Lost Odyssey

Much like my own, “Lost Odyssey” is quite a daunting package when you first set eyes on it, but you’ll soon find it brings you many hours of pleasure, if you get the grinding right. Yes, “Lost Odyssey” is a role playing game, brought to you by the creative force behind “Final Fantasy”. It’s daunting in that it comes on four DVDs. The PAL release is in a special double-width case (oh, and it comes with a free month of Live, too, not that the game supports multiplayer).

The game’s setting is sure to be familiar to anyone exposed to J-RPGs – a “magical/industrial revolution” has taken a clichéd fantasy setting and turned it into a clichéd steampunk-esque setting. Complete with over the top characters, saving the world, great armies fighting each other and an assortment of odd creatures to whack over the head and/or blast spells at, “Lost Odyssey” isn’t exactly mining a huge amount of new ground in terms of overall plot and action. However, the attention to detail, the high gloss and sheen of the presentation and the care taken with ensuring a terrific experience for fans of the genre make it a new pinnacle of success on its own terms. Wow, that really didn’t say much of anything, did it? The game is brilliant at what it does, but doesn’t do a great deal different. It’s the biggest fish in a small 360 pond. Game good.

One of the innovations is a ring construction system. All characters can be equipped with rings that have specific effects (eg more effective element damage, greater critical rates, stealing items, draining hit points, etc), and as you progress in the game and find more construction materials, it’s possible to construct more advanced rings. The ring powers are activated during the turn based battles in a real-time fashion – once a character starts an attack, you hold down the right trigger and release it at the right time to center a ring inside the target ring on the attacked creature. Getting a “good” activates the functions of the ring, and getting a “perfect” enhances them. Get a bad? Well, I’m sure you can use science to work out what happens.

Without giving away too much of the plot (which is at least as interesting as any other J-RPG plot I’ve ever experienced, which is probably damning with faint praise, but it certainly held my interest to the tune of over 65 hours so far) some of the characters you’ll control are immortals who’ve lost their memories. These characters don’t learn skills naturally, but can “Skill Link” to mortal characters and learn their skills, or equip accessories and inherit their abilities with experience.

Even experience itself has been made a bit more interesting – as well as the typical experience which raises your level and character statistics, you get “SP” for each battle. This SP is applied to the time it takes for immortals to learn skills. A powerful skill, like “Double Loot”, will take 100 SP to learn, but a relatively straightforward one, like “Prayer” may only take 8. There’s generally 2 SP per creature in random encounters, and this can be significantly higher for boss battles. Another feature of “Lost Odyssey” is that levelling isn’t out of control. The game advances your character’s experience pretty quickly in each new level to about the point you’d need to be to dominate the local creatures, then tapers off dramatically. This saves the need to level for levelling’s sake, but if you wish to maximise the skills your immortals have, you’ll still need to grind a bit for the SP. A rather clever way of dealing with the grind of RPGs, really, as the “I just want to experience the story” crowd don’t need to spend hours in every section levelling, and the “I want it all” crowd can still spend hours levelling to get the “Skill Master” achievements. I’m not telling which of those I’ve become.

Yeah, let's just say it comes on 4 DVDs for a reason.

Have I mentioned how gorgeous the game is? Remember the good old days of “Final Fantasy 7” where you’d see fantastic CG cut scenes and then come back to the game engine’s Legoland polygons? “Lost Odyssey” is incredibly close to the dream of playing cut scene level graphics – you can tell the difference between the in-game engine and the CG renders, but only just. Don’t be a dirty graphics whore, though, there’s a lot more to the game than eye candy.

Even considering the game comes on 4 DVDs, there’s quite a bit of content. Blowing through the game without bothering to explore or try for the sub-quests leaves you missing out on quite a bit of content, but even so it’s doubtful you wouldn’t feel like you’d had a full experience. I’m at the point of being able to take on the final battle at the end of disc 4, but have decided to spend time clearing as many of the subquests as I can, and I’m at the 65 hour mark. Blowing through the game like a madman, you could probably finish it in 50+ hours. I guess it depends on whether you have a IV drip of Red Bull, a catheter installed and a copy of the Prima guide on your lap or not.

Recall how I mentioned that the immortals had lost their memories? One of the side-quests, “A Thousand Years Of Dreams”, actually involves you discovering new memories of your past. You do this via visiting certain areas or talking to people at certain points in the game. Each dream is essentially a short story with matching sound effects and suitable music. Before you groan, quite a few of them are well written, and they add a lot to the depth of the characters which you might not otherwise get from hearing “That was a waste of time” 400 times while levelling up. Seriously, they’re a great addition to the game and really give you further investment in the characters and their progress.

From a shallow perspective, it’s the same shit, different day – if you can’t stand J-RPGs, “Lost Odyssey” is a turd polished to the point you could signal passing planes – but if you’re a fan of the genre, it’s a mandatory purchase.

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