Lost Odyssey - Staff Review  

Jansen's Odyssey
by Michael "Macstorm" Cunningham

Lost Odyssey
Xbox 360
Moderate to Easy
45-60 hours
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Lost Odyssey is Mistwalker's second RPG to be released in North America and their first with the assistance of the development team at feelplus Inc. Hironobu Sakaguchi once again leads the way as producer and scenario writer along with soundtrack composer, Nobuo Uematsu. Much like Blue Dragon, this Xbox 360 title stirred up some high expectations, but does Lost Odyssey live up to the hype? That answer will be different for everyone.

   The battle system is easily the most debated aspect of Lost Odyssey. It is a traditional, turn-based RPG with some unique innovations, but is not highly original. Playable characters are either mortal or immortal. Mortal characters have their own unique set of skills that are gained by reaching certain level benchmarks. Accessories can be equipped to supplement mortal characters' skills, but any abilities gained through using an accessories are only useable while the item is equipped. Immortal characters must learn abilities and do so by either wearing equipment or linking a skill from a mortal character. The immortal character will then gain skill points (or SP) in battle in order to earn enough to reach the skill's predetermined amount required to permanently learn it. Once a skill has been learned, the immortal character can then be assigned that ability. Immortals have a limited number of skill slots available, but slots can be increased through certain accessories or by finding and using slot seeds hidden throughout the world. This method of character development gives the player a ton of party and character customization options, though it can lead to excessive micromanagement of skills.

   Skills, such as spells, support skills, and melee skills, play a large role in combat. Spells consist of typical Black Magic and White Magic, but Spirit and Combination Magic also are available. Spirit Magic offers character enhancements along with a variety of spells to harm enemies as well. Combination Magic is a little more complicated, requiring the user to be able to cast two specific spells that can be combined into a grander spell. An example of this is the All-Flare spell in which a character would need to know Shadow, a Spirit Magic spell that targets multiple enemies, and Flare, a Black Magic fire spell that targets a single enemy. The Combination Magic spell that results is All-Flare, a fire-based spell that targets all enemies. More powerful spells tend to have longer casting times and higher casting costs, so players must decide if using them is worth it. Support skills have a wide variety of uses. These abilities include Steal; Casting Support, an ability in which a character sacrifices a turn to allow another character to cast a spell faster; and Wall, the ability to restore the defensive barrier that protects the back row characters. Melee skills are simply offensive skills, each varying in effectiveness in certain situations.

Do or Die Jansen Do or Die Jansen

   Along with skills, direct physical attacks using the Aim Ring System are another main focus of combat. Characters can equip rings that will give certain enhancements to standard attacks. A wide variety of enhancements are available, such as HP draining, elemental enhancements, and those can trigger status effects. In order to execute these ring attacks, the player will have to hold down a trigger button as an on-screen ring closes into a smaller circle. Once the ring reaches a certain point, the player needs to release the trigger. If the timing is "perfect" or "good," the effectiveness of the enhancement is increased. If the timing is "bad," the enhancement is ignored completely. Weapons are often glossed over, offering very little other than an increase in attack power. In combat, characters can either be placed on the front row or back row. Back row characters are granted protection via the Guard Condition (or GC) meter. The GC meter is dependant on the hit points of the front row characters. As front row characters take damage, back row characters become more susceptible to taking damage. The GC meter is a unique addition to a basic row system. Traditional seems to be the word of choice when describing combat in Lost Odyssey, so those looking for something unique and innovative will not be impressed by the battle system. However, it is very solid and enjoyable, showing that traditional does not have to equate to stale or boring.

   Lost Odyssey does have a few issues in terms of interaction. While combat and menus are easy to manage, in-game movement can be problematic. While exploring areas, characters can interact with objects. These objects could contain items or could be buttons that must be pressed to activate a device. Many times the player will have to continuously move their character around a small area until they are in the exact right position to interact. In an area with random encounters, attempting to press a button or move a puzzle piece can be very frustrating. Vehicle movement can also be problematic as controls are sluggish and require precise positioning on the world map. Thankfully, once a new area has been visited, a shortcut is available that will transport the party there without having to use the ship again. One other irritant is the game's constant loading screens. These appear between almost every screen transition and each last five to ten seconds. While not game breaking, it occurs often enough to be of note. These issues are just minor annoyances overall, but show a lack of polish on a high quality title.

   The story of Lost Odyssey is where the game really becomes impressive. From the characters and their terrific dialogue to the Thousand Years of Dreams sequences, Lost Odyssey really shines. The main focus of the story is on Kaim Argonar, an immortal with a forgotten past. Kaim is a mercenary loyal to the sorcerer Gongora, who seems to be using the amnesic Kaim for nefarious means. As he is sent on out on a mission for Gongora, Kaim teams up with another immortal named Seth and the hilarious, comic-relief character Jansen. The story focuses more on character development through humorous and often emotional dialogue instead of a twisting, confusing plot, and the end result is quite memorable. The cast is very likeable and each character contributes to the story in a meaningful way.

Best Dialogue Ever Best Dialogue Ever

   Lost Odyssey also features story sequences that highlights the past of Kaim and some of the other immortal characters. Titled A Thousand Years of Dreams, these thirty dreams tell of events in the past that shaped the immortal characters into who they are at present. Even though these dreams are simply backstory told through text and have no actual bearing on the game's current plot, each is extremely entertaining and most are very emotional. They are a wonderful addition to the game and really assist in the character-centered plot.

   The visuals found in Lost Odyssey are top-notch quality. Everything is extremely well detailed: character designs, town and dungeon areas, and monsters. Enemies offer a decent variety, spell animations are bright and flashy, and the game's cutscenes are seamless with normal gameplay, even showing characters with whatever accessories they have equipped. Nobuo Uematsu's soundtrack is solid and offers a lot of variety. It is very original, especially when comparing it to the soundtrack of Blue Dragon. Where the Blue Dragon soundtrack at times sounded quite like some of Uematsu's prior work, the Lost Odyssey soundtrack stands out as fresh and new. Voice acting in Lost Odyssey is very impressive as well. Each of the actors portray their characters in the most appropriate manner.

   Lost Odyssey starts off with a few rather challenging boss fights, but as the party grows and characters gain more skills, things become easier. The challenge is moderate, walking a fine line between being too simple or frustratingly difficult. Boss fight can be challenging, but most are not too difficult. The unique aspect of each fight makes for some very entertaining battles, though. The fact that areas limit the gain of experience points after reaching a certain level discourages grinding for levels, but often grinding is still required for learning useful skills. Completing the main story will take most players around 45 hours, and the optional content can boost that even higher depending on the desire for gaining achievements or just completing everything the game has to offer. Most of the optional content will grant the party a useful new spell or skill-granting accessory, though none are really required to complete the game.

   Overall, Lost Odyssey is a very complete package. The story is solid, the gameplay is engaging, and the delivery is excellent. For RPGamers familiar with Sakaguchi's Final Fantasy titles, many elements of the game will remind them of some of those prior titles. However, Lost Odyssey tends to borrow familiar concepts and ideas rather than ripping off any of those older titles. Thoroughly enjoyable from beginning to end, Lost Odyssey shows that a traditional experience does not have to be a dull one. The game is very memorable and special credit for that goes to the character of Jansen, as he is one of the most entertaining characters in recent RPGaming history, and his voice actor delivers some of the best dialogue in the game.

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