Skankin' Garbage's Review of Lost Odyssey
As much as Mistwalker's first release - Blue Dragon - generated a lot of hype, their second overseas release, Lost Odyssey, generated even more. The game also has caused a big divide within gamers; most 'RPGamers' either find Lost Odyssey to be the next new RPG masterpiece - XBox's 'Final Fantasy' - while some people are cry out that the game is vastly overrated, and only appreciated by 'fanboys' - be them Mistwalker fanboys, Final Fantasy fanboys, or what have you. I don't believe either of these are truly accurate; but, Lost Odyssey is no easy game to analyze, so it's no surprise that the game leaves few people sitting on the fence. Let me throw my chip into the pile, and believe me: I have a lot to say.
The first thing you might notice about the game is that it looks GOOD. Not only are the graphics just beautiful, but the character designs, done by Takehiko Inoue (Popular artist for a Manga called Slam Dunk), are truly excellent. The only thing that bothered me about the character designs was that it seemed that two of the main characters, Cooke and Mack, were deliberately made to look like Final Fantasy 4's Palom and Porom; but, that was likely a suggestion from the director, and not a decision by Inoue. Oh well.
The second thing you might notice is the musical score. The music, done by Nobuo Uematsu, is good.The Lost Odyssey soundtrack definitely sounds more like a lot of his recent work, but with more of a film score-esque treatment. A lot of the songs are better for ambience, and not purely enjoyable on their own. This is a very rare ocurrence for music written by Uematsu, but the end result is still very effective. My only gripe is that some of the battle themes are crazy synth rock tunes that seem largely out of place with the game's orchestral/contemporary score.
...And, you'll be noticing these two things for quite a long time, as the game's pacing starts out at so alarmingly bad. The game opens up with the main character, Kaim, fighting on a battlefield. This is supposed to be some critical battle, so many troops from both sides have gathered here. Suddenly, a meteor falls on the battlefield (yes, really), annihilating almost everyone - except Kaim, the reason being that he is immortal. So, Kaim reports back to the capital of his country, Uhra. Kaim's superior, Gongora, then sends Kaim to inspect this place called Grand Staff - a machine that generates magical energy - because a leak in magic energy is allegedly what caused the meteor to fall. So, Kaim sets out with a party of three to inspect Grand Staff. Here's the kicker, though: Kaim has lived for 1000 years, but has lost any memories prior to the last thirty years or so. The night before he sets out, he begins to remember events that have happened in his life through his dreams, and the plot takes off after Kaim gets his memories back.
That is the MOST abridged version I can give you of all the events that happen before you set out into the first dungeon of the game. Certainly, as you leave the battlefield from the beginning of the game, you can get into random battles; however, it takes all of fifteen minutes to get out of there. There are more things, like an explanation of how magic became a prevalent addition to peoples' everyday life, a more detailed explanation of the two other characters that set out with you - particularly, that one of them also claims to be an immortal. Oh, and the Dreams.
Lost Odyssey's story consists of two parts: The main story, and the Dream sequences. The first Dream is unlocked through a mandatory story event. After that, as Kaim can explores towns, talking to certain people or seeing certain things will cause him to remember a significant event that occured in his past. These Dreams are presented in 'Power Point' format - that is, the Dreams are narratives that take about 15-20 minutes to read, and are accompanied by ambient music and visuals. These Dream narratives, written by popular Japanese novelist Kiyoshi Shigematsu, are nothing short of amazing. After you read the first dream, you'll be hooked, and will want to explore every square inch of every map to find as many as you can.
But! The stories cause a funny problem - you see, they each take a while to read. Since youfind most of them in towns, there will be many parts in the game where you find several dreams in a short time - in fact, you can find about seven or eight before you set out to the first dungeon! For that reason, the dreams can greatly disrupt the pace of the main story. In fact, between all the main story events and the many dreams accumulated in the beginning of the game, it took me 2-4 days of playing for me to leave the first town!
Eventually, what will probably happen is one of two things:
The bigger - and perhaps more disconcerting - problem with the Dreams is that almost none of them tie into the main story (except for maybe one or two). The purpose for the Dreams is the flesh out Kaim's character, and to continuously pose the question, "What is the purpose of life for someone who can never die?". This puts the Dreams in a very strange position: On one hand, they are setting up the main themes of the game's story, while developing Kaim's character. On the other hand, the Dreams disrupt the flow of the main story greatly, while almost always having little to no relevance to it. It's no doubt that they were a necesary part of the game, but they could have been done better. It's hard to say whether or not they ultimately hurt or helped the story as a whole.
Speaking of which, I've not even talked about the main story, other than present it to you. For one thing, the pacing can be REALLY bad, even without considering how the Dreams can disrupt the pace. Sometimes, there are times where you have to watch a LOT of story unfold before you with no option of saving in between. There is one particular storyline event in the first disc (out of four), where you have to 'watch' for well over an hour without saving at all. That kind of shit is just ridiculous.
I do need to take a second to say one thing: The main theme of the game was done incredibly well. For all the negative things I have to say, this is one thing they did right, and I think this is what ultimately saved the game's story, along with the character interaction.
