Microsoft Lost Odyssey
- The game features beautiful creatures and environments, the unlockable vignettes are well done and character development is definitely a strong point, there is a good variety to the skills that you can learn and the items that you can create
- The combat is shallow and repetitive; the game features poor pacing, a problem that is compounded by long load times; the main quest is not terribly compelling
Enjoying this epic takes actual work, and that's bound to turn many otherwise devoted fans of the genre off. If you find yourself bristling any time a game casts you in the role of passive observer for extended periods of time, and yearn for an adventure that gives you rich freedom and control, you'll be sorely disappointed by the broad but shallow possibilities in Lost Odyssey. On the other hand, if you're willing to throw yourself into Kaim's world, sponging up every last detail of his past, present, and future, you'll come away with some haunting memories as well as the sensation that you just experienced something that was as satisfying as it was frustrating.
Price$ 99.95 (AUD)
Developer Mistwalker returns to the Xbox 360 with Lost Odyssey, an epic tale of war and loss. But is the game good enough to steal away some of Square Enix's thunder or is it just proof that, when it comes to console RPGs, Final Fantasy is still the king of the castle? Find out in our in-depth review of Lost Odyssey!
When you're saddling up to sink over 50 hours into an RPG, you need an epic story that'll sustain your interest over the long haul. Unfortunately, an affecting collection of anecdotes isn't enough on its own to elevate any game from merely worthwhile to truly memorable, not even one with high production values and a pedigree as storied as Lost Odyssey's.
Still Waters Run Deep
Lost Odyssey's main protagonist, Kaim Argonaur, is an Uhran Lieutenant, sideburns enthusiast, and part-time mercenary; he also happens to be an immortal who has lived over 1000 years he just doesn't remember any of it. As mercenaries tend to do, Kaim gets himself embroiled in a war, but the grief of losing many friends, wives, and children over the years has worn him down so that his personality is equal parts habitual honour and enigmatic stoicism, even in the face of a cataclysmic event like a lava-spewing meteor dropping down on his head on the battlefield.
But while Kaim isn't particularly demonstrative, Lost Odyssey's storytelling methods are the complete opposite: from the sobbing children at a funeral and the predictable reunions with old friends, the game's narrative makes overt attempts to tug on your heart-strings. Whether you find it moving and profound or cloying and cornball depends on how open you are to the miniature fables that punctuate the larger narrative. The main thread lacks high-stakes urgency and a villain worth giving a damn about, but these diversions make up the difference in prefabricated poignancy.
Of course, amplified efforts to stir up emotions are part of the RPG tradition. But where Lost Odyssey falters is in the actual gameplay, which doesn't inspire the same sort of reaction that the story at least aspires to. The linear environments that you'll explore, from the verdant Ipsilon Mountains to the haunted red ground of the Crimson Forest, are sometimes breathtaking in their beauty and detail, but simple box-moving and guard-evading puzzles seem designed more to annoy than to engage; you'll also spend a lot of time poking around in pots, behind posters, and in other people's wardrobes for hidden goodies such as gold, items, and miscellaneous functional trinkets.
Breaking up the tedium of the item hunting, however, are the twenty-four different hidden treasures introduced a dozen or so hours which manage to turn one-note towns into places worth investigating for otherwise unavailable equipment caches. Regrettably, exploring all that scenic beauty is sullied by constant random encounters that require you to sit through at least 10 full seconds of run-up before you're allowed to battle. What seems like a minor irritation early in the game grows into a constant nagging nuisance that'll make you dread unnecessary steps, and the constant loading screens between even small areas are almost as aggravating.
The game also features an intriguing skill system that offers up a refreshing sense of flexibility but it's all for naught as you realise that the periodic boss battles are challenging not because of particularly cunning design or strategic insight but because you didn't equip the correct skills ahead of time. How you are supposed to know which skills will come in handy before you go into battle is beyond me.
Rings of Power
Once you've been accosted by whatever cabal of beasts wants a piece of you, actions are bound to an instantly familiar collection of turn-based combat options, except for the real-time ability to release the right trigger to coincide with the payoff of your melee strikes. You can collect and combine monster parts to create a huge list of rings that define the effects of your good timing, but the results are as restrained as Kaim's mood. Similarly, it's hard to get excited about a simple damage mitigating revamp of the same old formation system, magic spells that provide a break from the same endlessly repeated charge-and-slash sequence, and opponents rendered in exquisite effects-landed detail, when nagging balance problems crop up everywhere. You'll know when you're almost done with an area because the experience you earn from each overly long rumble suddenly falls off a cliff, from huge payouts to a trickle in the space of a few battles, even as you continue to take ludicrous damage from all manner of scrubs no matter what you do.
This is symptomatic of the number one problem crippling the game: pacing. Lost Odyssey can't figure out if it wants to be a mildly interactive film, a collection of short stories, or a tradition-bound console RPG, and it doesn't mix the three with any skill or clarity. Sometimes you'll unlock three short stories in the space of a few screens of real estate, or sit through half an hour of tedious exposition or more before finally getting to actually play again. A few odd design decisions underscore this lack of balance and momentum, like the fact that save points don't restore your health and mana unless you manually quit and reload your game, which you will often do, unless you enjoy grinding endlessly for the gold required to buy huge numbers of support potions.
Fill in the Blanks
Ultimately, whether or not Lost Odyssey is worth your time and money comes down to how absorbed in the broad strokes of this world you'll let your own imagination become, and whether you're willing to make the emotional investment asked of you. Ordinary suspension of disbelief simply won't cut it in the face of such overt melodrama and strained gameplay, especially when the optional moments that lie outside of the plodding main narrative deliver the lion's share of impact with words in place of pyrotechnics.
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