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.
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.