Top 100 Xbox360 Review: #18 – Lost Odyssey (2008)

Forget the Main Story — It’s All About the Vignettes!

The side stories make the game.

Game FAQs Ranking:  #18
My Rating: StarStarStarStar

[INTRODUCTION]

It felt good to play Final Fantasy one last time.

I tried replaying FF12 and hit a roadblock. I started FF13 after last playing it 10 years ago and didn’t keep going. Something isn’t quite the same after FFX, and it has a lot to do with missing executive Hironobu Sakaguchi. As the mastermind behind Lost Odyssey, it harkens back to the old Final Fantasy formula: good music, emotional storytelling, and tried ‘n true turn-based combat.

However, it doesn’t quite capture the magic of late 90s Square. This game always comes up a bit short. You have to wonder if pairing Lost Odyssey with the intellectual property of Square-Enix could have put it over the top, but alas that was not meant to be.

The opening cinematic is gorgeous and immediately lets you know this game has heart, it just never matches that same intensity again. The characters are varied and interesting, but there is a missing spark that makes you feel like you “know” them. After some initially difficult and rewarding battles, the turn-based combat turns into a rinse and repeat affair.

The undoubted star that props up the game: the short-stories told from the perspective of an immortal. Who better to tell the story of the human condition than someone who doesn’t suffer from death? Better get the tissues out 🤧.

Love Kaim, Seth, and Jansen. Tolton and Sed? They’re okay. Cooke and Mack? GET THEM OUT OF HERE.

[THE GOOD]

Short Stories.

The hook for this game is a simple narrative device: the main protagonists and antagonist are immortal. Unable to die, they have walked the world for a thousand years but due to a spell have lost their memories. Slowly, the main characters regains them, and you start to learn about the human conditions in ways you didn’t expect.

The presentation is sparse: text appears on a lightly designed backdrop requiring you to read multiple frames until the story is done. READING. IN A VIDEO GAME. IN THE LATE 2000s!

While this might be a turn off for some, this is all I have ever wanted. I find voice acting such a turn off. I can read much faster than someone can talk, so instead of cutscenes taking 30 minutes, I love being able to read subtitles and click next to hurry things along.

The scant bells and whistles also lets the purpose of the story shine through. These vignettes are recollections of lessons learned from the immortal’s perspective on how mortals live in the face of death. It is absolutely fascinating stuff to read.

Kaim, the main character of Lost Odyssey, is a battle hardened mercenary. Unable to die, he has seen more death than anyone alive. Since he can never die, many stories arc a century, seeing how the influence of family and fate trickle down through generations.

The stories don’t shy away from some of our toughest struggles: how do we want to be remembered? What happens when we are forgotten? When the time comes, how do we want to exit?

What’s odd is that this is tangential to the actual game — it gives you some information about Kaim, but it really tells you more about us, the player, as humans living a finite life. Having the strength of the game not really be about the game is odd and tells you what I think of the main storyline (more on that later 😎).

One Man Band.

Jansen Friedh appreciation post.

The loveable screw up.

The clown. The comedic relief. Cringy but also Caring.

There are some good characters in Lost Odyssey (Kaim, Seth) and there are some place holders (Tolton, Sed), but really there is only one GREAT character. He starts off as lazy and verges on being a womanizer. He ends up being one of the only characters that consistently adds.

One of the biggest missing pieces from Lost Odyssey is growth. Sure, everyone ends up in different places at the end of the game, but there is no concurrent representation of ascendancy to reach those places.

Tolton was a scaredy cat…and now as King of Urha probably shivers himself to sleep with anxiety. Where was his scene where he took destiny by the reigns and did something above and beyond to remove the shackles of this tragic flaw?

Jansen, however, grows up. He becomes more of his good (caring and daring) than his bad (detached and prankster).

Music to My Ears.

If there is one thing that Lost Odyssey was able to capture from peak Final Fantasy era was the music. Nobuo Uematsu scores another great collection of songs. Battle themes are notoriously scrutinized (because you hear them all.the.time), but the ones for Lost Odyssey are perfect.

[THE BAD]

What About the Main Story?

When the game’s best aspect is short stories that don’t directly tie into the game, that doesn’t bode well for your main storyline.

I feel like I’m going to be too harsh. It isn’t awful. There are neat locations. You keep plugging along because you are interested. The problem is that the game gets you excited by its potential that never is realized.

The start of the game successfully throws you into a world with plenty of questions for you to want to answer. Kaim, your main character, somehow survives a meteor strike that wipes out two fighting armies. How? Then you learn he wasn’t the only one who survived. What is the connection between those two? The towns’ people are talking about the devastating meteor strike not knowing how it happened. You know,that’s a damn good question: why did it happen?

