Lost Odyssey Part 1
I had read many things about this game before going in, many complaints. The loading times were out of control, some people said. Others mention the slow pace of battle, especially the opening animations. I think the loading times may be different on different 360s, but they were manageable on mine – about 5 seconds when entering a new area. They generally seemed milder than Mass Effect. And the opening battle animations were nothing you haven’t seen in Final Fantasy.
Come to think of it, “nothing you haven’t seen in Final Fantasy” could be this game’s tagline. Of course, it’s from FF series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi’s new studio Mistwalker, so we can expect some similarities. But in pretty much every respect, this is classic JRPG, in boths strengths and weakness, with no significant innovations or deviations from the formula established many years ago. You’ll ‘explore’ linear areas, looking for boxes of loot while encountering random monsters, which you will dispatch in a turn-based manner. You will level up your characters, learn new spells, build certain items, buy things from merchants, etc. You will see many a well-made cutscene. You will press ‘a’ to advance to the next line. There will be stoic, slightly effeminate protagonists, imaginative level and character design, and nary an orc or elf in sight. So your attitude towards Lost Odyssey will be determined by your attitude toward JRPGs in general. If you are sick of the conventions, you should skip this one. If you celebrate them and are happy to have some Japanese games on the 360 finally, you will want to check it out. If you’ve never played one, you’ll probably love it, as you won’t notice all the cliches.
These games live and die by their stories. My first JRPG was Final Fantasy VII, and it was a revelation. The setting, the characters, the music, the emotional power… It was a world unlike any I had seen, in videos or film, and I enjoyed it greatly (despite doing nothing but press a button to continue for the first three hours or so). When it comes to Lost Odyssey here, I’m not pretending to have played the entire game, so I’m not exactly qualified to pass judgment on the story, but what I’ve seen so far is generally favourable. I definitely want to continue playing to see what happens, and the idea of the “magic-industrial revolution” is an interesting one… I get the idea the magic-industrial power comes at a great cost, not sure why…
Besides some of the specificities of skill learning and item creation, here are a couple of the new things the game tries. First is the ‘aim ring’. Your melee-attacking characters can equip a ring with different characteristics (extra damage, fire damage, may inflict poison, etc.). Then, when your character attacks, a ring will appear around your target, and another will rapidly zoom down from the edges of the frame to superimpose itself over the other. The goal is to hold down the R trigger and release it when the two rings line up. If you do it right, you get a substantial damage bonus. If you mess up, it’s just regular damage. Obviously it’s a simple technique for adding a bit of twitch gaming to the turn-based combat, and I thought it worked. It would be good if it worked for spellcasters too, though.
The second innovation is a thing called “a thousand years of dreams”. You see, your main character Kaim is a thousand-year-old immortal. A side effect of immortality seems to be amnesia, as Kaim only remembers anything when some part of the game triggers the aforementioned dreams. They are abstract, text-based affairs – basically little stories rendered in conservatively animated text supported by abstract imagery, sound design and music. But they are quite well-written, and I enjoyed them.
On to the learning curve issues. [Spoilers a-comin’, but I dare say you want to hear this, as it won’t reaveal anything plot-oriented, and may help you replay a certain section interminably.]
The third boss in the game (if you count the machine in the opening scene as a boss) is a real bitch. His name is the Bogimoray, and he appears along with five ‘magic insects’. The magic insects have a weak physical attack, a substantial but rarely-used magic attack, and the ability to charge. The bogimoray, an enormous magical sandworm, can only ‘absorb’ the magic generated by the charging magic insects until his magic gauge is full, at which point he unleashes para-flare, an area attack that will deal a couple hundred points of damage and paralyze everyone.
Oh, and if you kill the magic insects, they reappear two turns later.
Oh and also – once you kill the worm, he immediately reappears and you get to fight him again. He’s the same, except he charges faster and he starts with a full magic gauge, so you better believe there’ll be a paralyzin’.
Here’s what’s wrong with all of this. First off, mastering this fight requires some deep knowledge of the game’s strategic intricacies, which the game itself does a poor job of telling you about. For example, immortals learn skills differently from regular dudes. The game explains this, mentioning how you can ‘skill link’ and learn skills from the regular dudes, who simply unlock new skills with experience. But it mentions only in passing the art of learning skills from objects. You can equip an object on your immortals, and after earning enough skill in combat, they learn the skill that the object imparted when equipped. For example, in this case what you need is the yellow band, which prevents paralysis. A regular mortal dude can equip it and reap the benefits, but he can never learn the skill. Your immortals, however, can unlock antiparalysis and then put it in a skill slot, meaning they can now resist paralysis without having the yellow band on.
You can see how that would take more than a sentence to explain, yeah?
So if you find the yellow band without knowing all these details, you are likely to equip it on one of your guys and think you’re set. Once the Bogimoray para-flares your ass though, only one party member will resist paralysis and will have to spend two turns curing his two teammates. By that point, you can be sure Bogimotherfucker will have charged up fully and will paralyze you suckers again.
Anyway, another problem with this Bogimoray affair is that it requires grinding. You find your first yellow band quite close to the actual encounter area, so in order to impart its powers to your two immortals, you have to initiate at least 10 random encounters – more than you would get en route to the encounter. So you have to roam about grinding to have a solid chance of beating this clown. Grinding, for me at least, is one of the JRPG conventions I could definitely live without.
Finally, it’s waaaaay too repetitive. Even if you beat the worm on the first go – which would already require repetitive grinding – you’re playing him twice. If you have to try him out multiple times, well you can do the math. I agree with IGN AU, it can take three hours to get by the Bog man.
You know what would have worked? Let’s just fight the thing once. Why twice? Was it not hard enough once? Give it more hit points, then. I fail to see how exposing players to something this challenging this early in the game is a good thing.
I nearly gave up, but ultimately decided I wanted to hear more of this story, so I decided to do some googling and learn how to beat this jerk. I’ve written up my formula for success™ in this article over here…
But back to the game. As a definite Final Fantasy fan, I’m enjoying it despite its near-tragic flaw with the bogimoray. One may hope for a few more innovations, or dropping a few of the more annoying conventions of the genre (grinding, random monsters), but you also have to appreciate it for what it is.
I’ll report back in a week or so.