Lost Odyssey, as some of you may know as it's blatantly pointed out on the front of the box, is the creation of Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of the famed Final Fantasy series, who has also gone off on his own like a dog with a broken leash and created two other bastard offspring, ASH: Anarchic Sealed Heart on the DS (which isn't out here in the UK yet) and Blue Dragon.
Now on the point of Blue Dragon, I played it for a while and I honestly enjoyed it, I just couldn't get over the cutesy, kid-manga graphics which made all the characters look like they were made out of Duplo bimbling around a Duplo world, I'm not saying it was a bad game per-say, I just prefer my RPG's with a bit more realism, not "oh look everything's brown and grey" realism, god no, but something where the main character doesn't look about nine years old and the antagonist doesnít resemble something you'd find in Saturday morning cartoons, a prime example would be Final Fantasy VII, one of the best and possibly more influential JRPG's in recent gaming history, far from a perfect game but functional to the point of cult-worthy where you have a protagonist with a twisted and troubled past (and unnatural sky-scraper-esque hair that would make Fructis proud) and an antagonist that would not only go on to become one of the worlds most infamous villains (and probably the star of more than one homo-erotic fan fiction which should all be burned in Holy Fire) but would make all fans of the series poo themselves inside out when he appeared as a special optional boss on other games made by the same company...I mean...
YES, OKAY, I'VE PLAYED KINGDOM HEARTS, AND I THOROUGHLY ENJOYED IT TOO!!
Anyway, Blue Dragon didn't make me take three weeks off work so I could work my way through all the sidequests due to my inability to get past the kiddie graphics, but when Hironobu Sakaguchi decided to squirt out Lost Odyssey, I rejoiced...actually thatís a lie, I put off buying the game because I thought that it was going to be a long, drawn out slog over Shit Mountain! Once again, the game had received too much good press, and with every reviewer wanting to lick Mr Sakaguchi's boot laces now I felt that the game would be an over hyped pile of camel turds, nevertheless, I procured a copy and have decided to grab my notebook and give Lost Odyssey the Skith666 treatment, now drop your pants, lean forward and bite on this pencil
Lost Odyssey takes place in a world with no name (or at least not a name that I've found) where there are three rivalling nations; the Republic of Uhra, the Monarchy of Numara and the Kingdom of Gohtza and about 1000 years ago (give or take a day or two I suspect) five immortal spirits came to the world for a special mission, these immortal spirits took human forms and ended up becoming Kaim Argonar - a soldier, Seth Balmore - a pirate, Ming the Merciless...sorry, Ming Numara - a queen, Sarah Sisulart - a wife of a soldier and Gongora - a power hungry dictator. Obviously there wasn't a great screening process from whatever powers sent the immortals to this world as Gongora decided that he would seal away the other immortals memories and plot to take over the world through political backstabbing and manipulation rather than the usual "obey me or die" approach and for this the guy has to be respected, at least he's playing by the rules. You can almost imagine the moment before the immortals were sent to wherever-the-hell-this-is-land, theyíre all lined up and the powers that be suddenly spot Gongora on the end "Hey, you're not Jeff" "Erm...sure I am" says Gongora, wiping Jeffs blood off his hands "Hmmmm, works for me"
Even before properly getting into Lost Odyssey I was expecting a bad experience after (against my better judgement I'll admit) I read a few online reviews for it, mostly they either wanted to praise Mr Sakaguchi for bringing us the Holy Grail of JRPG's or wanted to peel his skin off and throw him into a bath of heavily salted water, there are no real impartial reviews so either A) I was going to be blown away by the amount of over-hype this title received and throw it out of the window of my Hollywood penthouse apartment after treating it to a session with the nail-laden stick I used on Enchanted Arms or B) I was (again, against my better judgement) going to agree with the majority of fan-boy's out there and brand Lost Odyssey as the next herald of video gaming without seeing the flaws and imperfections in it's finer details.
After the initial cutscene, where the moody protagonist Kaim is working for the Uhran army and is fighting the seemingly Mordor-esque Khent army who are working for the nation of Ghotza and whilst the Uhran army are being pretty much slaughtered five to one and can only be a real threat because the mages behind them keep bringing them back to life (possibly the ONLY example of Resurrection magic being used in an RPG's cutscene) Kaim runs through the enemy lines, taking a few dozen Khents as he does whilst displaying feats of agility, skill and strength and some matrix-esque moves that you as the player will NEVER be able to perform in game, in what can only be described as Devil May Cry Syndrome, I was quite honestly hooked as I had been waiting for a half decent RPG to pop onto the 360 for a while now, I had also noticed that Mistwalker had opted to go for the tried and tested turn-based battle system which, whilst not very exciting or innovative, works for the majority of RPG's and this is no exception.
