Lost Odyssey - Review/How I fell out of love with the contemporary Japanese RPG and became a disenfranchised, prematurly middle aged, gamer

Lost Odyssey, Xbox 360 - £14.89 delivered

Review by LewieP



Lost Odyssey is a bad game.

The problem is, it's a good JRPG.

Every possible step of the way, it tries to delay you. It artificially lengthens the game by either poor design choices, or worse, intentional barriers, which only serve to disconnect you from your experience.

And playing Lost Odyssey will be a disconnected gameplay experience. It has cut-scenes, I guess this is par for the course with any modern JRPG, but they are far more jarring in Lost Odyssey than they have been for me for a while.

The cut-scenes are for the most part very well animated. However, all this does is highlight how badly animated the game is when you are in control. Kaim basically has the same quality of walking animation as Mario displayed in his 3D debut. The collision detection is awful, the environments lack any depth of interactivity. You can walk up to some objects, and press a button if you like. Kaim will then jerkily kick the object, and a glowing spark flies out of the object, and aparently that is supposed to signify you "Acquiring" the item. This whole process takes a good couple of seconds.

There are load times everywhere. Everywhere.

Everywhere.

Once, I walked into a building (loading screen), walked upstairs and went to sleep (loading screen), cutscene (loading screen), walked outside (loading screen) walked a few paces, and triggered a cutscene, (loading screen) which was then followed by a boss (loading screen).

The cut scenes are (mostly) skippable, which is something. I guess.

The battles can be quite fun, but they are limited. Every time you enter a battle, one of your characters does their best ventriloquist act (in cut scenes, they lip sync, out of cut scenes, their lips don't move at all) and use one of their hilarious catch phrases, along the lines of "This'll be like taking candy from a baby", which wasn't that funny the first time, and gets no funnier with repetition. Each character has around 3/4 phrases. There will be hundreds of battles in any given playthrough. The battles themselves are basically all some variation on the same strategy - attack enemies until they die, but heal yourself before you die. Things are mixed up a bit, like how all JRPGs have slightly different battle systems, but the core gameplay is essentially identical to what you would expect from the genre.

Speaking of battles. They are random. The enemies jump, seemingly out of no where, and attack you in groups. They are pretty frequent. At first, I thought "Yes! They are going to have require interactive input", you have to hold down RT and let go at the right time to power up attacks. But that's it, there is no additional complexity to it, or different inputs for different moves/characters. Just one button.

I also encountered at least one boss where I had to grind to beat it.

The overworld is horrific. It's just a menu, not an overworld. Just a picture of a map, and a menu.

Also, for some odd reason, your party members other than you are not visible apart from in battles, and in selected areas. This is bad.

Despite (with the exception of the fantastic opening battle) the graphics only being acceptable, and the area's being tiny, and frequent loading times, the game still manages to have pretty bad framerate issues.

It also wants me to read. Now, I am happy to read, I love reading. But I don't want to spend this much time reading when I should be playing. Braid got away with having a large proportion of it's story told in text, because it did it well. It was quick, short, and didn't get in the way of the game, it enhanced it. Lost Odyssey throws a huge amount of text at you, and it just feels like they couldn't come up with a decent way of combining the narrative and the gameplay.

Also, "oh no, I have lost my memory" is not a plot device that you can get away if you are going to be that heavy handed with it.

The main characters are pretty one dimensional. Maybe that's not fair, but I certainly don't have any emotional attachment to any of the characters.

Without veering into spoiler territory, one of the main plot points is that the protagonist is an "Immortal". This means that no matter what, he cannot die.

Except he can die...if his health metre reaches zero in a battle. This disconnect between the 'gameplay' and the narrative is typical of not just Lost Odyssey, but the JRPG genre as a whole.

What I am getting at here is that Lost Odyssey probably ticks all of the boxes that it would require to be classified as a decent JRPG. The music is OK (although they could have done something other than the Final Fantasy Fanfare mixed up a bit for the battle victory theme) it has cut scenes in it, the characters all fit somewhere within the JRPG archetypes, as does the society, architecture, environment and fashion, and it relies on the same bullshit crutches that every JRPG in recent years has.

Now, I look at my long shopping list of complaints, and try to think of a JRPG I like. No, love.

I have to go back pretty far.

Let's say, back to Chrono Trigger.

