“People you remember are with you forever”
There is no tandem in gaming quite like Hironobu Sakaguchi and Nobuo Uematsu. Together, the duo are largely responsible for some of the greatest role-playing experiences that video games can offer. After their history with Final Fantasy and Blue Dragon, the two reunited once more for Lost Odyssey on the Xbox 360. In a generation starved for great role-playing games, Lost Odyssey is in every way a love letter to an age gone by. Characterized by a deep cast, a story shrouded in mystery, engaging turn-based combat, and even a classic multi-disc format.
Mistwalker Studios’ title stands with some of the all-time greats. The story revolves around a typical brooding protagonist in Kaim Argonar. That is, he is merely a stereotype on the surface. Being a 1000 year-old Immortal, Kaim bears an overwhelming history that he mysteriously cannot remember. Serving as a soldier from the start, he encounters other Immortals while making serendipitous connections with humans that may not be strangers after all. Together, the heroes delve into the mysteries of what was lost in the millennium so that they may stand a chance against the evil facing them now. While the game provides brilliant and moving cinematics to tell this tale, many of Kaim’s experiences are expressed through a series of short stories entitled, ‘A Thousand Years of Dreams.’ These tales provide insight into our protagonist’s long life of love, joy, death, and tragedy. The story provides intriguing characters such as fellow Immortal Seth with a forgotten past of her own, delightful children Mack and Cooke, and even an old pirate named Sed. While others play major parts both in story and combat as well, Kaim’s journey in particular is a powerful experiment in character writing which sets the bar high for story writing in general.
Bolstering the high level of storytelling are the striking visuals provided by the Unreal Engine. Lost Odyssey’s character design and overall aesthetic are a jarring departure from the JRPG norm of clean, “pretty” characters. Many of the characters appear rather aged and rugged with unique and sometimes bizarre outfit designs. It provides a refreshing blend of eastern and western design choices that separate Lost Odyssey from the typical archetypes. At the same time, one of the game’s only detriments is the uncomfortable load times caused by the same engine. While many critics are guilty of blowing this particular issue out of proportion, the experience is certainly far from seamless.
Adding a third blow to the one-two punch combo, Nobuo Uematsu produces easily one of his greatest scores to date. While the composer certainly possesses a rhythm and feel for the Final Fantasy series, he offers something new and bold that becomes integral to Lost Odyssey’s identity. Each character has their own theme in addition to standout tracks such as the emotional “What You Are,” and the more frantic “Howl of the Departed.” Uematsu continues to be a titan in the world of video game music.
The gameplay of Lost Odyssey continues with the classic gold standard of turn-based action. Characters can attack, use skills, cast magic, or use items each round. When executing attacks, players will also be prompted to press a button as two rings overlap. Pressing the button at the right time can add critical damage which can often help swing the tide of battle. This system is very reminiscent of mechanics used in games like Legend of Dragoon. The twist lies in whether your party member is of the Immortal race or the human race. Human characters are set in their ways with defined archetypes. They will learn skills as they level that are unique to the individual character. Your Immortals, however, can link to human party members and actively learn some of their skills through an SP system that accrues alongside experience points. They are also able to learn new skills with various rings acquired throughout the game. The game even offers a crafting system which allows you to transpose components into new rings, or even combine two together to create stronger rings which teach more powerful abilities.
Now you’ve likely asked – “How exactly does an Immortal playable character die in combat?” The answer lies somewhere in the middle. When an Immortal falls in combat, they will auto-revive after a few rounds (provided your party isn’t entirely KO’ed already before they fall). While this seems like an overpowered mechanic, be mindful that humans possess very powerful skills that your Immortals can never harness. While it may seem appetizing to rush in with a full party of Immortals, you will severely handicap yourself in tougher battles.
In addition to the mainline story, the game comes with various side quests which allow players to discover more powerful equipment for their characters, as well as delve more into character backstories. There is even a fighting arena known as the Backyard located in the town Ghotza. Players can unlock stronger challenges by giving the NPC rare items discovered throughout the world. Each battle league pits the party in fights which allow the player to earn a ranking. High rankings yield excellent rewards. Since the game’s release, a DLC titled “Seeker of the Deep” was released which features a new end-game dungeon and the strongest enemies the game has to offer. The only real criticism that may be offered for Lost Odyssey’s battle mechanics is its apparent lack of innovation. However, the title offers its own twist with the different character types. Beyond this, the old adage goes: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
With the experience clocking in at around fifty to sixty hours, Lost Odyssey is a gamer’s delight from its mysterious start to its emotional finale. It is a loving homage to great and classic role-playing games of yesteryear, while making bold statements about the potential for storytelling in video games. Hindered only by a few technical blunders, the title is the best RPG experience available for last-generation consoles, beaten out only by PlayStation’s Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. With Xbox One compatibility drawing nigh, Lost Odyssey is an essential game to experience.