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Monday | August 2, 2021
Lost Odyssey

Lost Odyssey

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In gaming, as in life, patterns often emerge. One of the most important ones is the unexplainable series of genres that get ignored by the developers. Just think about it for a minute…  Flight simulators, the games that shaped the late 90s are nowhere to be seen and the same goes for strategy games to an extent. Another genre that has apparently gone to the chopping block this generation are jRPGs. We’ve seen a total of two jRPGs on next-gen consoles so far. And while both were good, they just don’t hold a candle to the likes of Final Fantasy & Co.

Lost Odyssey is the third major attempt to do the genre justice. Will the 3rd time be the charm?

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The latest trend with jRPGs, at least before they went into hiding, was to put the main characters into the background and instead focus on global issues.

The game starts in a huge battlefield and hundreds if not thousands of soldiers are trying to prove their supremacy over each other (looking quite hilarious in the process due to the ridiculous hats both sides wear and the “I’ve got a bigger gun” tactic they keep employing). In the midst of all this Kaim Argonar, the main character of this story is showing off his moves by slaying dozens of enemies at a time. Then, out of the blue a meteor strikes the battlefield and everyone is wiped out. That wouldn’t make much of a story, so Kaim naturally has to survive. How you ask? I won’t spoil too much by saying that Kaim, as well as three other unlucky souls are immortals and as such cannot perish.

Why unlucky? As the story unfolds you find out that all four of them lost their memory and are struggling to reclaim their lost memories to save the world. Yeah, the story is full of clichés and the overarching conflict is never fully realized. In fact, were it not for the personal stories of Kaim and the rest of the immortals, the tale would be immediately forgettable. And going by first impression only Kaim and his companions couldn’t be more jRPG generic.

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The brooding, silent warrior that Kaim tries to portray won’t resonate with anyone, but after a while when his 1000 years of walking from one end of the world to the other as a mercenary start to come back you can’t help but feel his pain. Being a mercenary Kaim did many things he now regrets, but his dreams (presented as a mixture of text and floating images – they have a very dream-like quality to them) show his other side as well, the one responsible for his feeling of guilt.

The rest of the cast aren’t presented as deeply nor are they as troubled, but both the other immortals as well as the human companions all have their own stories that are worth listening to. If you ask me, these personal issues and dark pasts are what western RPGs are missing in terms of an intriguing and mature storytelling experience. There are plenty of childish situations thrown about, but they all last for only moments and don’t spoil the otherwise extremely adult oriented approach the game is taking.

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We’re dealing with a game which seems to be going down a list of must-have features for an jRPG and next on that list is combat. Does Lost Odyssey do anything here worth pointing out? Unfortunately not. The combat system is an exact replica of what every turn based eastern RPG did back in the 90s. For those of you who skipped the genre back then, this means your party on one side of the battlefield, the enemies on the other, with the parties exchanging blows one at a time.

The most advanced feature here is the way magic works. After a spellcaster starts casting a spell (they all differ in how long they take to cast) he or she is out cold until the end of that turn or until the spell is cast. Getting hit during this time knocks the casters turn back a bit, so it might just happen that by the end of the combat turn the character is still dripping sweat as he tries to complete the spell. At this point the player can either cancel the whole thing or keep trying.

To be fair, Lost Odyssey does introduce an interesting concept to combat – the ring system. Instead of relying on summons like most jRPGs do, the main edge fighters can get comes from rings. Each ring comes with its own set of characteristics, from extra damage to elemental effects. Players can craft new rings from components they get during combat and from breaking all kinds of objects in the game world and exchange them on the fly, even in the middle of combat. This allows for some ingenious tactics which are sometimes a must when fighting enemies that are resistant against certain types of attacks.

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A side effect of using rings is that every attack becomes a minigame of its own. When you want to strike at an opponent, an attack ring appears in the middle of the screen. Pressing and holding the right trigger creates another ring along the edge of the screen and makes it shrink. Release the trigger just as the two rings overlap to deal extra damage – miss the sweet spot and your attack will be your run of the mill strike. Hardly revolutionary, but it does add a bit of dynamic to the otherwise very slow combat.

Taking a step back from combat, the question on everybody’s mind has to be how classes work in LO. Remember how I said there were two types of characters you could have in your party? Immortals, regular humans and all that? This is where things get interesting. Immortals, as their name suggests cannot die in combat, but they cannot learn new skills by leveling up. So yes, after getting knocked out they are ready to whoop some ass just a few turns later, but what good is that when they can’t actually use any good abilities. That is, unless they are linked to mortals. These guys earn new abilities as the level up and are as a result an integral part of the party. Thing is, they tend to die permanently, pending resurrection.

