Sunday, February 24, 2008

Scytherage's Review of Lost Odyssey


Rating: GO BUY IT!

When the credits started to roll for Lost Odyssey, I realized one thing: This game was never about advancing the technology. It was never about pushing more polygons than Gears of War or having better anti-aliasing than any other next-generation game currently out in the market. Lost Odyssey is more about advancing the role-playing game genre, in terms of providing a more mature story, game characters that are more 'human', and themes that are more universal and relevant to people's real lives.

I could review Lost Odyssey in one way. I could talk about those moments during a few cutscenes when the framerate is less than ideal. Or I could talk about those areas in the game that are lighted wrongly and seem less aesthetically pleasing compared to the rest of the game.

But personally, I'd rather say my piece on Lost Odyssey based on the whole game and not its parts.

Lost Odyssey stands out among most other games in the role-playing genre because of its characters. In most games these days, characters only have two emotions: they're either really, really angry, or they're really, really serious. Western RPGs are particularly guilty of painting game characters like this, and you can't blame them somewhat: when faced with the task of saving the galaxy or the entire continent from some ancient evil, it would be pretty hard to crack a smile, and it'd be pretty pathetic to just break down and start crying.

Lost Odyssey succeeds by providing a wider range of emotions for its diverse set of characters, and their emotional responses are highlighted by placing them in unique situations, some of which are usually not depicted in most video games. I don't recall a game where the cruel realities of life, such as death and the pain of loss, are highlighted not for the spectacle of killing but for their profundity in exhibiting the limits of the human condition---the finiteness of life, human weakness, and the search for meaning. Lost Odyssey does not push any answers to life's mysteries; instead, it puts these in the perspective of characters who have lived for a thousand years. Their reflections on these matters are highlighted in the segments of the game called "A Thousand Years of Dreams", and at other times are highlighted throughout various moments in the game itself, through situations or dialogue pieces with other characters. Despite the somewhat dreary, depressing tone in the game's first few moments, towards the end, it is clear that the message of the game is one of hope---that despite the finiteness of the lives of mortals, it is in their capacity to perform transcendent acts of love and friendship that ultimately gives their lives meaning.

And what about the turn-based battle system implemented in Lost Odyssey? Sakaguchi returns the system to its basics, while at the same time adding some improvements which increase the degree of strategy and foresight needed to succeed. Gone are the summons of the Final Fantasy series, the limit breaks, the 'Active Time Battle' timer.....these are all removed in favor of a simpler system wherein you must maintain your party's GC to protect your weaker characters in the back row. The GC meter does not go back up after healing your front row characters; it continues to go down unless you perform specific skills or actions, and because of this, protecting your front row from getting damaged is more crucial than ever before. This is because, once the GC is at too low a level, your back row characters will suffer massive damage from enemy attacks. Placing your weaker characters in the back row is crucial because the damage that they get is far less than if you placed all the characters in front.

Also, spellcasting is no longer instantaneous; some spells take more than one or two turns to execute, and this balances out the degree of power that is granted to each type of fighting class. Your mortal characters are either fighters or mages and not both (with the exception of one character---Mack), and you can't customize them; your immortals, however, can be customized because they can learn skills from the mortal characters. This may seem like a limitation at first, but this forces you to develop all of your characters since there is an incentive to include every single one in your battles. Every time the mortals level up, they gain even more skills which you can then teach to your immortals, in order to make them truly 'immortal'. Overall I thought that this was a very interesting system which not only made turn-based combat more challenging, it also made victories and character customization all the more satisfying. You'll find yourself mixing up various skills from different mortals to get interesting effects....and with so many skills at your disposal, there's a lot of incentive to spend dozens upon dozens of hours just developing your characters, mixing up skills and making everyone in your party stronger and more prepared for whatever the game might throw at you.

Regarding the game's difficulty, Lost Odyssey is no pushover. In each battle scenario you will find yourself thinking of your next move and not simply spamming the 'ATTACK' command like in previous Final Fantasy games. The first time you will experience this is with the first boss, Grilgan....it takes far more effort for beginners to defeat this boss compared to other JRPGs. Normally games throw a very easy boss at you at the start of the game....Lost Odyssey does not. It assumes that the player has some degree of knowledge of the turn-based system. While one could say that this might be a mistake and make the game less inviting for new players, the game does have tutorials which explain the basics on your way to this first boss; so by the time that the player has reached Grilgan, he should have some idea of his other options which can help him defeat the boss with relative ease. It also forces the player to explore the other options available....you can use magic, cast protective spells, use items that make your character more powerful....the difficulty of the first boss forces the player to figure it out, and in my book, that's a good thing. There's too many games out there that spoonfeed you for the first five hours before the final level. This game does not; and I applaud the game for it. I've read far too many "This game is too short!" complaints on the World Wide Web for other video games....Lost Odyssey provides a good challenge without bordering on impossible.


