RPG Gems: Lost Odyssey

By Patrick Molloy on December 13, 2011, 10:48AM EDT

If Hironobu Sakaguchi had made Final Fantasy XII, there's a good bet that it would look a lot like Lost Odyssey. But while Final Fantasy XII did its best to look forward, Lost Odyssey is more content to look back -- way back. It goes so far back, in fact, that most people say that it reminds them a lot of Final Fantasy IV. Any further back than that, and you're in 8-bit RPG territory.

As a result, it's not really any surprise that the key selling point of the game are the A Thousand Years of Dreams novellas, which were penned by acclaimed short story writer Kiyoshi Shigematsu and localized by a Harvard Professor. It seems only natural that an RPG so firmly rooted in the genre's past would feature a story that spends as much time reflecting on the past as it does the present. The text helps to evoke the feel of days long past, thanks largely to the fact that it's, well, text. Rather than going the route of most contemporary games and providing a more interactive experience, Lost Odyssey seems content to rely on the strength of its writing. And if nothing else, the writing in A Thousand Years of Dreams is pretty darn good.

The other element of Lost Odyssey firmly rooted in the past is its gameplay. Apart from the timing element inherent to the Aim Ring system, Lost Odyssey's combat feels as if it sprang directly out of the 16-bit era. Hironobu Sakaguchi is clearly going with what he knows here, and that would be old-school Final Fantasy. For some, it's a dream come true, particularly when you consider that Lost Odyssey is quite a fine looking game. For others, it's archaic and dull compared to more advanced fare. But no matter what you think of it, Lost Odyssey at least has the benefit of familiarity, and handsome production values to boot.

Interestingly, while the Japanese have a reputation for preferring their traditional RPGs, they didn't really seem to go in for Lost Odyssey. From what I've seen, it was a fair bit more successful in the West than in Japan. The opposite is true of Mistwalker's other RPG Blue Dragon, a traditional RPG in its own right, which saw a lot of Westerners turned off by Akira Toriyama's trademark art style.

Both are probably about equal in terms of quality, so that leaves you to decide whether you prefer the anime-like Blue Dragon, or Lost Odyssey and its Thousand Years of Dreams. Personally, I'm going to go with the latter. While I found the writing in A Thousand Years of Dreams incredibly engaging, I've never been a big fan of Blue Dragon's aesthetic.

If you're dying to play a traditional, next-generation Final Fantasy, then Lost Odyssey may be your best bet -- at least on the Xbox 360. Think of it as RPG comfort food. It doesn't do anything new, but sometimes it's nice to indulge in the warm, fuzzy feeling of the familiar, random encounters and all.

It's easy to deride Lost Odyssey as slow-paced, or just out and out boring. Mostly, I think it aims to be a think piece, encouraging you to immerse yourself in Kaim's life as an immortal via the rich writing of Kiyoshi Shigematsu. Action-packed and immersive it is not, but I've always believed that there are more ways to convey a story in a video game than straight interaction. The visual storytelling of A Thousand Years of Dreams at least has the benefit of being unique. Now "unique" doesn't mean "perfect." It really is pretty slow, and there is nothing particularly engaging about the combat system.

Lost Odyssey overcomes its slow pace with solid writing, great graphics and overall nostalgia, succeeding on the merits of being a traditional RPG. For that, it deserves a spot on your shelf. Who knows, provided that you're willing to move at Lost Odyssey's pace, you may find that you have a surprise favourite RPG on your hands. I know that happened for me.

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