When Mistwalker Studios (headed by former Square Enix veteran, and father of Final Fantasy, Hironobu Sakaguchi) first announced its supposed epic RPG “Lost Odyssey,” many instantly saw the comparisons to the Final Fantasy series and its spin-off projects he helped craft. What they didn’t know is that Lost Odyssey would be almost an exact carbon copy of many of the things that Final Fantasy made popular in RPG’s: turn-based (and random) battles, amnesiac protagonists, one-dimensional villains who want nothing more than to dominate the world, and a completely linear story to go with it. You’d think that JRPG fans would be sick of this, but Mistwalker seems insistent that we get spoon-fed all of these things again, and with little to no innovation no less. Don’t get me wrong, all the games that Lost Odyssey is an exact copy of are outstanding games (some of them are my all-time favorites), but we have moved past this. Even Square Enix has moved the Final Fantasy series past this with its last two main installments: Final Fantasy XI being an online MMO and Final Fantasy XII adding some much need freshness to the legendary series with its unique battle system and politically driven story.
Mistwalker’s first attempt at an epic RPG, Blue Dragon, was met with mixed feelings among many people. It had a weak story with completely cookie-cutter characters, slight but still present technical issues, and one of legendary composer Nobuo Uematsu’s weakest soundtracks of his career. I, however, had alot of fun playing Blue Dragon with its unique innovations to the turn-based battle system and a very good class-based system allowing characters to learn different moves by switching classes. The gameplay was the highlight of Blue Dragon for me, but with Lost Odyssey, this is definitely not the case.
The first word that comes to mind when I think of Lost Odyssey’s gameplay is derivative. Since it has no innovation at all, it relies heavily on time-tested concepts that have been in place for well over a decade. Watch a cut-scene that tells you where to go next, explore that next area while running into battles and leveling up your characters, doing the occasional fetch quest or puzzle, lather, rinse, and repeat. If this seems like an appealing endeavor for you, than by all means stop reading this review and go buy a copy of this game. If this doesn’t appeal to you, then Lost Odyssey is definitely not going to change your mind. The formula it uses had been done to death by every other JRPG. To give the game some credit though, the skill system is nicely done. It’s not mindblowing, but it does its job well. At first it seems like your average skill system, but it has a few changes thanks to the immortal characters in the game. Immortal characters do not learn abilities on their own by leveling up; they have to be linked with a mortal that has already learned the ability you want. This allows every character to get used, which is rare in a JRPG. Immortals can also learn abilities by equipping accessories. To learn these abilities, you just have to battle and get SP much like getting EXP to level up.
There are a few other slight tweaks to the gameplay. First off is the Ring System. The Ring System is similar to the Judgment Ring in the Shadow Hearts series (mainly because those developers helped make this game). You hold down the “R” trigger button until one ring overlaps with another ring and you will get a bonus in damage if you do it properly. You can make rings with different loot you obtain throughout the game to add elements and special goodies. The other tweak is the Wall Guard system. Much like in other JRPG’s, you position your characters in the front or back row. Fighters will most likely be put in front and magic users will probably get put in the back. When an enemy attacks the back row, damage is severely reduced if they have not tried to attack the front row first. This makes your characters in the back row less susceptible to damage. When the enemy attacks the front row, a bar in the upper right hand corner of the screen goes down. As that bar goes down, the damage to the back row increases. When the bar reaches zero, damage is even across the board. This is also the case when the player tries to attack the enemy, giving battles a somewhat strategic feel. Neither of these tweaks to the gameplay is revolutionary, but they help keep the battles from being completely stale. One thing to mention is that Lost Odyssey does not control as well as it should. The camera is usually controlled by the game and it doesn’t always give you a clear view of what you want to see. Also, when trying to search things and climb ladders, it was definitely frustrating to try and get into the right position for it. I would sometimes walk around the barrel or ladder for 10-15 seconds in frustration trying to get the “A’ button to show up on the screen to allow me to climb or search.
The story in Lost Odyssey has its ups and downs. The downside is the main story, which is the generic “person wants to dominate the world, so he does terrible things to people to try and seize control.” The upside lies in the incredible backstories featured in the “Thousand Years of Dreams.” These unlockable dreams are emotionally riveting, telling truly outstanding tales of love, courage, betrayal, and anything else you could want in a good story. These sequences are completely optional, so if you don’t go and seek them out, you won’t experience any but the main dreams, which you can just skip through if you like. I would suggest not skipping these dreams as they contain the best writing in the game, but I have seen people skip them just to get back to the action.
This brings up the issue of sporadic pacing in Lost Odyssey. There will be many instances when you’ll spend upwards of 30 minutes to an hour watching cutscenes that lead into a dream without a single ounce of gameplay. Conversely, there will be moments in the game where you will not see a cutscene or dream for upwards of an hour or longer. The pacing is hindered by many technical issues. Loading times can sometimes be extremely long, especially when switching between towns and dungeons. They are also quite long when entering battle and are accompanied by some frame rate issues. There are also some frame rate issues during cutscenes. These technical issues are by no means game-breaking, but they are easily an annoyance.
The presentation in Lost Odyssey, however, is top-notch. The graphics are quite impressive, even despite some technical issues. The soundtrack is definitely a return to form for Nobuo Uematsu. It isn’t his best work to date, but it is definitely a great soundtrack. It sounds very reminiscent of his earlier works, which is definitely a good thing. The English voice-acting is actually quite good as well. This is largely due to the fact that most of the voice actors have done voices in many video games and anime. I definitely give Lost Odyssey props for presentation.
Your enjoyment of Lost Odyssey will come down to whether you can take its age old gameplay and plot concepts and truly enjoy the game’s high points. Its soundtrack, graphics, characters, and backstories are definitely a treat and make this game worth playing for JRPG fans, but unless you are willing to put up with all of the low points, you may want to look somewhere else for a true “next-gen” JRPG experience.