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Lost Odyssey (Xbox 360) artwork

Lost Odyssey (Xbox 360) review

"In over 1,000 years, he's seen people and kingdoms come and go and has had to find his own way to cope with being seemingly the only constant in a life where everything else is temporary. For much of his existence on this world, Kaim has alternated between traveling and serving as a mercenary — his life a nomadic existence where war is the only constant. No wonder he comes off as cold and antisocial."

While I was playing through Lost Odyssey, I remember there being many long-winded rants concerning comments by Roger Ebert about whether video games could be considered art. While I don't really care about anyone's opinion on any subject that doesn't involve me getting paid, this game emphatically says "YES THEY CAN" to all that. On one level, it's a well-executed J-RPG; on a deeper level, it was one of the more memorable couch potato experiences I'd had in some time.

I'll begin with the part that is easier to describe -- explaining why the game is fun to play. As a long-time fan of this genre, Lost Odyssey was a comfortable fit, as it has a certain retro feel (although obviously more attractive visually than those older games). I'd imagine that if you're a gamer who feels the J-RPG should go the way of the dodo, you won't be into this title, but I had a good time. You go through dungeons, fighting random encounters which, fortunately, are nowhere near as frequent as back in the days of yore. The fights are a bit more fun than usual, also, as you have to take full advantage of elemental weaknesses, which makes things a bit more strategic than just tapping the attack button. You also can equip your characters with various rings that, depending on their function, can do a variety of things ranging from inflicting more damage on certain types of foe to swiping magic points. To activate them, you have to press the right trigger while attacking and release at the right time in the hopes of getting a "perfect" ranking and the resulting big boost to your attack.

And enemies are tough. Many will cripple your party with status ailments. Not only does this make it important to do well with ring-aided hits in order to finish battles as quickly as possible, but it also makes it necessary to properly use skills and magic. Characters are divided into two groups: immortals and mortals. Mortals are your standard RPG people who gain new abilities as they increase in level. Immortals start with no skills, but can learn every single one in the game by either linking to a mortal or wearing the accessory that teaches it. The more skills an immortal can use, the more likely they'll be able to overcome the toughest opponents. They also will come back to life after a couple rounds if a foe takes them out, making them the people you'll be relying on to get through the toughest fights.

Overall, Lost Odyssey is a very solid J-RPG that would be rated highly just based on its mechanics, but when you add the excellent storytelling Mistwalker implemented, it becomes truly special. Back when Ebert verified his earlier claim that video games weren't art, it seemed like the immediate reaction by many was to pick a game (or games) they looked at as indisputably art. For me, this was the first title that entered my mind. On the surface, it's a typical J-RPG. It has a quiet, less-than-sociable protagonist in Kaim; a goofy, comic-relief guy in Jansen, a megalomaniacal villain in Gongora, annoying little kids in Mack and Cooke, romance subplots and big, super-powered monsters. But the way all of that is presented breathes new life into what could have been a stale "been there, done that" plot.

Kaim is an immortal living on a world populated by mortals. In over 1,000 years, he's seen people and kingdoms come and go and has had to find his own way to cope with being seemingly the only constant in a life where everything else is temporary. For much of his existence on this world, Kaim has alternated between traveling and serving as a mercenary -- his life a nomadic existence where war is the only constant. No wonder he comes off as cold and antisocial.

The actual game could be described as the tale of Kaim's redemption with the help of a handful of other characters, both mortal and immortal. But scattered through it are "A Thousand Years of Dreams" -- a group of short stories penned by Kiyoshi Shigematsu that can be read if you're so inclined. Some are found naturally during the course of play, while others need to be found by scouring the towns and dungeons. Nearly all were captivating, telling one tale after another concerning a man who lives trapped in an isolation created by immortality. I found myself using a FAQ solely to make sure I wouldn't miss a single one of these stories. Usually, I go out of my way to AVOID non-essential time-wasters in long games. In Lost Odyssey, the concept of even failing to unlock one was unthinkable.

My only qualm with Lost Odyssey was that as I was finishing the game, I found myself wishing I had ignored a few other optional bits. Before going to the final dungeon or two, you can access a number of small dungeons. One in particular leads to a boss which surrenders a game-breaking accessory that can teach immortals a skill allowing them to attach an additional 10 skills to themselves. And so, when I fought the final bosses of the game, I was immune to all elements and nearly every status ailment. I had more trouble with the game's first boss than its last, which just didn't seem right. And those optional places just seemed tacked on for the most part, with all but one being very short and simple, while having no meaning other than being a place to pay a quick visit to in order to grab some loot. In contrast to the powerful nature of the game's story, these places were frivolous and unnecessary.

But they were the only part of the game I'd use words like that to describe AND they are optional, so I'm not going to complain too much! Lost Odyssey is one of the finest J-RPGs I've played in years, combining solid mechanics with an unforgettable story that's light years beyond the generic cookie-cutter plots I almost expect to see from this genre. Heck, even if you're not a fan of this sort of game, I'd still advise you to suck it up and play it just to read the "A Thousand Years of Dreams" collection.


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (November 18, 2011)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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bbbmoney posted November 18, 2011:

I was a huge fan of this game and how it handled the concept of immortality -- very beautiful. Unfortunately it was also very dated and archaic in much if its design (those dungeons and environments remind me exactly why I can't get through the old FFs on PSX anymore). And when the story got back in motion half-way through, the game lost a lot of its charm.

Good review though, you brought out the best points of the game, though I maybe a little too forgiving =p
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overdrive posted November 18, 2011:

That's always a chance, although it might be partially because I'm basically a JRPG addict (almost in a "comfort food" way where I complain about all the tired cliches in them, but never put them down), so some of the stuff you mentioned probably was the sort of thing that gave me a "I'm home" sort of reaction.

I'd say that one thing LO really should have done was give Gongora a sidekick villain to help carry the plot through the middle portions of the game. The only other one was that power-hungry general and he was more a stupid goof played for comedy at times (like when one of the kids used magic to strip him down to his undies). Giving Gongora some legit tough henchman to repeatedly send after your guys would have helped a lot with plot pacing, since so much of the game was your guys in one or two or three places doing stuff with occasional cinema of Gongora doing stuff.

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