odyssey that looks outdated, but 4 years of technical improvements notwithstanding, the presentation is a real high point. At the time this game was released, the graphics were quite impressive, and while they don’t look as cutting edge today, they are still pretty good. The cutscenes however, still hold up quite well. The game has a lot of really lavish CG cutscenes that look absolutely fantastic, but even the majority of the in-engine cutscenes have some nice animations and impressive direction. The visual presentation is overall very polished, especially for a 2008 game; the only negative being some minor and fairly uncommon frame rate drops.
The music was done by legendary Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu, a man who is responsible for some of the most memorable and iconic music in video game history, and the soundtrack in Lost Odyssey is up to his usual high standards. The music complements the fantastic writing and storytelling very well, keeping the presentation quality high. Voice acting is probably the presentation’s weakest aspect, though there are certainly some good performances here. The majority of the main cast is solid, with a only one or two exceptions. As is commonplace with the genre, there are some parts of the game, mostly side quests, that aren’t voiced at all, which is disappointing even if it’s to be expected.
Lost Odyssey is definitely a worthwhile experience. The story and writing are absolutely top notch, with some well rounded characters and some pretty moving emotional storytelling, both in game and in the form of short stories. The design and gameplay are fairly by the books for the genre, but are nevertheless well crafted. You can easily expect to get 50+ hours of enjoyment out of the game if you decide to tackle some of the side quests, which makes this game a great value as a bargain bin title. New copies of Lost Odyssey are actually pretty rare and expensive, but you should have no problem finding a used copy for around $10 at the typical online and brick and mortar retailers. I would absolutely recommend Lost Odyssey for full retail price, but at $10 it’s an absolute no-brainer for RPG fans.
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- Excellent Writing
- Interesting Characters
- Solid Combat
- 50+ Hours Of Content
- Captures What’s Great About The Genre
- Some Elements Of The Presentation Look Dated
- Does Little To Push The Genre Forward