Lost Odyssey is the second Xbox 360 game to materialize from Mistwalker, the Japanese game developer touted by Microsoft for working on Xbox 360-exlcusive role-playing projects. Having recently released Blue Dragon, Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi and Nobuo Uematsu wasted no time in teaming up with artist Takehiko Inoue and writer Kiyoshi Shigematsu. Their goal with Lost Odyssey was not to reinvent the wheel, but to give Xbox 360 gamers the best take on the RPG gameplay that drove Final Fantasy VII through Final Fantasy XII. But does their grand plan succeed?
Well, the story seems epic enough. Players take on the role of Kaim, an immortal whose memory is missing after a war between rival lands that resulted in massive magic attack (a la a nuclear explosion). Having been the only survivor, Kaim is brought to town to explain himself — but with no memory, he of course has no explanation. Gongora, the quintessential bad guy, explains that he cast a spell on Kaim making him immortal. Suspecting the attack came from the Grand Staff, however, Kaim is sent to investigate. Before long, Gongora’s plan starts to come into focus, with players slowly recovering Kaim’s memories in the form of dreams.
These bittersweet vignettes add a lot to the character, and although most of these stories are tired clichés (hello, Final Fantasy background), they are all well written and add enough to the character that players won’t really mind. In addition to these stories, players will also learn more about Kaim and his capabilities by meeting various other Immortals and humans, who will join Kaim’s party. These Immortals also have a limited memory of just what has been going on, but it’s clear that Gongora must be stopped.
Combat is handled with both a front row and back row to your party; the characters in the back row gain a shield bonus from those in front. Physical attacks bring up a series of rings, which players can focus by pulling the right trigger. Focusing the rings, if done correctly, gains a stronger attack, while magic — depending on the power spell cast — can take anywhere from one to two turns. Lost Odyssey includes four elements (Wind, Fire, Earth and Water), and each has its own particular weakness (Wind over Earth, Earth over Water, etc.) This all sounds familiar doesn’t it? All of this gameplay is well and good, but it’s really the same thing we’ve been playing for decades, so Mistwalker has introduced an interesting twist: status attacks only last as long as the battle. This gameplay twist means that if you’re poisoned, paralyzed or under the effects of other statuses, the effects go away immediately upon the battle ending.
Immortals can learn any magic or abilities that your human party members have, but they learn no bonuses when they level up, and they can only gain new abilities or spells by activating various items. Humans, on the other hand, learn new magic and abilities by simply leveling up. With a few exceptions, though, the Immortals are still your best fighters, while the Humans are your magic users. Jansen, a Human, can let magic attacks fly for 500+ points, but if you have him physically attack something, you’re looking at an attack that lands one-tenth that power. Kaim, meanwhile, can let fly physical attacks for 600+ points, but his magic attacks are around 150 points. In Lost Odyssey, the gameplay is all about balance.
This results in a system that pretty much defeats the purpose of power leveling or grinding — and that’s a welcome development. It also brings about battles that always seem like a challenge and are not meant to be taken lightly, because your party can be wiped out pretty quickly regardless of level if you don’t pay attention. Boss battles are well done and far less complex then the later Final Fantasies (e.g. there’s no shopping list of enhancements, spells, etc.), which makes the battles in Lost Odyssey more approachable for mainstream/casual gamers but no less deadly.
Without any armor in the game, and with weapons few and far between, Lost Odyssey relies on players creating rings with the elements they find in treasure chests, gain in battle or purchase from a store. Combining these materials can add such modifiers as increased attack, adding a magic element and so on, which works quite well and functions better then going through 20 to 30 swords. It also adds a bit more of a customization feel to the game, even if it’s not entirely open-ended.
Lost Odyssey uses the Unreal engine, but it’s only really noticeable in certain segments. The character models don’t resemble the cookie-cutter approach so many Unreal-based games seem to fall back on, and although the graphics are surprisingly rough, there’s a certain level of polish in the new animations you see as you travel in your journey, such as Kaim raising his arm to shield his face in a fierce rainstorm. The cut scenes make the other roughness easy to overlook, though, and this is a good thing, because there are a LOT of cut scenes.
In spite of the roughness, though, the frame-rate starts to stutter in certain places, usually just before a battle or at the opening of a cut scene. This didn’t seem to be a big deal until Disc Three (yes, Lost Odyssey is contained on multiple game discs), but even then it’s not all that bad. There are also loading times (maybe 10-20 seconds), and while shooter fans might balk at them, I’ve played RPGs for so long that I’m used to them and can basically overlook them.
Aside from these minor complaints, the only other disappointments are that there’s not much replay value once you’ve played through Lost Odyssey, and the packaging in North America is atrocious. In Japan and Europe, Lost Odyssey was contained on four discs and came with a special case that had a tray to accommodate each of the discs. In North America, we get three discs stacked on top of one another a la Blue Dragon, with the fourth disc is in a paper envelope tucked behind the manual. That’s a pretty lousy package, and may the disk-scratching gods help you if the discs go loose.
As an interactive game, though, Lost Odyssey is a worthy and polished Xbox 360 RPG, and if you’re a fan of RPGs in general, it’s a must buy. Lost Odyssey also proves that Mistwalker is more than up to the task of creating good RPGs. If you want to know where RPGs are for Xbox 360, they are here at Mistwalker. Ignore them at your peril.
– Phil Vollmer