Hello all! Last time (which was two weeks ago; I really need to cover shorter games), I replayed Castlevania 64 and was surprised by how well it held up.
This week brings us the long, sweeping epic Lost Odyssey, a game I always like talking about.
Lost Odyssey is a JRPG (and oddly, an Xbox 360 exclusive) from Mistwalker and Feelplus. It’s designed by Hironobu Sakaguchi, who created a small, niche series called Final Fantasy. I’m told it’s popular. Anyway, Lost Odyssey tells a mostly traditional JRPG story in a mostly traditional JRPG world. As Kaim, an immortal soldier with memory loss, you travel a sort of magic/Industrial Revolution type world, gather party members (including other immortals who have lost their memories) and try to stop the Big Bad Guy. The plot unfolds slowly and somewhat indirectly at times; more on that later.
Gameplay, too, is highly traditional; it’s a turn-based system with a small degree of reflexes needed. Battles are random, and you’re allowed to bring five party members total with you, spread out in front and back rows. There are “mortal” and “immortal” characters; mortals traditionally level up, while immortals, who can’t actually “die” in battle (they’ll revive after a couple turns), don’t level normally, but instead must learn skills by linking to mortal party members. You can also learn skills via equippable accessories. If all this sounds confusing, that’s because it is; there’s a lot of information in the game to absorb. Of note is the Aim Ring, which is where you need the aforementioned reflexes. Equipping a ring means that in battle, as you attack, you need to hold the trigger button until two rings on screen converge, to maximize the effect of that attack.
Having a ring that adds fire to your attacks, for example, means that you’ll cause more damage by succeeding at this quick-time event thing, basically. Yet it doesn’t affect your hit/miss chances, which is kind of annoying; line up the rings perfectly, and you still might miss. Argh.
Otherwise, Lost Odyssey’s battles are extremely classic JRPG skirmishes, not structurally unlike those you would find in Final Fantasys 1-10. Not surprising, given the game’s creator, who also designed the Xbox 360 exclusive Blue Dragon, another good but firmly traditional JRPG. Combined with the exploration, Lost Odyssey can seem somewhat paint-by-numbers, and even underwhelming, at first glance.
Yet like almost every game worth talking about, Lost Odyssey needs to be played to be understood. For me, it’s not about the battles, which are somewhat slow and often tedious. It’s not about the exploration, which is somewhat limited in the style of Final Fantasy X. Hell, even the basic plot is thoroughly conventional.
I thought a lot about what I wanted to actually say about Lost Odyssey during my replay over the past two weeks. And I keep coming back to the quiet moments in between the “louder” ones. Tropes abound in the story, yet the best parts often happen between villainous soliloquies and your amnesiac party trying to remember their tortured pasts. There’s an entire section of your menu screen, called “A Thousand Years of Dreams,” that chronicles unlocked bits of the millennium that the immortal characters have lived through. And, like...look, just watch one:
They’re amazingly written, and arguably contain better writing and emotion than the game itself. And there’s quite a few to find, expanding the lore of the game to the point where they become the main attraction. To me, they’re mandatory. I mean, insisting on reading every single one could be partly why this week’s playthrough was delayed (though the arduous battles hardly helped).
And while a lot of the emotional story beats are tropey, that doesn’t make them any less emotional, thanks to some fantastic voice acting and animation. Character design is a bit iffy; most characters, for lack of a better term, look weird, with odd faces and, in the grand JRPG tradition, outfits of functionality one cannot possibly fathom. Still, though, the small, emotional moments are the ones that stand out most in my head when thinking about Lost Odyssey.
Whether you like this game or not boils down to how you feel about said quiet moments, because they’re the entire game. It also depends on how much you can stomach a slavish devotion to JRPG convention present in Lost Odyssey. But what Lost Odyssey proves most is that you don’t really know a game until you’ve sat down and played it yourself. The moments in any game reach you better when you’re immersed in it. And despite the general slog Lost Odyssey can sometimes be, it’s still worth jumping in.
Thanks for reading my stuff! Yell at me on Twitter about why I’m wrong, and/or suggest other games I should cover! Hit the comment section! And, I’ve got a new site coming soon, so stay tuned.
Next week, we check out a superhero game from three console generations ago, yet it holds up surprisingly well today. This one has a classic theme song...