reviewed on X360
The difficulty of being... a JRPG
The Japanese RPG is quite a paradoxical thing. While it chases technological innovations, often boasting cutting edge graphics and production values, the gameplay is often accused of sitting stubbornly in the past. Indeed, the battle mechanics of modern RPGs when compared to their forefathers are barely distinguishable with only the graphical flair and music being a clear sign of which is which.
Similarly, the hardcore JRPG gamer is a stubborn beast, demanding a complete reworking of the battle engines, while only truly desiring a graphical overhaul of their genre. Watching forums before and after Final Fantasy 12's revealed a fan base clamouring for change, only to shun it when it arrived. Yes, the JRPG gamer likes familiarity, namely cutting edge graphics, a grand story, and turn based battles. While not to everybody's taste, the JRPG formula is one that's survived relatively unchanged for over 20 years and still remains a popular genre.
On comes Lost Odyssey
With the above in mind, it makes a game like Lost Odyssey a tough game to review, as it adheres to the tried and true genre conventions, but with a 7th gen lick of paint. Many may cry foul, demanding it be marked down for doing little new, and yet, to those who love JRPGs, this is the game they want and is akin to demanding that a FPS is given a poor review for continuing to remain in the first person.
So where does this leave Lost Odyssey? Well it is initially impressive, opening with a grand, atmospheric musical score, a FMV battle sequence that would match up to SquareEnix's best, with protagonist, Kaim Argoner, cleaving through an army in a beautiful display of lethal acrobatics.
Soon the gameplay cuts in, taking you into a turn-based battle where each attack takes out swathes of enemy soldiers. Eventually, the crowd is thinned and a war machine wheels onto the scene, initiating a boss fight.
So far so good.
Feeling like an obsessive-compulsive fly
Following the battle, a cut scene plays and you're thrown into the first field section, guiding Kaim through the now destroyed battlefield. The fixed viewpoint recalls hybrid memories of Final Fantasy X and Ico. The scenery is pretty enough and the view is clear, but only being able to operate the camera as if it's a mounted CCTV camera feels more jarring than helpful.
Furthermore, following Final Fantasy XII's innovations, and the sublime Mass Effect, returning to the JRPG cliché of viewing a huge landscape, but only being able to navigate a thin corridor with ambiguous boundaries is a strange, almost stifling affair. That Kaim could easily leap over enemy soldiers moments before, and is now unable to walk on grass is verging on ridiculous. This spills over to the first city, where exploration is limited to a few select streets, despite the pretence of this being a capital city.
There are still plenty of trinkets to find, and bins to explore, but clichés that could once be tolerated due to technological limitations now seem out of place. Why exactly would somebody throw medicine they found in a dustbin? Why is money hidden behind posters?
Later in the game, as larger, grander areas are available, the exploration opens out and rises from the claustrophobic mire of before, yet you will still find yourself bouncing from wall to wall seeking flashing objects, or context sensitive 'probe/examine/kick/ram' prompts like an obsessive-compulsive fly.
At times, exploration feels more like a chore than a pleasure, and yet, there's something strangely compelling about it. Perhaps the lure of the Dreams (more on these later), or finding out what Seeds do is what makes the exploration an unmissable diversion, appealing to the obsessive compulsive in all of us. Whatever it is, as annoying as the exploration can be, it is an unbreakable habit.
Luckily for those who can't get enough of item hunting, there are other item hunting side quests, including treasure hunts, which involve solving clues to find items. There's certainly enough to keep item enthusiasts busy for hours.
While side quests are a nice diversion, the item collection's main aim is to equip the player with the means to defeat bosses and advance to the end of the story, and luckily, Lost Odyssey's yarn, while not the most exciting in the world, is suitably compelling.
No Pros and Cons at this time