Lost Odyssey Review
I first played through Lost Odyssey around the time it came out, and several parts of that first playthrough stuck out so much for one reason or another that I was able to remember entire sections despite it being ~9 years later at this point. Most notably, I remembered the game being filled with brilliant little stories that fleshed out the game world far beyond that of most jRPGs and caused the game’s actual story to look pathetic by way of comparison. I also remembered that all of the characters get split up at one point late in the game, so I made sure to engage in soulless grinding to make things a little more palatable. At the end of the day, Lost Odyssey is a massively bipolar game that oscillates between brilliance and stupidity to such an extent that it’s simultaneously both highly enjoyable and undeniably aggravating to play, and while it’s definitely the kind of game that’s easy to recommend, it’s also the kind of thing that’s best run through only once and then left as a fond memory.
Nothing demonstrates this brilliance and stupidity quite like the writing
Lost Odyssey’s setup is that main character Kaim, a traditional jRPG hero full of angst and wearing what appears to be the lovechild of plate mail designed by an emo fantasy buff and some cargo shorts, is an amnesiac immortal working as a mercenary. He soon meets another suspiciously amnesiac immortal, and then they’re off to do busywork for people who are quickly rendered irrelevant the second the story brings in even more amnesiac immortals. It’s around that point that the story shifts focus and memories begin to come back in small, incredibly plot-convenient doses, and all of the immortals then set off to beat up the game’s villain whose villainy is obvious within the first 20 or so minutes of the game. That probably sounds pretty bland, and in fairness, it really is. What I didn’t expect, though, was how effective the game is at creating emotion early on regardless. This is mostly owing to cheap emotional triggers like sappy music and clever camera angles, but when a minor character dies early on, these manage to be surprisingly effective. The only problem is that the game is filled with these kinds of moments, and they never come close to having the same impact again.
It’s almost like they recognized that one occasion where it all came together effectively and decided to shoehorn in numerous other emotionally charged scenes, finding cheap excuses to pull out the sappy music and random proclamations detailing the strength of belief and emotion and memories. This quickly becomes irritatingly self-indulgent, more akin to Final Fantasy 13’s near-constant character crises than anything approaching believable character behavior. Worse, the character who was killed off comes back to save the day on multiple occasions as the fantasy equivalent of a force ghost, and without these occasional interventions, every character would be either dead or incapacitated. Entire scenes here have been designed to shoehorn in emotion rather than make sense, and the little stories make this so much worse.
Called “A Thousand Years of Dreams” after the amount of time the immortals have been wandering around the world, these are text-only stories written as memories of the different immortal characters (mostly Kaim) from before they had the amnesia. Each story is typically focused on colorful random people who the immortal narrator recounts meeting, and their countless years of experience allow them to place that meeting in a larger context. For example, one story might be about how a law affects certain people, and the immortal narrating might reveal that they were present to witness what caused that law to go into effect in the first place. It’s an interesting perspective, and the stories are all surprisingly grounded and small-scale, with most focusing on a single person or event. They’re also 100 times more capable of organically creating emotion through text than the rest of the game can manage with voice acting and 3D models gesturing, and that’s really what makes the rest of the game’s attempts so incredibly frustrating; if they had built up to the emotion and been subtle about it like in the Thousand Years of Dreams stories, this could have been one of the best-written jRPGs ever made. As it stands, there’s one half of beautifully written text stories covering a wide array of topics, and then there’s the other half where the game indulges in the lazy anime trope of overcoming things with friendship and belief and other contrived plot stupidity. This game could have been so much more.
The characters are enjoyable enough, though there are exceptions
Kaim may not be a likable character outside of the aforementioned text-only stories because of his brooding nature and tendency to be the one who initiates the lazy attempts at emotion later on, but second immortal and former pirate Seth is a much more enjoyable character. There are two other immortals who are decent enough, as well, but the mortals balance them out by being a bit more annoying overall. In particular, the pansy king Tolten and little kid Mack are needlessly grating, with the former being absurdly clueless about the most obvious things and the latter serving no obvious purpose to the story except to cause trouble and set off a disc-and-a-half detour through sewer sections and other fluff. Sure, Mack is just a kid, but he’s the most annoying kid ever; early in the game he decides that he’s not going to cry anymore, then spends the rest of the game crying at every available opportunity, only stopping right at the very end. His sister Cooke is a much less grating kid, and other mortals like comic relief Jansen and other-pirate Sed are decent enough, but the characters who suck really put all their effort into making every scene involving them truly miserable.
