In recent times the boundaries of the RPG genre have begun to shift somewhat, with new themes and ideas constantly being implemented its almost impossible to define what a real RPG is nowadays. Where once the staple diet was a mixture of turn based combat, swords and spells we now live in an era where developers attempt to create sci-fi space opera's and post apocalyptic FPS' whilst all the time attempting to stay true to the roots of the RPG. I for one have enjoyed seeing the genre mature and blossom to incorporate new ideas but like all fans of RPG's I'm a stickler for tradition and occasionally yearn for the good ole days.
Similarly to most gamers of my generation the first dalliance I had with the RPG genre came in the form of the now rightly revered Final Fantasy VII, unquestionably one of the all time great games it heralded a new era for the RPG and some may argue that it has yet to bettered by any of its predecessor's. The man responsible for the creation of the Final Fantasy series, Hironobu Sakaguchi, has since moved on to pastures new with the creation of his own development studio Mistwalker. Since Mistwalker is backed by Microsoft Game Studio's it was only a matter of time before we 360 owners got the chance to once again delve into a world created by the master of the RPG genre, and in 2008 we were rewarded for our patience with the wondrous Lost Odyssey.
Lost Odyssey was billed as a return to the traditional roots of the JRPG and in that aspect it didn't disappoint. With turn based combat, random battles, a world map and an eclectic bunch of main characters it fastidiously copies the blueprint so carefully formulated by its forerunners all those years ago. Some may criticise it for its lack of innovation but when a game is this good such matters can be overlooked, a throwback it may be but harking back to the golden age of RPG's can only be a good thing.
Story wise Lost Odyssey achieves something which very few titles in this day and age manage to do. It not only incorporates the story to a degree that it affects the way the game is actually played, but also gradually draws the gamer in to its narrative with an intriguing tale that truly captures the imagination. The central character in said tale is Kaim Argonar who is an immortal and has lived for a thousand years, Kaim spends his time travelling from place to place working as a mercenary and taking part in the numerous battles and wars that arise in the game universe. Kaim's main cohorts are Seth, a fellow immortal who despite the manly name is actually a woman, and Jansen, who offers some light hearted relief from the musings of Kaim and is arguably one of the most hilarious game characters ever created. Unlike many RPG's, which tend to define an evil force right from the off, the storyline in Lost Odyssey is a far more complex affair with the posts continually being moved and your true enemy only revealing themselves towards the latter end of proceedings. The basic thrust of the plot is the battle for control between rival nations for a source of magic called The Grand Staff with your the affiliations of your merry band of characters changing as the story unfolds. Aside from the main story which is constantly evolving throughout there are plenty of side quests and sub plots to maintain your interest and add to the weighty feel of the game.
As with all games of this type the group of characters in your command increases as you progress along your journey, each new addition brings something new to the table and quite remarkably for an RPG not one of these characters grates on the nerves in the slightest. As mentioned earlier some of the members in your group are immortal, and although they can still be rendered inactive how you utilise them in battle will determine how successful you are. The battles in Lost Odyssey are randomised ( cue collective groans ) but rarely feel irritating or overbearing to the gamer, this is mainly down to the graphical flair allayed to each battle sequence not to mention the enjoyment garnered from destroying even the most miniscule of opposition. Once the battles begin its strictly a turn based affair with plenty of time given to plot the decimation of your foe, combining the relative merits of each character whether they be an expert in swordplay, black magic or white magic is paramount to your success and tactical acumen is required in spades. One unique aspect of the battle system is The Aim Ring, a timed accuracy challenge which when done correctly can utilise some of your equipped items and inflicts various forms of malaise on your enemies. The way your characters level up is also refreshingly different with the immortal ones learning skills from the mortals and then assigning these skills to a limited amount of skill slots, how you manage these slots is pivotal as failure to prepare will have you preparing to fail. When you factor in the mage classes that can only specialise in one type of magic but still use other types in battle it all adds up to an incredibly deep and immersive battle system, it may seem daunting at first but it is easily grasped and will become second nature quite quickly.
Visually Lost Odyssey is a sight to behold with each fantastical setting outdoing the previous one in a world full of lush, colourful environments. There's many moments littered throughout this game that will have your jaw dropping at the sheer beauty of it all, some of them cut scenes admittedly but even the in game material is a cut above the majority of 360 titles. Speaking of the cut scenes there is many dream sequences in Lost Odyssey which can be triggered by the discovery of remnants of the past by the immortal characters, some of these dream sequences are genuinely engrossing and are complete stories within themselves. The main narrative is never intrusive with each cut scene pushing the story along without ever becoming tiresome or dull and the quality of the voice acting makes them entertaining to the last. As stated earlier Jansen is undoubtedly the star turn and even had this most cynical of gamers chortling away to himself on many an occasion, even the pint sized, mandatory kids in your party are relatively endearing with Mack resembling a modern day human version of Scrappy Doo!! The charm and attention to detail of the cut scenes benefit the game as a whole and tie you emotionally to your characters before you know it.
Completing Lost Odyssey is going to take you 40 hours minimum, the action is spread over a mammoth four discs and there's no doubt that this game is quite a life sucker of epic proportions. Once you factor in all the side quests and undiscovered areas your gametime could rise to over 60 hours, but really isn't that what RPG's are all about? A minor criticism I found with Lost Odyssey was the world map, rather than having the freedom to roam about this map as you wish you can only ever hop from town to town therefore negating true exploration of the area. This made it quite difficult to locate some of the hidden places in the world, but then again maybe that was the intention, they wouldn't be much use as hidden areas if they could be easily located now would they? The use of save points was something else that caused occasional annoyance, rather than having the ability to save whenever you wanted you can only do so at the save orbs which needlessly makes an already quite difficult game that much harder.
For me Lost Odyssey is the best RPG currently available on the 360 and I include Mass Effect and Fallout 3 in that estimation. Its shamelessly old school in some ways but at the same time manages to carve out a unique place for itself in gaming lore by being such a well crafted, downright lovable gaming experience. This is one title that I'll always look fondly upon in years to come as I fear RPG's of this type and style are becoming a dying breed in the modern day gaming industry. 9/10