The character interaction, by the way, is excellent in some ways, and poor in other ways. The main characters may not all have fleshed out backstories, but because every character gets so much interaction with each other, it feels like no character was truly ignored or poorly-done. The banter between characters is some of the best I've ever seen in an RPG, which I've always thought was something that RPGs flagrantly disregard - Which is too bad, because it can make a game feel more real and engaging than any epic storyline can. The real problem is more within the villains. The villains are all static and one-dimensional. It was kind of fun seeing all the clever things that the main villain pulled off, but for the most part, all of the villains were pretty boring, and every conversation between the villains and the heroes were pretty damn boring, too.
The last trouble I have with the main story is that too many of the most important points are not explained well, or at all. For example, it's very hard to discern exactly what the main villain is trying to do to accomplish his 'world domination' goal. The heroes explain that what he's going to do is bad, and can destory the earth or something, but never exactly why. There are many other mysteries, most of them involving the subject of Kaim's (and the other immortals') immortality. I've heard that these mysteries are much better-explained upon completing certain sidequests; however, personally, I did not feel the slightest bit like doing sidequests after the 50-60 hour-long trek to the end of the game.
This is mostly, though, because of how slow and antiquated Lost Odyssey's combat is. Lost Odyssey is a turn-based RPG. A very. Slow. turn-based RPG. The battles take much longer to load than most RPGs, which is immediately noticable. For another thing, the enemies can have so much HP, or require such specific tactics to beat, that the battles can take over 3-4 minutes every time! This isn't such a huge problem in the beginning, but it gets MUCH worse as you get closer to the end of the game.
Lost Odyssey's combat relies on two innovations: The first being the Ring system, and the second being the Guard Condition (GC) gauge.
The ring system, quite frankly, sucks. Here's how it works: characters equip Rings that are imbued with certain abilities (Damage Up, the ability to induce certain status effects, etc.). When your character uses a physical attack, you hold the R Trigger and release at a specific time, and if you did it right, the added effect of the ring will work. The timing for each ring and character never changes, so it's almost impossible to miss, even if you're not even looking at the screen. This makes the system feel pretty gimmicky, compared to other games like Legend of Dragoon, Paper Mario, or Shadow Hearts, which pulled it off MUCH better. The last thing that makes the Ring system feel so lame is that it works for physical attacks ONLY, meaning that there's not much point in giving a good ring to a magic-user. Overall, the Ring system in Lost Odyssey was incredibly lame.
The Guard Conidition gauge, however, was a very cool idea. Most RPGs have the concept of 'rows' - a front row, where people in the front row deal and recieve more physical attack damage, and a back row, where people in the back row deal and recieve less damage. The GC gauge is a neat twist on the system. In every battle, a GC gauge, divided into four parts, appears for allies and enemies. The GC is divided into four 'levels', and as the front row takes damage, the GC level lowers, causing allies or enemies in the back row to be more susceptible to physical attacks. The max GC depends on the sum of HP of party members in the front row. The GC, however, will not recover simply by recovering HP, but instead, certain specific abilities exist that recover damage to the GC gauge. I think that this was a cool, simple spin that put more strategy into the concept of a 'row' system, and I loved it.
The last thing to note is the Level and Skill system. 100 experience is always needed to gain a level; however, the experience you get from individual monsters scales down greatly as your level increases, to the point where you will only be gaining 1 Exp for each enemy you kill. As for the Skill system, there are two ways in which skills are learned: Mortals learn new skills as they level up, and Immortals learn skills from Mortal characters, or from equipping accessories. As you can probably guess, this means that Immortals get a hell of a lot more skills than Mortal characters. The irony of these systems is that the Level system was made to discourage grinding, but the way that Immortals learn skills, and the vast array of skills for them to learn, encourages grinding. You might wind up stopping to grind for Skills every time you get a new character - particularly when you get a new Immortal character. It can really become a drag, especially given how outrageously slow the game can be.
Other than that, what is there to say about the game...There is no world map, which I guess makes sense; if you've lived 1000 years, there's not much incentive to go exploring. Although, you DO have to navigate a series of boats to find the next storyline locations at times, which are all slow and control like crap. The dungeons sometimes take WAY too long, with the last dungeons taking upwards to two hours to complete. Interacting things in the environments is way harder than it should be, because you have to be in a very specific place and be facing a very specific angle to hit a switch, place an object, etc. All the cities are very bland, which is too bad, because the larger cities had a lot of potential to be excellent, memorable locations.
In the end, I think that this game will go down in history much in the way that Final Fantasy 7 did: Either people will think that it's one of the greatest RPGs of all time, or they will scoff at the game with some sort of holier-than-thou attitude, focusing on its faults, likely unaware that they're merely instinctively fighting the hype. The difference, though, is that Lost Odyssey doesn't really deserve that. Lost Odyssey had a lot of absolutely GREAT aspects to it, but a lot of downright awful aspects to it. In the end, Lost Odyssey was just an 'okay' game, in my opinion. Worth 59.99 perhaps, but not worth the waves it creates.