Monday, February 11, 2008

For gamers in the USA: Preparing for Lost Odyssey

My progress report: I'm midway through Disc 2 while my wife is on Disc 4. She's on the verge of finishing the game while I'm just halfway through it. In the past most of the comments I've written were on her behalf. Now I'll get to say something.

This is probably the most challenging Japanese RPG (JRPG) I've played on the Xbox 360. It isn't that the enemies become impossible, it just takes a bit more effort to get through some areas. I don't want to spoil things, I will say this---Lost Odyssey doesn't serve things to you on a silver platter. You've gotta earn the right to get to the next area, next town or the next cutscene. In some cases I think some will get frustrated (as I did, in one spot on Disc 2). But I will say that once you overcome some of the harder enemies and areas, the game is very rewarding. That's because the cutscenes are well done and really make the characters come alive.

So I was thinking of writing this for our fellow gamers in the United States who will be buying this game in a few days (February 12, I think). When you're going to play Lost Odyssey, block off your schedule. This game doesn't let you save anywhere so you have to have some idea of how much time you can spend playing the game. Because of the save point system, there will be moments when you just can't quit midway through a dungeon because the walk back is quite far and there are a lot of monsters in the way. So as early as now, I'll say that Lost Odyssey requires quite a bit of time commitment. To be honest I haven't played a game like this in a while. I've been spoiled by the Western RPG (WRPG) save system where you can practically save anywhere. While it can be convenient, I noticed any gamer can abuse the system:

In a WRPG you can test for several outcomes because of the save system. Essentially if you have a choice to make (be it a simple choice such as to use an item or to say one thing or another), you simply save before you make your choice, then make choice 1. If you don't like the outcome, you load your saved game then you make choice 2, and so on. In either case you end up spoiling all the possible outcomes and reduce whatever risks existed when you were required to make a choice to begin with. In a way, this can lessen the impact and importance of your decision on your game as a whole.

While in Lost Odyssey there isn't really a 'branching' story path like Mass Effect, the save point system makes things a bit more challenging. There's a greater sense of risk with the choices that you make in turn-based battles. For instance, when I played the game today I ended up fighting this really difficult boss. The boss was supported by four other strong enemies. Three of my party members were killed and I only had two left. However, I had a chance to get back in the fight; I had one rare item in my inventory that would instantly revive one of my dead characters with maximum HP and MP. I had to make a decision---would I use this item now and lose the chance to do that later on in the game when I face harder monsters/bosses, or would I save this item for later and risk getting defeated? I knew the save point was quite far away from the boss. I also knew that the game had a checkpoint system where you may start near the boss, but you'd have to face a few more monsters along the way, before you can get a rematch with it. I had been spending a lot of time already in the dungeon and I wanted to win, so in the end, I used the rare item.

After a lengthy battle, my party emerged victorious! My risky decision to use the rare item turned the tide in my party's favor. Winning against that boss gave me a great feeling of satisfaction that I haven't experienced in an RPG in a long time. I think that's because I was exposed to so much risk in the scenario that the game presented to me:

1. There's the risk of losing and starting over from the save point or checkpoint

2. There's the danger that using some of the ultra-rare items early might pose a problem later on.

I've also noticed a lot of combat situations in Lost Odyssey are not straightforward; simply getting the strongest spell and casting it isn't a good idea in many situations. That's because Lost Odyssey introduces things like GC and casting time. As we've posted earlier, GC is one of those things that really makes turn-based combat require a lot more strategy, because it measures overall defense. You have to keep it up if you want to stay for the long haul. Casting time is also another thing which balances out the turn-based system; that's because you can't simply abuse your strongest magics to plow through most regular enemies. Because of casting time you'll find yourself relying on your items a lot more. Using items during battles is much, much faster compared to casting a 'Heal All' spell (Zephyr). The catch with items is that, items are expensive, and gold isn't readily available.

Overall, currently my experience with Lost Odyssey continues to be very favorable. I'm looking forward to the next few areas. I just have to find a way to avoid my wife's game spoilers.....

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