This is an old-school jRPG, with all the good and bad that brings
This is a game that follows the same basic design principles of classic Squaresoft RPGs from the PS1 era, with the most obvious difference being the higher production values like the shinier graphics. That’s not to say that Lost Odyssey doesn’t occasionally drift into more modern types of gameplay (I’ll get into that a bit later), but the vast majority of the game plays out the way those older games did while trying to innovate in a way that feels natural for the genre. This is a turn-based jRPG in the vein of classic Final Fantasy games where combat consists of you selecting your attacks and then watching as character stats determine who goes first and how much damage is done, and enemies exist almost entirely as random battles. If you’ve ever played one of those older jRPGs, you’ll be able to slip into Lost Odyssey without any troubles. In fact, the only real difference early on is your ability to run around and disturb objects to acquire the items hidden within. In addition to the jRPG staple of robbing everyone’s chests and vases in a fit of heroic kleptomania, you can also kick garbage cans, rip down posters, and even shatter stalagmites to find the goodies hidden within.
It’s more or less necessary for the world to be supremely kleptomaniac-friendly given the game’s focus on ring crafting, though; as you nobly loot the various random components littered throughout the world, you’ll have the opportunity to combine them to craft rings that each character can be equipped with and that turns attacking into a little timing minigame reminiscent of the timed attacking in something like The Legend of Dragoon. If you do well enough in the timing minigame, your attack has a secondary effect like specific elemental damage, a chance to inflict a negative status effect, an increased chance of a critical hit, HP absorption, and/or one of the many other effects they can have.
After playing through the game twice, though, I can confidently state that ring crafting is a useless feature. You consistently find better rings lying out in the open than what you can craft, and crafting better rings requires using up lower-quality rings. These lower-quality rings only become useful when you combine them with other lower-quality rings, but these combinations can’t be upgraded and quickly become useless. If you sit on your rings and upgrade them instead of actually using them, though, they only become moderately useful at the very end, and that’s not much of a payoff considering how much looting/grinding for dropped ring components is required to get to that point. The whole thing fails to be remotely rewarding.
Of course, you’re bound to be grinding anyway. Lost Odyssey is hard, and nothing highlights this quite like the very first boss fight. Not only is it noticeably stronger than your party is capable of being at the time, but it can poison characters. It also has an attack that’s very likely to one-shot the entire party. This can be overcome, obviously, but it does feel like it requires a bit of luck to do so, and you’re bound to grind a little after the experience to avoid feeling so underpowered again. Then there are the times when the random battles are cranked up to ridiculous, almost Lufia-esque levels and you choose to fight because running away isn’t that much faster. The random encounter rate is pretty solid for most of the game, but there are a few sections (including a slog through a sewer where one of your immortals is dragged down by two characters you’ve had no chance to level up before that point) where it jumps up to become truly irritating. Part of what makes this so frustrating is the long, unskippable intro each time combat starts. I strongly suspect this exists to cover up loading times, but there’s really no way to tell for sure. All I know is that I started to make audible groaning noises by the time I got to disc 3’s labyrinthine area design and sudden love of random battles. The game even starts obscuring ladders necessary to progress, which is needlessly unfriendly.
Grind skills and experience on silver kelolons, then turn-tail from everything else
Mortals gain skills in the same way most jRPG characters do, that being obtaining new skills once they reach a certain level threshold, but immortals have to learn skills from items and mortals by gaining SP from fights. This is incredibly tedious, and the random battles get really annoying later on. The best solution that I found was to exploit an early area called Numara Atoll once I had obtained all four immortals and a spell called Gamble that does a random amount of damage. There are two types of random enemies at Numara Atoll, and one of them is the silver kelolon, which is invulnerable to almost everything and usually runs away from you before you can do anything. If you have Kaim and Seth use Casting Support to speed up your two magic-focused immortals while they cast Gamble, though, you can often manage to kill one (or even two if you’re lucky) silver kelolon for huge chunks of experience and SP. If you make sure to teach all of your immortals the Turn-Tail skill that allows them to run from any normal battle—fleeing normally has a chance to fail and isn’t very reliable, sadly—then you can level up quickly at Numara Atoll and then use Turn-Tail to get away from all of the random battles in the rest of the game. There are still groan-inducing parts where you’ll hit several random battles mere steps from each other, and you obviously won’t be gaining items needed for ring crafting if you’re running from everything, but this is still a much less aggravating way to play once things take an ugly turn into tedium.