While linked to a mortal, immortals slowly learn the linked skill, so after a while they can start using it on their own, even with no mortal in sight other than the unlucky soul standing on the other side of the blade. But that doesn’t mean you can just forget about the mortal now, since your ever-living character won’t do much good a few hours later if he can’t be linked to a powerful enough mortal then. The system creates an interesting dynamic, where you have to juggle gaining new skills with the risk of having your entire party wiped out. It might sound irrelevant, but people who like to fine tune their parties know how addictive party management can become.

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Old school

One thing jRPGs tend to excel at are character and monster designs. To deal with the first, you’ll be glad to know that unlike Blue Dragon and Eternal Sonata, Lost Odyssey went with a more dark, mature style. The characters tend to be a mix between realistic looking folk and anime inspired toons, meaning they usually have a feature or two slightly exaggerated, but not so much as to make them stick out of a crowd. Simply put, each of the characters just radiates his characteristics, be it the silent loner vibe Kaim seems to emanate or the “go ahead and slap me in the face, I’m that annoying” profile of one of his companions. The side characters received a lot of attention as well, so their personalities are just as distinct and thought out.

And the monsters? Don’t get me started on them. You’ll be fighting some of the most bizarre looking creations ever. Sure, there are plenty of generic enemies such as wild cats, birds and the like. But there are war machines that look like something that escaped straight out of DaVinci’s handbook, monsters that make grown men shake in fear and worse. And not only are they all very original, the authors put plenty of time into making them come to life on the screen as well.

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A lot of this has to do with the Unreal 3.0 engine used. I never thought I’d see the engine that powers UT3 breathing life into breathtaking vistas and some pretty amazing weather effects, but here I am staring at what has to be the prettiest jRPG to date. Spell effects, animations and pretty much the whole thing looks just to die for. The obvious downside is that the framerates are rather unstable, going from mild choppiness during certain spell effects to downright crawling pace at the start of pretty much every fight. If you think that is bad, imagine staring at a loading screen every 30 seconds or so as the game caches the next scene. We complained when Mass Effect had us staring at low texture models until the high resolution textures were loaded up, but that sure as hell beat this approach.

On a more positive note, the cinematics which seamlessly start playing look downright incredible. And when I say seamlessly, I mean that literally. You’ll be watching a real time cinematic with the camera panning around Kaim and without realizing it CGI will be staring you straight in the face. Speaking of CGI, the game spans across a whooping 4 DVDs because of all the videos. Don’t get me wrong, with about 50 hours of gameplay the game is a behemoth, but I bet that without the videos the size could have been limited to a single DVD.

Least the music is extra good, right? Well, yes and no. The main theme is great and will be remembered for quite some time, but the rest of the soundtrack borders on generic forgettable crap. Yes, that’s right – you’ll hear it, you’ll register it and the moment it stops playing you’ll forget about it. The voiceovers are awful. I don’t know why, but every jRPG tends to have the worst English voiceovers humankind can come up with. Thankfully you can switch to the original Japanese voiceovers, which sound a lot more professional and in line with what is going on the screen.

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I have always been a huge fan of RPGs. I’ll admit that I’m more partial to the western kind with character customization, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a good jRPG. The thing with Lost Odyssey is that as good as the game is, it just feels like a rehash. For the entire duration of the game I couldn’t help but feel like I was playing Final Fantasy XII, VII and VIII all mashed into one. Sure, there are plenty of good things about this game, such as the very interesting characters and decent story, the traditional but still entertaining combat and sometimes very poetic nature of the storytelling. However being this traditional the game is also a bit old school, and not the good kind. Under the line however, any jRPG fan will probably love the game, as long as they are not fed up with playing the same thing over and over again.


If you are into jRPGs you’ll love this. Otherwise steer clear.
The Unreal 3.0 engine is pushed forward with some amazing vistas and very good looking characters. Tends to chug a bit.
Forgettable soundtrack and downright hilarious voiceovers. When will they learn?
50 hours of gameplay. Need I say more?
(not an average)
Lost Odyssey would get a lot more acclaim if it weren’t so similar to its spiritual predecessors that it is hard to tell it apart. At least its high-def!

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About Author

Stuart Davidson

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