Microsoft Game Studios
From: Microsoft Game Studios
For: Xbox 360
Genre: Action, RPG
ESRB Rating: Teen (13+)
A few hours into Lost Odyssey it becomes obvious that the game's mastermind, Hironobu Sakaguchi, is living in the past. Mystwalker's first adult-oriented role-playing game is astonishingly free of innovation, relying instead on the same traditional, turn-based Japanese RPG design found in most of the games the legendary Japanese game maker crafted for his previous employer, Square-Enix. Indeed, you'd be forgiven if, at times, you find yourself slipping into thinking that you are playing Final Fantasy VIII or IX.
But it's important to add that this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Sakaguchi's Final Fantasy games are, after all, masterpieces within the genre. Just know that if you're looking for a game that takes the RPG category in bold new directions, this isn't it.
In Lost Odyssey, players take on the role of Kaim, a warrior who cannot die. He's been wandering the world for a thousand years, fighting a literally never-ending series of battles as a mercenary. The game begins with Kaim taking part in and being one of only two people to survive a spectacularly violent skirmish that ends with a meteor landing on the battlefield. After reporting back to the leaders of the country employing his services, Kaim is sent on a quest to check out a magical device called the Great Staff that may have caused the meteor to fall.
It's all pretty standard stuff, as RPGs go. The world is in peril, and a gifted few are on a quest to save it. The shtick in Lost Odyssey is that Kaim and his fellows immortals have lost their memories. Snippets come back to them in short bursts that we see in the form of long text stories. These bits of prose are, surprisingly, one of the highlights of the game. Through them we get to explore the mystery and misery of eternal life; we see Kaim and his fellow eternals watch the people they know and love die, we see them trying to understand the lives of those who can perish, and we come to understand how those around them react to their immortality. Games rarely explore their characters in such depth and with such eloquence.
And don't think that these lengthy text sequences mean the developers cheaped on production. The game world and the characters that inhabit it have been beautifully realized. Structures have the same epic, fantastical flair found in Sakaguchi's Final Fantasy games, and the ornately detailed characters animate and emote beautifully (even if they don't quite live up to new standards for human realism set by games like Gears of War and Uncharted: Drake's Fortune).
Plus, Nobuo Uematsu -- the John Williams of Japanese video game music -- has given his full attention to Lost Odyssey's soundtrack. A powerful and varied orchestral score helps set the game's tone throughout its epic, fifty-plus hour duration. This is that rare sort of video game music that you will find yourself humming when not playing.
As for the game itself, expect plenty of random battles against a wide assortment of enemy soldiers and monsters. You'll immediately recognize the routine: Explore an area until a random encounter is triggered, then select attacks, skills, magical abilities, and items for each member of your party to use. Lost Odyssey mixes things up a bit by breaking your party into front and back rows, with the fore protecting the rear. Another minor twist comes in the form of skill altering rings, which players can build from items found while exploring. But, for the most part, Lost Odyssey sticks with the tried and true formula of simply recognizing what each of your party members are good at--fighting, healing, magic -- then setting them about their work. It's expertly designed, but far from groundbreaking.
And, in the end, that's what will determine whether Lost Odyssey is your cup of tea. If you have fond memories of Sakaguchi's previous work, you'll feel like you're slipping your hands around a long lost favourite controller. If, on the other hand, you haven't nostalgia for any of last century's Final Fantasy games and you're on the prowl for cutting edge game design, you can take a pass on Lost Odyssey and not lose any sleep.
TIP: If you're low on health or mana (magic juice) in Lost Odyssey and happen to be near a save point, save your game, quit, then load the save and you'll be all charged up.