Saturday, February 09, 2008

Of Lost Odyssey, Final Fantasy and Emotion

I'm going to take a short break from the game and write...well actually its my husband that's playing right now so I have some free time to write. WARNING: This is a long post.

The detractors for this game and even some reviewers always tout Lost Odyssey as a Final Fantasy wanna-be. As a fan of the genre, this saddens me a lot. Ever since I rekindled my interest in console gaming, I played more JRPGs compared to other genres. Back in my old Playstation days, I played JRPGs exclusively. It's only with the XBOX 360 that I am expanding my gaming experience.

For someone who has followed Squaresoft's releases like crazy during the PS1, I can't help but feel disappointed at the current direction of Square Enix today. Having played FF6 – FF10 and trying out FFX-2 and FF12, some people would probably call me a Final Fantasy fanatic. My husband gets a chuckle every time he looks at my Coca-Cola Final Fantasy figurines knowing the lengths I went through to get it. I will not deny that Final Fantasy is (or in my case 'was') a fun franchise I feel bad for other JRPGs since everything has to be in the shadow of Final Fantasy, the hallmark of the genre.

Lost Odyssey isn't the only game that suffers from this but other well known franchises as well. The Tales Series, Chrono Series, Mana Series, Breath of Fire Series, Star Ocean series, Grandia series, Skies of Arcadia and so much more, all took a back seat for Final Fantasy. The Squaresoft part of Square Enix even abandoned interesting titles such as Xenogears, Parasite Eve and Vagrant Story all in favor of making even more Final Fantasy games. I don't consider Kingdom Hearts as a stand alone franchise, since the biggest draw for many JRPG fans to play that game was to see the Final Fantasy character cameos. But part of my frustration with Final Fantasy was the decision by Square Enix to trash one of my favorite JRPGs, Xenogears, in favor of making more Final Fantasy.

This is completely subjective but there was a time where Final Fantasy games focused on ALL the characters, not just the main male and female protagonist, and the adventure. For gamers who played JRPGs when there were still walking around as sprites and there was absolutely no CG or voice acting, who can't forget those simple creative moments, as seen in Final Fantasy 6, where Square Soft tried to make their small sprites touch the heartstrings of those playing them. Ah...the Celes opera song made as a simple midi file with no voice transforming to a powerful scene. Those were the days... And no, I'm not just looking back at this with nostalgia. I like my fully rendered characters.

It seems like today with the over dependence with CG in Final Fantasy, gamers are graced with massive amounts of cool looking eye candy to mask the things that are lacking in the game, namely plot and character development. I find myself not caring about the newer Final Fantasy characters any more. Today it seems like I finish the JRPG simply to continue calling myself a fan of the genre.

And it is in that sense that Lost Odyssey is such a refreshing game. The plot of Lost Odyssey is simple and it has been done before, just like the plot of the newer Final Fantasy titles are rehashes from JRPGs that came before it. But Lost Odyssey has incorporated something that has been lost to many of the more recent JRPGs and that is the humanity of their characters.

The characters of JRPGs today are all flash and poses. While its great for cosplay, it renders little emotional attachment to the gamer that will spend around 20 hours with that character. While people may debate about the merits of the character designs in Lost Odyssey, I feel that these characters are the most 'human' and realistic ones I have seen in a long time. Kaim is by no means just another mannequin posing nor does he remain stoic throughout the rest of the game.

The true beauty of Lost Odyssey is seeing Kaim and the rest of the cast 'feel'. This is done surprisingly well, for a graphics engine known to spout the default bald western space marine, the Unreal Engine 3, despite the graphical glitches that may surround it. For some odd reason the eyes of the characters in the game are not 'blank' and expressionless. You see all sorts of expressions on their faces and coupled with the excellent voice acting, amazing musical score and a well written script, these cuts cenes have a very strong emotional impact. Sometimes, no words are exchanged between the characters but the smart camera work, you will find a smile tugging at your lips as you watch a touching scene.

I have cried several times in this game both with the 1000 Year Dream short stories and the actual real time cut scenes. It's interesting to note, that none of the important cut scenes in the game are rendered in CG. CG is used sparingly but the generous amounts of real time cut scenes are far better than the CG ones. Lost Odyssey is more than about the terror that the world is facing, but it is the story of the characters in the game. It never loses focus on the characters simply to narrate some historical 'event'. With Lost Odyssey, I hope this marks a new stage in the next-generation of JRPGs and bring back the story and the character focus.

And with that I end this super long post. With 43 hours and an average level of 41, I will continue with the game now and enter the final dungeon. While I considered going through the side quests, I would like to know how it would be like to play this game without the bonus equipment that I will get with the side quests. I'd like to disprove those reviewers who say that this game can only be beaten by brute force and a very long grind session.

Note that at this point, I haven't completed any side quest, you can see that with my gamertag 'tankblitzer'. I leave you with a few more screenshots that me and my husband took. The screenshots follow no particular order of events. If you don't want to be spoiled, please just skip the images.

And here's a few more...I'll just provide the links because some of them may be spoilers.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the nice review. I've been warned about the length but after reading the first entry I went on and read the entire page!

    I must agree the Thousand Years of Dreams stories in Lost Odyssey are fantastic. I actually read them on my Japanese import but I'm getting the US version next week just to read them again.

    1UP thinks the stories are a misuse of the medium but I bet they never played MUD...

    On a side note I've yet to meet someone whose eyes don't get watery watching disc1's ending, and that includes my Gears and Halo buddies ;)