I think of storytelling like mixing a cake batter. When you add a new element, you mix it over and over making sure it is nice and folded in. Take FF7. In the beginning of the game, you meet Shinra and the Turks. They never stop being a part of the game until the end, showing up in small and big ways to remind you that they are a part of this story.

Pardon me as I write a novel.

Lost Odyssey doesn’t do this well at all.

General Kakanas is the leader of the Numara army as a secondary antagonist. In the early part, he holds you as prisoners. Framed as enemies of the state, you escape his blockade in a boss battle. He does not play a role in the game for another 30 hours. He’s an interesting character that should have a role, but with that big of a gap, there is no tension built between you guys.

Imagine if you fought the Turks in FF7 when escaping Midgar and didn’t see or hear of them again until the ending. What tension would there be? What anticipation could be built to finally be rid of these guys? It’s a wasted character and opportunity. It’s the difference between saying “Oh! Not This Guy Again!” versus “oh…this guy again.”

Such a wasted character, in fact, you can’t even find good pictures of him online 🤪

The same happens with all the characters’ ending side quests. In traditional JRPG fashion, each playable character has a side quest to complete before the end of the game to get their best equipment or spell.

Tolton, prince and heir of Urha, is tasked with finding Royal Seals scattered throughout the world. Breaking these seals gives you minor equipment, but after finding all eight, you are able to approach a burial tomb in Urha’s castle. Here, you find his ultimate equipment and fighting skill, but only after defeating the ghost of his ancestor.

Tolton is always on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

After spending all this time with Tolton, what do we learn about him? Nothing.

It’s a missed opportunity to flesh out his character and amounts to busy work to get a stronger sword. We know very little about him other than he is a wuss. Where is the story arc where we learn WHY he is a wuss and his ultimate resolve to OVERCOME it?

Lost Odyssey just doesn’t layer in the complexity like the great Final Fantasies had.

More Rings Than Sonic.

This game somehow squeezes out the last bit of juice from the old, tired turn-based combat format.

What has more juice? This lemon or turn-based combat?

It pairs static move selections with dynamic button timing to make it more interactive. Each character is able to select a “ring” that gives them unique abilities. The player must press a button at the right time earning “good” or “perfect to activate it.

These rings give an array of extra powers. Some are good against particular enemies. Some offer boosted stats. Others provide special abilities like automatically stealing items or absorbing HP. As the game progresses, you are able to stack these abilities to build powerful rings that allow extra damage, boosted stats, and special abilities all at once.

This breathes life into what otherwise might be considered a stale gameplay style. The dynamic camera angles that change into charging attacks to activate rings gives combat a certain edge. My BF when seeing it for the first time was very much a fan (“that looked pretty cool.”)

The problem is by the end of the game, you will literally have over a hundred rings. With random encounters, you will spend every battle reassigning rings and having to wade through a huge inventory for tactical purposes.

It takes battle, which already moves kind of slow and becomes a grind, to a snail’s pace as you mindlessly change rings over and over again until you get powerful enough where you can just ignore it.

Seven rings 7 hours in? That’s about right. 700 rings 70 hours in? Also about right.

Achievements.

There is only one game that I have completed all achievements for: Fallout 3. I started playing around with the idea of getting more platinum trophies, but you soon realize how ridiculous some of the achievements are.

Lost Odyssey is completely foolish with this.

20G for finding every treasure chest in the game? NO THANK YOU.

Immortals can learn the unique skills of every mortal and every piece of equipment. There is an achievement for each immortal “maxing” out their skills. This requires continued grinding while rotating equipment and trading in and out mortal characters. It also requires that you find every piece of equipment so they can learn each and every skill.

What makes this completely brain dead is each immortal is a blank slate. To unlock for each character, you have to repeat this process for each one.

Another achievement called “Treasure Trove” requires you to open every chest in the entire world. Yes, that’s right: the entire world. It requires starting from the beginning of the game while following a specific guide to make sure you don’t miss a single hidden chest.

BLAH. At least give me something reasonable.

[CONLCUSION]

Rereading this, I was a bit harsh. I think it’s because the potential for a five star game was there, however it came up slightly short.

Other People’s Takes:

  • Guardians of the North: ” The villain is pretty one note. He wants power. That’s it. What will he do with it? I doubt even he knows. He’s evil because someone has to be. Hard to care too much about that.”
  • Maisie Menace Takes on the World: “If I had to pick one flaw, I’d say that leveling-up takes too long and becomes a true grind-fest at times which can just grate on the nerves after a while.
  • Passion for Games: “Players can interact with people and objects that will trigger memories, which Lost Odyssey dubs A Thousand Years of Dreams. These optional text-only short stories written by best-selling Japanese author Kiyoshi Shigematsu carry the brunt of Lost Odyssey‘s emotional complexity.

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