Lost Odyssey: A Gateway RPG
A few months ago I was talking about how playing Lost Odyssey would explode my brain in super nova like proportions. What was is that Treebeard said? Oh yeah, don’t be hasty. Don’t be hasty indeed! The opposite of what I assumed would happen occurred. I have been changed. Deeply and into the very core of the gamer that I am. Where once I bore disdain for menus and equipping and unequipping skills and items, now I can’t get enough of them! For you see, Lost Odyssey brought me back into the world of RPGs. And it can do the same thing for you, if you only let it.
Back when I popped disc one into the ol’sex machine 360 I clawed my eyes out in frustration at the epic opening that took fifty-two minutes to finally get through the credits. It was horrendous. For someone like me, any opening that takes more than ten minutes is absolute torture. The Gears of War opening is like my perfect start to a game. Now, I am no stranger to the world of turn-based RPGs or their anime storytelling roots. No no, I just hadn’t the taste for them since oh…1993. The last Final Fantasy I played was Mystic Quest and that was on the SNES and very low-impact considering how far RPGs have come. So after that I said goodbye to Final Fantasy of any kind and welcomed action-adventure styled role playing into my life with A Link to the Past and subsequent Hyrule Adventures. I dabbled in Golden Sun on the GBA and was aggravated by things like roaming battles and constant village detective work. I wanted to be fighting and figuring out puzzles, not speaking to every single bloody villager to find all the secret treasures and powers. Boring, said I. Annoying, said I.
The loss of turn-based fighting in my life was a happy one, and eventually my displeasure at that genre turned into a malicious disdain. I scoffed at the enjoyment others would derive from such long winded stories. Sure, they had by far the most extensive and satisfying cinematics, but there were also cliched characters I couldn’t stand and merry bands of annoying characters I wanted to hit in the face. I told you I was malicious.
So when D explained the game a bit I was horrified. I couldn’t play this game! I couldn’t stand skill setting and reading moral stories via power point (you recover memories in text form during much of the game). So D bet me twenty bucks I couldn’t finish the game. And so it began. Out of spite and full of bile I intended to finish what I had started. I went into it looking in every barrel or pot, I spoke with everyone I met. I was going to do this by the books.
The typical plot (as Toku had told me) of “magic energy coming into the world and bad things start happening” was present. The metaphor for Technology vs. Natural Order was in full effect and I do admire it, but “moral heavy” could describe Lost Odyssey with ease. The basic story of Lost Odyssey is that you are part of a group of immortals that have lost their memories of their immortal lives. They are all pawns in a game of power that spans an entire world and they must reclaim their memories in order to find their true purpose and stop the evil threat. I’m not going into specifics because I don’t want to spoil anything, and there is a lot to spoil, the game is huge. Again though, I admire the ideas and philosophies the main story and sub-stories express. If Japanese RPGs do one thing well it’s nailing the human condition and characteristics of a variety of personality types.
My spite drove me, I judged the characters (particularly the comic relief Jansen) harshly. I would finish the game, but I would never let in into my heart! Then all of a sudden, after I spent half an hour picking flowers and collecting torches for a burial ceremony, I found myself hooked. I was picking flowers and all I wanted to do was get through it so I could get back into the battles and get my immortals powered up. When I told D and Toku about what I was doing in the game I spoke in the first person, I had accepted the characters into my mind as parts of myself. I was on an adventure, a mission. I had to find out what was going on and why it was happening. I even began to rely on Jansen to relieve me with his funny lines after tense situations. I also valued his skill in battle. I was changing. The spite vanished and all that remained was a sincere desire to continue the journey, to finish the fight.
I knew going in that the biggest challenge for me was the turn-based combat thing. As a FPS lover I had a clicky trigger finger that ached for rapid firing action. There is no rapid fire in turn-based combat. There is first round analysis, second round strategy based on first round results, and then just sticking with the chosen plan until the battle is over, with healing in each round for defense. I took to it quickly, I could relax in a huge battle while at the same time I felt a tension, an angsty prolonged worry that dissipated as soon as that victory screen popped up and I saw all that my team had achieved in the battle. Each time I felt confidence in my team grow, I was proud of them and how they worked together.
I wasn’t focused on the navigation of menus, which I had been worried about – they became second nature to me. After each battle I would heal those who needed healing and mana up my magic users effortlessly. You need to set skill links between your immortals and mortals, as well, so that your immortals can gain valuable attributes and resistances. I methodically assigned the defensive skills first, then offensive, then miscellaneous ones like stealing. I managed the skills throughout the team for balance and effectiveness. I never thought I could think like that, never thought I could get through all that information. For so long I was only concerned with how much ammo I had. In this game, worrying about how many items I had was a pittance, negligible. I had bigger fish to fry. Big, damned awesome fish.
The battles were unlike anything I had ever experienced. I knew that as I got further into the game the battles would get tougher and the bosses would be epic. My magic would increase and my attacks would get awesome. I wasn’t disappointed. It was when I was in the middle of a half an hour long boss battle that I knew I was addicted. Toku and our other roommate wanted to go to a movie and I totally bailed on them. “I have to finish this battle!” They called me lame. I didn’t care. I reveled in my victory and wanted more. Lots more.
The story progressed, more memories were recovered, my emotional investment grew. It was comforting to start up the game, fit into my menus and manage my different groups of characters. The music was invigorating as well as soothing, it moved me and motivated me. The cutscenes were striking, and sometimes lasted twenty minutes minus the few moments where I would move characters barely a few steps and another scene would start. There was fire, there was water, there was ice. All terrible in intensity. All begging me to stop the destruction of this world before it was too late. I pushed on, sometimes hours at a time before a save point would surface.
All my judgements, all my assumptions faded away. I was playing. I was experiencing an adventure. For all my talk of immersive storytelling I had never spent twenty minutes picking flowers, or spending ten minutes slowly walking through an ice storm simply to get to a save point with no battles whatsoever. That is immersive, that is experiencing an adventure.
Lost Odyssey has humbled me as a gamer. I had seen a light, through the mist as it were, and it brought me happiness. I didn’t see four discs anymore and groan at the long haul I was in for. Now, I saw a world I would enter and a story that I didn’t want to really end. I even slowed my playing to savour it just a little bit longer. Lost Odyssey is a game I can’t see myself replaying for a long, long time. Yet, the feelings I’ve had from playing it will stay with me forever.
Of that, I am certain.