Lost Odyssey doesn't push any role-playing game boundaries, though that won't come as a shock to anyone familiar with Mistwalker's previous game, Blue Dragon. However, in the case of the developer's newest effort, that isn't always a bad thing. Yes, there are times when it feels like more of a relic than it does a true next-generation game, particularly in light of the tweaks made by other modern Japanese RPGs such as Persona 3 and Eternal Sonata. Yet while it may borrow liberally from the genre's older gems, Lost Odyssey is a game worth playing, most notably for its fascinating story and its brooding protagonist, Kaim.
Jansen is the perfect foil to Kaim's constant seriousness.
Kaim, along with several other characters in Lost Odyssey, is immortal, though the origin of his immortality is left purposefully unclear at the outset of the game. It's hard to get a handle on Kaim at first; he's the strong, silent type, the prototypical moping hero with a soulful scowl and a deep well of unfathomable secrets. The game takes its time with his character development, but as information slowly unfolds, it's hard not to empathize with his internal struggles. But he doesn't struggle alone, and Lost Odyssey doesn't neglect the rest of its fascinating cast. Lady pirate Seth, kind queen Ming, the noble Tolten, and several others provide ample companionship, and their lives intersect in some surprising--and not so surprising--ways. It's a serious tale, but comic relief is plentiful, and most of it comes from inadvertent spy Jansen, a flamboyant ladies' man who manages to be both annoying and irresistibly charming.
Lost Odyssey is about its characters, not about its plot. In fact, the main story follows a more or less predictable path, pitting you against a villain you spend half the game knowing very little about. No, it's about self-discovery and the timelessness of the relationships we develop. Kaim and his immortal companions unlock memories during the course of the game, and they are presented in simple but effective sequences in which the memory is recounted via stylized text, accompanied by pretty static images and subtle music cues. It makes for a good amount of reading, but if you skip past these memories, you will miss the game's most touching and heartfelt moments. The main story doesn't often reach those same heights, and a good number of the game's countless cutscenes ramble aimlessly and end up feeling like filler. Yet Lost Odyssey's concluding hours, as predictable as they are, make you feel, and that alone makes this a saga worth experiencing.
This yarn takes place in a fully realized fantasy world in the midst of revolution both political and magical. On your journey you'll certainly see your share of clichÃ©d caves and forests, but there are plenty of beautiful vistas to behold: rocky seaside cliffs, looming castles swarming with mysterious spirits, and portside towns with colorful cobbled streets. Lost Odyssey's art design clicks, from Kaim's lazy strand of hair to detailed enemy-character models. The depth-of-field blurring that stuck out in Blue Dragon is used more subtly and to greater effect here, particularly during the game's most dramatic scenes. On the technical side, the game isnÃ©t quite as strong. The framerate is inconsistent, and the game hitches noticeably during gameplay and cutscenes, even during onscreen events that wouldnÃ©t seem to tax the Unreal 3 engine, such as the map overview that occurs prior to region transitions. You will also experience some loading times between areas and before cutscenes, and while they are semi-frequent, they arenÃ©t excessively long.
Aim rings add subtle but noticeable effects to the flow of battle.
Thankfully, the game is an aural delight, and it owes a lot to its pretty soundtrack. Some of the soundtrack is predictable, like the Final Fantasy-tinged battle music, although thatÃ©s not too surprising when you consider that the score was created by longtime FF composer Nobuo Uematsu. Still, many of the tracks are standouts. In particular, the atmospheric strains played during unlocked memories are wonderfully moody and match the text perfectly. The English voice acting isn't bad, and Jansen, Ming, and Kaim are particularly well voiced. On the other hand, Mack and Cooke are acted with the usual hyperactive hamming that child characters so often fall victim to. Regardless, there are other language options, so if you'd rather listen to the original Japanese voice cast, you have the alternative.
The gameplay itself doesn't reach the same zenith as the story, though it's solid in and of itself. Combat is your standard turn-based affair, though there are some twists, chief among them the aim rings. Any character can wear a ring that confers upon its wearer one or more bonuses, such as a chance of inflicting poison, extra damage against spirit enemies, and so on. This isn't so special on its own, but the effectiveness of the bonus is completely reliant on your actions in battle. Whenever you order a party member to perform a standard attack, a circle will appear around your target while a larger one encircles the screen. To receive the full benefit of your ring, you hold a trigger down to shrink the larger circle and release it when it has shrunken to the size of the smaller one. The better your timing, the more potent the bonus, and if you are too far off, you don't get any benefit at all. You craft the rings yourself with ingredients you can purchase from merchants or find in the spoils of battle, and it's as simple as heading into the game menus and choosing which ring you wish to fashion. The bonuses themselves don't seem all that potent on their own, but equipping the right rings against the right enemies, along with the subtle effects of other items and spells, can have real consequences in battle.