When Microsoft announced that they were partnering up with Hironobu Sakaguchi and his new development studio, Mistwalker, Xbox fans let out a collective cheer. After all, Sakaguchi-san is the genius who unleashed the monumentally popular Final Fantasy franchise to millions of gamers worldwide. Following Blue Dragon's recent release here in North America, Mistwalker studios is prepping for another big RPG release, this one entitled Lost Odyssey.
Lost Odyssey's story is the very epitome of epic. The story spans over 1,000 years on a planet very similar to earth. Lost Odyssey follows several characters as they transverse the millennia. The story kicks in after these immortal characters have given up their immortality, and as a result, their memories of the last 1,000 years. Our guide through the demo explained to us that the game takes place as these characters are in their 30's of their mortal lives. Only now are they starting to piece together their past, how it will impact the future of their planet, and the kingdom in which they inhabit. Unfortunately, more details on the story were not available to be divulged at press time.
On the game's title screen, there is an option to continue or start a game, and another mysterious option entitled "A Thousand Years of Dreams". There were not too many details available about this intriguing sounding mode, but the demonstrator assured us that playing through A Thousand Years of Dreams will allow for the resolution of several plot threads and provide several insights into the character's past and motivations. I'm guessing this means that they will be mini-quests and adventures that simply do not fit in within the overarching narrative of the game.
The gameplay seems very much like a Final Fantasy title. The battle system is the tried and true active battle system that we've seen many times over. Your party can consist of up to five characters, each wielding different weapons and skills. The battle system goes deeper than just selecting an attack or action and watching the ensuing animations. Whenever you commit to an attack, a group of rings centers in towards your target. If you push the corresponding button as the rings converge on the target, you will deal extra damage or increase the desired effect of a spell. It's similar in execution to the old PS1 RPG; Legend of Dragoon.
Furthermore, your targets are not limited to just the enemies you are facing. The boss battle we witnessed allowed the player to attack environmental items which can help the player in their battle. The battle we saw had the players attacking a crane with explosive tanks hanging from it. Each attack turned the crane closer towards the enemy, with accurately timed attacks moving the crane faster than ignoring the reflex actions. It took several turns to cause the crane to turn enough to have the tanks hanging over the boss' head, which then resulted in massive damage.
Furthermore, you can organize your characters into rows much like past Final Fantasy games. Typically you'll want stronger characters in the front, where they can do more damage; and magic users in the back row. While it's not a wholly original system, it does seem fun and refined at the very least.
The graphics in Lost Odyssey are breathtaking, but not quite perfect. The characters animate extremely well and feature lots of detail in their designs. The frame rate was very smooth, and the backgrounds were impressive in their use of colour and complex architecture. The boss battle that we witnessed featured an enormous beast with razor sharp jaws and several appendages flailing in each direction. The art design in the game is undeniably beautiful, with bright and colourful costumes and jewelry on the characters that hint strongly to the game's anime roots. The only problem I found was that the characters suffered from some jagged edges, especially on the faces. I was informed that the cut-scenes are completed and are as they will appear in the gold copy, so it's doubtful that the aliasing will be fixed up. Regardless, Lost Odyssey should please any graphics junkies.
Audio seems to be Lost Odyssey's strongest point. Wherever Sakaguchi goes, you can rest assured that the world's most accomplished video game composer, Nobuo Uematsu will follow. The pieces of the score that I heard in the demo were very strong and compare favourably to Uematsu's previous work in the Final Fantasy series. There were soothing and relaxing melodies when exploring the kingdom, and adrenaline pumping crescendos during the boss battle. Uematsu, the musical genius that he is, has done it again.
The voice acting also seemed very strong, and in an odd turn of events for a Japanese RPG, all the characters are lip synched to the English dialogue. I was informed that the synching reflects the English dialogue in both the Japanese and North American versions of the game, so Japanese gamers will likely notice a few dubbing errors in their version. Considering how much Microsoft wants to pander to their waning Japanese audience, this may not be the best course of action. Still, it will be nice to play through an RPG that isn't dubbed like a bad kung fu movie. The player will also have the option to listen to the game in English, or in Japanese with subtitles, a fine addition to say the least.
While the game mechanics aren't the most original we've seen, at the same time, Lost Odyssey appears to be a very polished and engrossing fifty hour adventure. It would simply be foolish to underestimate one of the most accomplished RPG directors of all time. Can Lost Odyssey live up to the hype and its heritage? We'll find out for sure when the game is released next Spring.