Chrono Trigger has the following qualities:
Basically no load times,
Consistent overworld/battle scene,
Charming animation,
Few cut scenes (and all done with in game assets, from in game perspective),
Little redundant or repetitive dialogue,
No random encounters,
Little/no grinding needed
Great overworld,
All party members visible,
No framerate issues,
Characters I connected with
The plot and the gameplay were really well intertwined.

Now, I don't know if that's a fair comparison to make, and probably more than likely I am either looking back with a heavy twang of nostalgia, or at least I was a dumb kid when I first played it, and put up with all of its flaws.

But in my gut, it just feels plain wrong that we have moved so far backwards. With all the money, and all the hardware we have today, how can a game attempting the same thing do such a worse job of it.

It's not just Chrono Trigger either. A bunch of games from that era too. Earthbound, Final Fantasy III and to a lesser degree Pokémon are all good JRPGs and highly playable games.

Tell me, am I right here? Are new games broken and has the world gone shit?

Lost Odyssey has almost certainly got some good ideas in it, but they are lost in the bad design and blind following of the trend. I've not even completed the first disc of Lost Odyssey, but I am not hugely compelled to carry on. Why should I give my time to a game that shows me such little respect.

There is no reason that JRPGs should be excused of their failings just because they "come with the territory". I would love to see a wave of new, progressive, games, which push the genre forwards, instead of pandering to the audience.

Gamers are probably as much to blame as developers. We should demand more from our games, and more from our developers. If Lost Odyssey is the best the genre has to offer, then the genre is stale stale stale stale stale.

And yes, I have played TWEWY and that is exactly the type of progressive game I am talking about. Hats off S-E. Now lets continue to push things forward.

9 comments:

Joe said...

I still quite like JRPGs myself. I don't mind the random battles as much as others do, and like to focus on the narrative as my attraction for games. I think Finfal Fantasy X was excellent, though the music made the slower pace seem boring, and it had no overworld map (just a menu screen)
However, from your review I doubt I'd enjoy this game either: Narrative is good, as it sets goals for the player, gives them a structure. If the narrative is shoved in your face many times within a short space of time, and it actually tempts you to skip the narrative, then the game has failed to be interesting.

Melpomene said...

Try Eternal Sonata. Best JRPG in years. Awesome battle system, gorgeous graphics and music, and some interesting characters (and some less so). The story is hit or miss but the gameplay is so much fun you won't even care.

Anonymous said...

Lost Odyssey isn't a bad game.

I never felt that the game was 'artificially lengthened', even if I did I wouldn't have minded. The game's world was of such a quality that I found myself trying to prolong my experience as much as possible.

Lost Odyssey has a much more provoking and mature story than the large majority of games I've played. Once it gets going (which will admittedly take a while) it will keep you gripped until the end, thanks in part to the cinematic cutscences.

The main characters losing their memory allows the play to discover their past gradually through the largely well written and extremely emotive short stories. These dreams really help to develop the main character beyond being merely 'one dimensional'.

Apart from any minor, ignorable annoyances, the game is fantastic.


Just to pick up on a few points, although immortals can die in battle, they naturally revive after a few turns. The collision detection and animations are all fine and the loading times are neither frequent nor major enough to be a nuisance. Of course most of the battles are random, it's a fucking RPG.

Mentazm said...

I have played (and complete) every JPRG on the 360. I personally thought Lost Odyssey was good - and almost all the reviewers have stated they loved the 'dreams' text sections, you are the first to state otherwise.

I agree about the load screens tho - far too many.

However I can forgive the games shortcomings because of one thing - Jansen, one of the best characters in the history of JRPGs. I just wish Mistwalker would have had the balls to make him the main character instead of a sidekick.

Anonymous said...

I liked it, even though I agree with everything in this review.
You probably did have to have an existing appreciation for the 'Visual Novel' format to really get into it though. *shrugs*

-Z

Ben said...

Go and play Persona 3.

CUS said...

Twewy?

Kie said...

I don't get how people praise the stories for the vast majority of JRPGs, I played through Lost Odyssey for a bit and found it an apallingly dreadful game with a flimsy, poorly paced plot.

It usually revolves around:

-Hero, usually miss-understood
-Bad guy plotting to end world/enslave mankind.
-Hero has to stop bad guy.

I think my lack of love nowadays for JRPGs is that I don't have the time to play them. The actual interesting parts (ie not constant random battles) are too few and far between that I lose interest rapidly.

A game nowadays captures my interest if it's around 8 hours long, not 30+.

LewieP said...

Sorry, TWEWY = The World Ends with you, on the DS