Lost Odyssey

Remember those days when an RPG being spread across four discs was cause for celebration? What once seemed like amazing value – before the crushing disappointment, seeing that Final Fantasy VIII was a whole disc bigger than VII was like several Christmases in one – now seems like an advert for Blu-ray.

Lost Odyssey

Nonetheless, Lost Odyssey is here, representing Microsoft and Mistwalker’s Final Fantasy to Blue Dragon’s Dragon Quest. As pretty as it is, especially when it uses high definition CG for backgrounds (see this video of the opening scenes), just as Blue Dragon was more than slightly influenced by Dragon Quest VIII, to look at it Lost Odyssey could almost be Final Fantasy XII running in high def. To play it, however, is a less iconoclastic experience that that Square epic.

While FFXII sought to forge new ground for the series, Lost Odyssey is far more traditional. Battles are random – and thankfully very lenient with the frequency, which is an issue that has ruined many an RPG for me (*cough*Skies of Arcadia*cough*) – and there’s not even so much as an ATB system: it’s entirely old-fashioned turn-based combat. Although there is a list of upcoming turns, a la Final Fantasy X and its CTB system, it’s mainly there for tactical reasons; just so you know that Monster A is due to attack before Jansen can get off a spell, so it’s probably worth using the others to beat it down first, and such.

I find myself enjoying this combat, although, that said, I’m only a couple of hours into disc two and have experienced one difficulty spike. Judging from the various forums that I frequent, I’m not the only one to find the first boss significantly tougher than any others so far. It’s an unfortunate flaw that afflicts a baffling number of JRPGs.

So far it’s been the skill system that’s most interested me. While the mortal characters work in the traditional fashion, gaining new skills as they hit the requisite level, the immortals will never learn new abilities by themselves. By using ‘Skill Link’, they can learn all of the abilities of the mortals, meaning that, say, the physically strong Kaim can also have a complete mastery of Black, White, and Spirit magic, as well as everything else. He wouldn’t be as good with the magic as an innate spellcaster, but he becomes very versatile and kitting out your entire team with appropriate skills and accessories (immortals will learn skills from these, too) before big fights becomes a necessity. It’s quicker and less obtuse than similar systems like Final Fantasy X’s Sphere Grid and FFXII’s inexplicable licences, and it has achievements for getting them all ;)

Is that the first time there’s been any real reason to grind?

When I started drafting this post, I was going to make two complaints about Lost Odyssey here: that the story is weak, and that Jansen – the “comic relief” – is annoying as fuck. While both of those are pretty much true for the first few hours, by the time you reach the end of disc one they’ve both started to right themselves. The story starts to differentiate itself from the dozens of other ‘warring nations’ RPGs as the issues of immortality come into play, specifically when you gain your fourth and fifth party members, and while Jansen is still prone to ill-advised wisecracks – only one has actually made me chuckle so far – he’s slowly been winning me over by becoming less obnoxious. If the story is what sustains an RPG and you find yourself disappointed with Lost Odyssey’s, stick with it.

I had no plans of buying Lost Odyssey, given the generally positive but hardly glowing reviews and my disappointment with Blue Dragon, but having played it extensively I wouldn’t have had a problem buying it. Personally I think they’re missing an opportunity by not pushing it with a demo; I know that the indifferent reaction to the Blue Dragon demo may be fresh in the memory, but even just the opening battle of this game would be a suitable demonstration of its traditional RPG credentials and the scope that a next generation platform provides.

There’s no poo in this one, mind.

Patapon or: Me and My Tragic Lack of Rhythm


It’s been quite a while since my last PSP game, as is probably the case with most people, so it looks like the game to take the cherry of my recently purchased slim PSP will be Patapon. It’s been mooted as a successor to LocoRoco, sharing as it does a developer and a vaguely similar art style, and, as the Wikipedia entry puts it, combines gameplay elements from “music and rhythm games, real-time tactics and God games”. A clear example of a peanut butter and chocolate combination, if I ever saw one.

It also helps that it’s being released as a budget title, and you can get it from Video Games Plus for £12.49 plus postage (even cheaper if your importer of choice is in the US), which I think is an excellent way to sell a niche title that will undoubtedly get great reviews.

Anyway, I’ve been plugging away with the English-language demo of the game. There’s a nigh impenetrable version available through a PS3 on the Japanese PSN store, but for US preorderers and those with a more nebulous moral compass (and/or custom firmware on their PSP), there’s an English-language demo “out there”. Even if you’re buying the game, finishing the fairly lengthy demo is worth the effort as it unlocks an exclusive weapon in the full game. Have at it.

The Almighty Olly

So I was plugging away at it in the wee hours, mostly with a smile on my face because I enjoy being told what an excellent god I am (who wouldn’t?), when I found myself hitting the wall that has scuppered me in everything from Dance Dance Revolution to the later stages of Guitar Hero: I have no sense of rhythm whatsoever. I can just about keep my tribesmen – who, I’ve noticed, occasionally sound just like the Ro-Bear Berbils from ThunderCats – marching, bar the occasional scolding for doing it too fast or too slow, and can usually at least get them into a frenzy, but task me with changing to another beat without losing time and I’m like a deer in headlights.

Surely I can’t be the only one with this problem? It’s like I was born without a certain part of the brain, and the fact that I enjoy this kind of game – this one particularly so – just makes it all that much harder. I conquered games like Samba De Amigo and Guitar Hero II (on normal difficulty, at least) almost by force, just trying the same sequences again and again until muscle memory kicks in, while people that I know – damn you, Barney! – can seemingly just waltz in and do it.

It won’t stop me playing Patapon, since Ouendan showed how little my inability to play rhythm games can damage my ability to enjoy them, but surely if it’s a learned skill I would have picked it up at some point between PaRappa in 1997 and now?

Breen Treening

It’s probably not nice, strictly speaking, but I found myself laughing when I heard that Watchdog had dedicated part of their show to the story that Brain Training has trouble recognising northern accents. I could probably be slightly offensive and point out that if it tells you to say “yellow” and you say “yeller”, your brain age probably isn’t that high, but I won’t. Oops.

Sorry, that was a low blow. I love you all, really.

In reality, it raises quite an interesting point. I can remember importing Seaman for the Dreamcast, which was rather excellent except for the fact that I had to play it with a faux American accent in order for it to be able to understand what I was saying. While I’m sure that the subsequent eight years have brought great advancements in voice recognition technology, whichever way you spin things the DS is no Dreamcast. The fact that it can even recognise such a wide variety of moderate accents – my American copy can handle my English accent just fine – is quite impressive really.

But the point is that people expect things to just work, when in reality those with realistic expectations know that voice recognition is still hit and miss. The fact that “yellow” can be pronounced both “yellow” and “yeller” and still mean the same isn’t an easy thing to tell something that thinks in such black and white terms as a computer. There are phones that are significantly more powerful than the DS and yet I’ve yet to see one of those with a reliable voice-dialling feature. And has anyone managed to use one of those phone systems with voice recognition without having to repeat themselves oh, I don’t know, every time?

Just click the above link and watch the Watchdog segment. Not only does the woman have a strong accent, she apparently wants to stack the deck by standing in the middle of a bloody town centre and trying to use it. People are being “clearly discriminated against”? Yes, people who aren’t idiots are being discriminated against by having their licence fee money spent on this tripe. Here’s a free idea for you, Nintendo: Elocution Training. You’ll make millions.