I had also noticed that about an hour into the adventure that Mr Sakaguchi had dropped the cutesy feel that he ran with in Blue Dragon, when Jansen, one of the mortals you encounter in the game was featured in a cutscene where the rest of the party are waiting for him outside the main city gates and he stumbles out of the entrance, still partially drunk from the night before whilst being accompanied by two hookers who not only proceeded to beg and plead Jansen not to leave, but when Seth, the immortal pirate, tries to shoo them away, they then proceed to try and convince Seth to join them for the night instead! At which point Seth throws a gold coin into the distance and the two hookers scurry off to fight over it somewhere. I thought this was brilliant and I donít mind admitting it, this was one of the best cutscenes in the entire game and this lead to Jansen holding a special place in my twisted little heart as the saviour of all following cutscenes, where sometimes the other characters would talk to one another with that a-typical stiff, wooden tone, Jansen would instantly jump in with an honestly well acted comment that broke any real seriousness of the scene, it was a refreshing change and it also felt like the game wasn't trying to take itself too seriously, even as the antagonist declared that the world would bow before him and summoned a horde of evil creatures to rip you limb from limb, Jansen was there again with a comment like "Jee, this guy just loves to talk, blah blah blah" sheer perfection in my opinion.
Graphics wise, there isnít really much to complain about, the physics engine (what little of it there was, when you occasionally kicked a containers lid down a corridor for giggles) was well implemented, texture wise the locations are fairly well diverse, every place has its own distinct colour scheme, Uhra is mainly gold, Numara is blue and white and Ghotza is (before the snow and ice thing) is mainlyÖwell, realistic would be the word I would use to describe Ghotza as itís primarily grey and brown and the characters are very well animated and move with enough realism that you want from an RPG.
The introduction of the "1000 years of memories" was as courageous as you could get for a video game, making it completely optional to sit and read (sometimes excruciatingly) long story-scenes which gave you no experience or any worthwhile reward was like putting a completely optional game of Sudoku in Halo 3, but being the avid literary poof that I am, I decided not only to watch them, but also to collect them all too (thereby obtaining the big Dreamer Achievement) and I have to admit, some of them were genuinely moving and deep, however on the other hand, sitting there reading about how Kaim learnt some vital life lesson by standing and farming for hours on end made me want to remove my own kneecaps just to see what the inside looked like!
I think my favourite part of Lost Odyssey is the fact that the characters are genuinely likeable, okay, maybe not the incessant squeaking from Cooke and Mack but the rest of the characters are likable and in conjunction with the cutscenes and some dream sequences I actually felt an emotional bond with the party, that was until disk four when the five immortal souls stopped "just appearing" 1000 years ago and actually came from a different world altogether and I think one of the nails in the immersion coffin for me was when Kaim uttered the works "We have to get back to own world" which made me feel like the writer of this almost novel-worthy storyline had either dropped dead about an hour before the end or he had taken one too many painkillers before work on the last day, I'm not saying it ruined the story for me and I can completely accept the fact that the immortals are from a parallel dimension, I just felt like I was sat there half expecting a mothership to arrive and beam the immortals away to their home planet, the whole immortal thing was a good idea which was lead nicely through the story and then by the end, it was mercilessly shoved over the finish line with little or no grace.
Thereís very little I havenít mentioned about Lost Odyssey, the music is typical Jap-Pop JRPG tripe, amusing for the first fight then just gets on your tits for the rest of the game, the graphics are nice and crisp and the addition of Jansen simply saves a lot of the cutscenes from certain death, the Achievements in the 360 version are some of the best I've ever seen to date (granted, not the "Link one skill" or the "get one dream" ones) but the rest of them actually give me a light at the end of the grind tunnel, when I levelled my mortals up to level 52 (49 for Tolten) was presented with 10 gamerpoints, okay it's not great but at least its better than not getting anything from the fucking thing, which makes me look back on those long evenings/nights/days of grind happy times with games such as some of the Final Fantasy games where I had no reward at the end! And "Collect every in game item from every tree, rock, chest, hidden chest, pigs arse ect" and I'm presented with another 10 gamerpoints! Fuck me now thatís what I call a bloody achievement! not that I have that one yet (I'm close though, I can feel it) and the simple fact that you have to teach each immortal every single skill in the game before you unlock the "Skill Master" achievement for them (along with the fact that there are well over 150 fucking accessories in the game world, not to mention the skills they learn from party members) does feel like a cheap way to extend gameplay but at least it's got some replay value for me which is bloody rare for an RPG these days!
If I have to be overly critical about Lost Odyssey, I'd say the loading times (especially in battles) are excruciating, and apart from the slightly Tales Of The Unexpected storyline, it's nothing we havenít seen before, High-Speed train battle, futuristic metropolis city, imprisonment scene, we have seen these things time and again, Mistwalker are just taking whatís safe for an JRPG and whacking a slightly deeper story onto it, which isn't necessarily a bad thing if it's done right, which I think it is in Lost Odyssey's case, it takes everything we used to love from the old JRPG's (and some of the things we didnít like, like the loading times) and just polishes them up and brings them to the next-gen genre.
...can I have my pencil back now?