Finally…Lost Odyssey begins to fill the quality-RPG void on the 360.

One of my concerns over choosing the 360 over the PS3 a year or so ago was that I would be alienating my game library from the quality RPG’s that were much more typical of the PS2 than the XBox. The two major genres of console titles I have found myself playing are role-playing games and first-person shooters. While I dabble in nearly every genre, these two have by far offered the most to my all-time favorites. By deciding on the 360, I essentially gave up quality next-gen RPG’s for FPS’s. Microsoft’s finest titles are their shooters and I’ve pounded countless hours into Call of Duty 4 and Halo 3 as a personal testament. At any rate, I vowed to get a PS3 only if their titles ever started kicking ass (still waiting).

When I heard about Oblivion coming out for the 360 a good while ago I was excited to say the least – I can have my shooters and my RPG’s on one powerhouse of a console? Awesome! This game was pretty disappointing though, unfortunately, as it turned into repetition and immersion-loss at nearly every corner mid-way through the game.

Since then, most of my RPG goodness was obtained through sporadic replaying of classics (such as the PSP port of Final Fantasy Tactics and my original copy of Final Fantasy 7 on my PS2 — sidenote: I applaud Sony for their backwards compatibility success with the PS2. Even though it is now harder to achieve similar success due to the drastic technology differences between recent console generations, it was still an awesome feature that I miss.). Then I heard about Lost Odyssey, created by Mistwalker studios, a developer founded by the original creator of Final Fantasy who left Squaresoft right around the time their titles started paling in comparison to 1-7.

I read a couple reviews of LO but really didn’t pay them much mind, since I rarely ever get much substance out of RPG reviews. They were pretty mixed, but most placed the game on a very average mediocre level. A few of them said the storyline was vapid and contrived, even though the graphics and effects were amazing (it was a pretty high budget project by any genre’s standards).

The reason I don’t really listen to RPG reviews is simple – what each person gets out of playing an RPG is different. You can accurately review a game like Halo 3 and its campaign because most people gain the same sorts of thrills and experience out of playing through the missions. In contrast, the point of an RPG is entering an unusual world where you possess a relatively large amount of control over your environment. And that environment is especially sweet when the female lead is hot as balls Seth.

Anyway, onto my thoughts on the game. I’m glad to say that most of those reviews were wrong. This game is simply awesome. It is the first title to ever remind me of the greatness that is experienced from playing through Final Fantasy 7. It spans over 4 discs that completely push the console to its finest and fullest in depth. The graphics are awesome – though not the best the 360 is capable of. Nonetheless they are incredibly clean and fun to look at. The character and enemy designs are likewise stunning. And what RPG is complete without a good soundtrack? Well, Lost Odyssey has a phenomenal one composed by the greatest composer there is for this sort of title – Nobuo Uematsu. His tracks bring back a lot of his classic themes while adding to them a rock element not found before.

While the reviews do hold some water that the storyline is nothing amazing, it’s pretty clear that a complicated and epic story was not at all what the developers were aiming for. Rather, their focus was on providing depth to each of the playable characters in the game. In order to do that you only need a solid storyline – nothing spectacular. What is really needed is good dialog, good voice acting, and above-all else good character development and interaction. Lost Odyssey has all of these things.

On top of that, the battle system, while not as ground-breaking as Mistwalker had aspired to, is solid and fun. Skill development occurs through linking the immortal characters to the mortal ones, who gain their skills on a set track. While the goal of this was to mix customizability with pre-defined abilities, it falls short since my two fighters were identical to one another as were my two casters. Don’t get me wrong though – progressing through the skill sets and making your dudes killing machines was still incredibly enjoyable.

The newish battle features that gamers will see with this title are the Ring system and the Guard Condition system. The ring system involves equipping a ring which adds various effects to your attack and timing two rings’ intersection while you attack in order to activate these effects. This system is pretty useful for the first three discs of the game but becomes obsolete once skills that don’t utilize them become available. The game got a lot of flack for this oversight, but I don’t fault it too harshly – using the rings for as long as I did was still fun and reduced the monotony of most of the battles. And there are still times when they are useful even in disc four (such as for effects like delaying enemy casting or when using Sed, a character who can’t use the ring-nullifying abilities).

The Guard Condition system is definitely a better addition to the game. Essentially there are two rows, front and back, for both you and the enemy. The back row is highly protected from attacks as long as the GC meter is relatively full. The meter is reduced when the front row loses health. The catch is that even if you heal the front row back to perfect health the damage to your GC remains in place – GC can only be restored by certain abilities. This, coupled with the delayed casting time of many spells, added a level of complexity to battles that made them pretty interesting.

All in all, I had a great time with this game. While none of the story or character elements were ground breaking, they strongly delivered the enjoyable experience of playing through a well-crafted RPG. I hope to see many more titles like this on the 360. Word is that Mistwalker’s next project is a sequel to Blue Dragon – their much shittier and way more boring RPG for the 360. I hope this rumor is false and that LO2 is on the way.

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