The first thing everyone wants to know is: will Lost Odyssey unseat Final Fantasy as the definitive RPG experience?
Our answer: No, it won’t.
Lost Odyssey is almost everything classic Final Fantasy ever was, but not much else. Having FF creator Hironobu Sakaguchi and composer Nobuo Uematsu on the team gives the game more credit than your average “new” RPG, and the mature plot gets major points for NOT starring some plucky youth out to save his/her village from a dragon. Design, however, does not an RPG giant make. Ultimately, Lost Odyssey loses to Final Fantasy with gameplay that's dense, unintuitive and a total throwback to over-complicated RPGs of yore - none of which are good things when you're trying to overthrow an accessible, mega-popular behemoth like FF.
That said, on to your next question: is Lost Odyssey a good game?
Our answer is... complicated. Lost Odyssey’s strengths are its weaknesses. On the one hand, it’s the best a fan of hardcore RPGs could ask for: a game that goes out of its way to revel in all that is old-school Japanese, to the point of including things that other RPGs have moved beyond, like random encounters, multiple classes of magic (White, Black, Spirit and Composite) and pointless fetch quests. The combat is turn-based, the menus are extensive, the plot is a massive conundrum of emotional angst and confusing cliffhangers, and battles emphasize strategy and planning over button mashing. It’s also very, very pretty, with gorgeous cutscenes and in-game models, as well as rich environments and diverse level designs.
The plot focuses on a group of millennia-old Immortals - Kaim, Seth, Ming and Sarah - who have lost their memories - and, in some cases, their loved ones. Sent on a mission to investigate the Grand Staff (a big building that causes meteors to fall on things), Kaim and Seth begin to regain their memories and suspect foul play on the part of the man they’re working for. But before they can confront the fiend or even remember everything they’ve forgotten, they’re captured by the warring nation of Numara, and abruptly find themselves at the center of more political schemes and plot twists than you can shake a stick at.
While much of Lost Odyssey is nothing a seasoned Final Fantasy veteran hasn't seen before (even if the names are different; cure = heal, Moogles = little rabbits in pots, etc.), a few twists in mechanics make the game more than a fancy copycat. The combat system is different, for one thing. Many of your party members are Immortals - characters who cannot (technically) die, but who also cannot learn skills naturally. So while our hero Kaim and his supporting cast of female casters are very powerful, they need constant maintenance. Without a mortal in their party, they cannot "skill link" to learn new talents. Mortals also serve as meat shield for Immortals if one gets knocked out during combat - if you can’t keep at least one party member alive long enough for an Immortal to revive, it’s game over.
For a second difference, the ring system that enhances the effectiveness of your physical attacks (as well as providing some cool status effects) is a completely new experience even for the most jaded FF fan. Without a ring equipped, you might as well be fighting naked; and with the wrong ring equipped, you might as well be fighting in your jammies. Ring components are picked up throughout the game - in chests, dropped by enemies, bought in shops (remember to check every shelf, desk, poster and pot you see; it’ll pay off) - and you assemble the rings from the menu. The game is also nice enough to let you change rings during combat without losing a turn, which speaks to just how much Lost Odyssey is asking in terms of strategic thinking over button mashing.
On the other hand, if you're used to action-oriented RPGs, these interesting ring-making and Immortal-nurturing exercises can be a frustrating mix of stop-and-go combat and overwrought cutscenes.
After every other battle or so, you’ve got to halt, open up the menu and start tweaking away and forging new rings. Failure to keep up this maintenance screws you when you get to a boss - and for a game that’s generous with its checkpoints, it’s still a pain to get sent back even five minutes. Tack on way too many long cutscenes (many of which are back-to-back), plus some cheap thrills aimed at adventure gamers (sneaking missions, puzzles), and some players might begin feeling downright insulted by Lost Odyssey.
Above: We spent 20 hours just wishing we could get that hair off his face
That, more than anything, is why Lost Odyssey isn’t a great game - it’s just too tedious. The opening of the game is literally two hours of cutscenes mixed with a few instances of you making Kaim walk across a pretty environment. It doesn’t help matters that the load times are ridiculously long. And just when you think you can finally get down to some real adventuring, Kaim will look at something and cry, triggering a cutscene about his memories.
If you don’t skip these scenes, you’re treated to 10 screens of nothing but text, telling you some random snippet about Kaim’s past that has nothing to do with the game. After a while, you'll start to feel like you’re reading a book instead of playing a game. It’s true that many RPGs start out slow - but Lost Odyssey takes about 8 hours to get past the training dungeon and even then, you’re still triggering long cutscenes and tutorials at least once every 15 minutes. Four disks of this and most people will be ripping their hair out and to hell with how you like your RPGs.
If you’re patient with plot, love your amnesiac protagonists and get aroused at the thought of having to keep two saves so you can reroll a character if need be, Lost Odyssey has your name written all over it. If any of that makes you sick to your stomach, and you really don’t want to watch repeated cutscenes that last longer than it takes to order a pizza, pass now or waste $60 on the most frustrating 60 hours of your life.
Above: Best side-boobs we've ever seen
Feb 6, 2008