Imagine traveling on an endless journey for 1,000 years. You’ll witness the rise and fall of nations, fall in and out of love, relive over and over the pain of watching loved ones pass away.
Now, imagine that all of your memories are totally erased. This is the life of an immortal, and the story of Kaim Argonar, the protagonist of Mistwalker’s new role-playing game “Lost Odyssey."
The game, Mistwalker’s second for the Xbox 360, tells an expertly crafted story of Kaim struggling to regain his lost past. The sorrow and adventure of his life unfolds slowly, through both visually stunning cinematic movies and emotionally gripping story sequences — the latter written by Japanese novelist Kiyoshi Shigematsu. But while the visuals are up to snuff for the next-gen console, the combat system does feel a bit dated and repetitive.
During your journey, you’ll be joined by a handful of mortal and immortal companions such as Seth, the immortal female pirate, Ming, the 1000 year old queen and the wisecracking magician Jansen, who offers consistent comic relief. As the story progresses, you’ll find yourself increasingly drawn to the characters. This feeling is enhanced by solid voice acting — in five languages no less — and visuals built with such detail that you can read the emotion of the characters through their facial expressions as if they were live actors.
That’s the good stuff. Now, about that combat system.
In “Lost Odyssey,” you’ll see essentially the same turn-based RPG combat we’ve seen a thousand times before in games such as the Final Fantasy series or Mistwalker’s other Xbox title, “Blue Dragon.” See if this sounds familiar: You’re running around the game when suddenly, a big flash occurs and you’re pulled into the battle screen. You select some attacks from the menu, cast some spells, and gain experience. Then you return to the world screen until another random encounter occurs. Rinse and repeat.
To be fair, the use of this old-school style of gameplay isn’t too surprising. Mistwalker was founded by Hironobu Sakaguchi, the original developer of the “Final Fantasy” series. And to its credit, the studio made some small adjustments to the tried-and-true formula to spice things up.
For instance, players can find or craft rings that give their character’s weapons special attributes. Then, as the character runs towards the enemy to attack, the player will see two different-sized rings appear on the screen. You must then press the right trigger button to shrink the outer ring and let go just as the it matches the size of the inner ring. If you manage to match them up, the attributes of the equipped ring will take effect. The closer you match the rings, the greater the effect.
“Lost Odyssey” also adds a bit of strategy to the straight-up RPG blueprint. For example, you can set your characters to be in the front row or the back row during battle — those in the front actually protect those in the back. In the beginning of the battle, when your front row is at full health, your back row characters will have hardly a scratch. But as the battle progresses and your front row takes damage, your Guard Condition gauge drops and your back row is then open for attack. The bad guys do the same thing, which forces you to attack lesser monsters before you can attack the powerful mage standing behind them.
The game also supplies a new take on leveling. While your mortal characters gain new skills as they gain levels, your immortals do not. For them to learn new abilities, they must be linked to another mortal character and fight a few battles together. This forces you to decide between leaving a mortal character who is less effective so Kaim can learn a new skill, or to switch in another immortal who, if defeated, will pop back up again after a few turns. Later in the game, it becomes crucial to have a large pool of skills for your immortals to choose from to keep your party versatile.
The game does suffer from some minor performance issues. You’ll notice that your screen might freeze up completely for a few seconds — sometimes in areas that don’t seem like they should be taxing the system so much. You’ll find yourself occasionally wondering why, when travelling between cities on the world map, the framerate drops when the only thing being rendered on the screen is an “Indiana Jones”- style dotted route line.
Despite these small annoyances, “Lost Odyssey” pulls you in with its emotionally compelling storyline and characters. It fully justifies its $60 price tag with an epic, four-disk, 50-60 hour-long experience. And “Lost Odyssey” will consistently challenge you with the question of whether immortality is the greatest blessing a person could receive — or the worst curse imaginable.