Lastly, the game really shines in the way it cohesively integrates storytelling with gameplay. At every stage it manages to introduce new elements or ideas which keep you playing; these come in the form of mini-games, cutscenes, plot twists, challenging enemies and interesting locales. With the game industry's current obssession with creating sandbox games, which strip the player's in-game character of any sort of real personality or depth, Lost Odyssey is a breath of fresh air. So what if you can't do whatever you want in the world of Lost Odyssey? Truth be told, this is a linear game---you go from point A to point B and you don't really get to choose how to get there. You don't make any moral choices and instead you're a passive observer to what happens to Kaim and his friends. For whatever lack of sophistication there is in the way the story plays out, the characters you control don't feel like soulless, empty avatars. And this makes the epic, 70 hour journey all worth it.

*SPOILER SECTION....regarding "The End". Do not read unless you have finished the game.*

When faced with the decision to end their immortality and part ways with their loved ones, or to stay trapped in the mortal world as immortals and continue to experience lifetimes of pain and sorrow, one character makes the supreme sacrifice so that the others could stay with the ones they love.

It's clear from the end that the character that makes this sacrifice is the most fitting. While the character does leave someone behind, the other characters have a lot more to lose by simply leaving that world.

In the end, the immortals could not immediately decide to return to their world because they cared so much for their friends....so much that they're willing to sacrifice living yet another eternity, even if they knew that their friends and loved ones would eventually die---even if they knew they'd likely see yet another series of endless lifetimes of sorrow, they believed that staying behind for these mortals was worth it....they saw dignity and nobility in these mortal beings and they loved them that much.

In a way, their action of staying behind is very selfless. They could have easily left that world and let their loved ones fend for themselves. Imagine if you had been living for hundreds of years, seeing everyone around you that you care about start dying....wouldn't the easier decision have been to just go back to your world, become mortal once again and wait for death? The immortals who stayed behind made the harder decision, the more unpopular decision...but in that case, they showed true selflessness and sacrificed their own personal happiness for the happiness of others.

That's what made the ending to Lost Odyssey so poignant and so beautiful. Me and my wife have been talking about this one and we both feel the same way. I don't recall a video game that ended this unconventionally, and with such wisdom. Truth be told, I was half expecting them to all leave the humans behind, and then it would be such a sad end....I'm glad that it ended the way that it did.

The "Thousand Years of Dreams", while they portray a lot of human tragedies, I feel they were never meant to give such a bleak picture of human existence. Rather, they show how the finiteness of life ennobles humanity; given that each decision made by mortal men could be their last, each action then becomes all the more important, all the more significant....And given the ending of the game, I don't think it's right to argue that the stories are completely unrelated to the game. One wouldn't be able to understand why the Immortals appreciated the Mortals without these stories.

And regarding the character that makes the ultimate sacrifice, I truly felt saddened when that character did what had to be done....it was a tear-inducing moment, and one of the best moments in the entire game. That character did leave behind someone...but I think that character knew that it was for the best.

In the end, it seems to hint that the story could continue. It's debatable whether or not that character died or that character made it to the other world, alive. There are hints that the character didn't make it, but then, if you visit Gongora's Mansion (sidequest), there are hints there about how the other world interacts with that world and how it might be possible to survive the trip back, and to return.

That said, the story for Lost Odyssey left me breathless and amazed...that's one of the more fascinating, mature and unique endings that I've ever seen for a video game. I'm so glad that I had the chance to play a game like this. It will be a long time before we see another game like this again....

* END SPOILER SECTION.*

2 comments:

  1. Hey guys thanks for the great review & all the info you've posted on this amazing game. I bought it last week, I was on the fence but you guys convinced me & I must say it's an epic experience, very cinematic. Lost Odyssey may just be my #1 RPG although I have a long way to go

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  2. That sums it up very well, though I strongly disagree with your summation of western RPGs (and after replaying Mass Effect, my opinion has pretty much solidified). I might write a review soon... This game was *easily* a 9/10 for me. It doesn't surpass FFX in my book, but the score difference between the two is quite small. Also: shame on all the reviewers who unfairly panned this. They should rate how they want, but it seems a lot of their justifications for not liking LO are very biased and archaic; they don't want to like the game and go out of their way to throw excuses up for disliking it.

    LO is traditional like you mentioned, but it has GREAT production values because of that. You're getting a lengthy, well thought out quest for the purchase price, not a 20 hour space opera or a bland cel-shaded JRPG (*ahem*). This is the real deal.

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