The first half of Lost Odyssey is an enjoyable run through familiar mechanics, though the gameplay can admittedly be a bit on the slow side. Part of that slowness has to do with the slower pace of the game’s attack and spell animations, as well as the fact that you’re controlling a 5-person party instead of the 4 that most older jRPGs maxed out at. Despite this, however, I really enjoyed the early parts. Sadly, the game becomes fascinated with insufferable gimmickry later on. Enemies who are invincible to all but one thing (and you’d better pray you have the necessary spell). QTE sections. Sections with invisible pits or stepping stones that fall and force you to go back around to try a different path. Slow-moving underwater searches for caves. There are even timed sections where the timer continues during random battles.
In fact, random battles don’t play well with many of the gimmicks they’ve introduced. There are multiple “escape the area before a timer runs out” sections where the timer continues on during random battles, and as if that wasn’t bad enough, the areas are so indistinct in the second of these that I confused one area for another and lost 4 minutes trying to figure out why the elevator would only go up instead of down. There are also several puzzles throughout the game, and placing these in areas with random battles that distract you from what you were doing are quite possibly the least fitting complement in existence. Then there are the moments where the game abandons all common sense, such as one section where your characters are split up into two teams. What follows are puzzles galore completed between annoying random battles, and when your two teams finally both make it to the end, you have to have them talk to each other instead of simply running ahead. If you expect the game to recognize that everyone’s present, you’re bound to be disappointed; you’ll get a cutscene where the party members tell you to wait for the other party, even if said other party is standing next to them outside of the cutscene. Talk about pointless.
Actual bug-type stuff is incredibly rare, though I played this on an Xbox One using backwards compatibility and there were one or two unexpected crashes that seemed to come out of nowhere. There were also a few points where the shadows freaked out and began flickering wildly. Then there are problems no doubt inherent to the actual game, such as in the video to the left where a song didn’t end properly, causing two background songs to play at the same time during one of the Thousand Years of Dreams stories. I also managed to find one typo, but the fact that a single typo stood out despite the game lasting 50+ hours and being full of text speaks well of the localization as a whole. There are also a few minor (but strange) design decisions, such as making the end bright white, which causes the attacking minigame’s rings to be difficult to see. On another occasion, the turn order of two party members flipped back and forth for no obvious reason, even when they weren’t attacked. I’m also not a fan of how many fights are scripted, with the last fight in particular being especially egregious, going so far as to kill off the entire party at one point before resurrecting them immediately afterward (wiping out everyone’s buffs in the process).
It does some things right, too
For every negative, though, Lost Odyssey has a corresponding positive. Sure, the sewer section is annoying, but the story begins to finally pick up around that point. The animations can be kind of awkward at times, but the game manages to have the most believable kissing I can recall seeing in a game. Some fights are gimmicky, but you can often circumvent that by using Gamble on bosses normally protected by a front row of enemies. The game’s momentum can make avoiding pits and such a hassle, but you’re also given the freedom to move around during dialogue. The controls when using ships are really awkward, but you can click the right stick and teleport to the nearest shore at any time. Treasure chests are out of the way when you’re exploring areas, but you can purchase any you missed from an auction house later on. So on and so on.
Pretty graphics and music
Considering this game is around 9 years old as I write this, its graphics have held up pretty well. Many textures are on the blurry side, of course, but the characters in particular look believable enough to work, and most of the game’s areas are diverse (though this stops being true when you’re in the late-game, industrial-looking areas). Lost Odyssey is also filled with prerendered cutscenes that still look pretty decent and that are spliced into the gameplay fairly seamlessly. Really, my only problem with the visuals is that certain parts of the game have a tendency to hide tiny ladders in places that aren’t obvious, and that’s ultimately a minor qualm. I’m also a big fan of the music, and I remember thinking to myself upon starting the game, “Wow, they really nailed the Final Fantasy vibe with the music.” Two seconds after that thought, a big “Nobuo Uematsu” flashed across the screen, confirming that it was indeed the same person who composed those godly early Final Fantasy soundtracks. Even better, it avoids feeling like just another soundtrack done in the same vein as those games, instead having its own unique musical identity. Mostly thanks to evil-sounding church bells.