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Lost Odyssey

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So, as many of you might know I'm living in Brighton, however most of the people I know are back in Ipswich which is a good few hours away on the train making it a tad impractical to get back often; GBP50 return is a bit steep and then there is the added bother of not being able to get back during the night so having to have some where to sleep and I'm not so sure my parents would appricate me turning up briefly every couple of weeks or so to sleep and eat food before vanishing again.

However, this was a nice long weekend so I decided to take tuesday off, so I could go out on the monday night as I used to, and wander on home for a few days. I practically didn't touch a computer for 3 days, well ok I did take my XB360 back with me and took over the front room with it, but I was surprised that I didn't take over my mum's computer or even my dad's laptop. It was a nice break.

I didn't really spend all that much time on the 360 either, but what time I did spend I spent playing Lost Odyssey.

I really like this game; on the face of it it is pretty much your standard JRPG; so turned based battles and everyone becomes one person to wander around the scenes.

That said there are some nice differences;

Combat

The combat is practically lifted from Final Fantasy in that you select actions for characters to perform however there are a couple of tweaks which make it intresting;
Firstly there is the ring system. By equiping rings you can adjust the effect of your weapons on enemies; for example a fire powered ring will inflict fire damnage. While this sounds pretty much like a magical weapon the tweak comes from how it is done. Once the character starts their attack a 'ring' with a grey target areay appears around the target of the attack; by pressing and holding the right trigger a second ring comes in from the edge of the screen and shinks until you release the button. At which point you can get one of 3 outcomes;
- bad : you messed up and the ring power doesn't activate
- good : you were close and the ring power activates
- perfect : again, the ring power activates a bit stronger (and also counts towards achievements)

This little addition makes combat a bit more involved than ordering all your characters to do something and then waiting as everyone takes their turns.

The other thing about combat is you can change the equipment your characters are using during the fight; mainly this is used for changing rings around to adapt to the enemies you face but I have used it to change the accesories they have depending on how things are going.

There is also a noval take on the 'knocked out' status in battles. Your group if made up of immortals and mortals and in combat the main difference is that immortals when 'dead' come back to life two turns later on their own. This can be an important tactical consideration when decided on who to bring back in a turn.

Finally, something which was new to me (but then I haven't played a JRPG since FF8) is the idea of two rows and a Guard Condition. Basically the hit points of the character in the front row act to guard the back row from being hurt. Practically speaking this means the high hit point physical attackers go at the front and your lower hit point casters go at the back.

Skills

The other thing which struck me as different is the skills system. As mentioned your group if made up of immortals and mortals; mortals can learn skills by leveling up and can get access to skills from accessories while they have them equiped; immortals however can only learn via accessories (unlike mortal they can permantently learn skills in this manner) and by being 'skill-linked' to a mortal.

The practical upshot of this is if you have a skill a mortal has and you want an immortal to learn it you need to link the skills and then have both of them in combat at the same time in order of the immortal to learn. Once the immortal has learnt the skill you can unlink them, link a new skill to learn and assign the skill to a skill slot. However, unlike mortals who develop skill slots as needed immortals have a limited number; however these can be increased by 'slot seeds' which you find during the game.

All in all, a pretty noval method of dealing with skills and not one I've found gets in the way of the game either.

Story

In my experiance JRPGs tend to consist of a bunch of kids with fantasic powers out to save the world from some great evil with masses of angst and general 'waah, why me? life is so unfair!!' type stuff thrown in for good measure(see FF8 for reference). In this regard Lost Odyssesy is a breath of fresh air; the characters aren't angsty as such (although the main character does come across as a little mood to start with) and don't spend half the game shying away from doing what you know they will end up doing. Indeed, by about half way though the 1st disk the main characters are pretty much 'oh, we are going to kick this guy's arse!'.

The story line itself is pretty involving, complete with 'dream' sequences which are very minimalist in their presentation, considering of nothing more than animated text, back ground images, music and ambient sounds to tell the story; yes you have to read during a game... shocking I know but it is perfect for the setting. I'm not convinced this type of presentation could be used in another game now and not come off as cheesey in some manner; they pretty much nailed it.

Not that you dont' have cut scenes, this is a JRPG of course, however they are so seemless between game and cut scene that you really can't tell.

The character as well are well done, the voice acting is good and drags you in and characters themselves are well thought of and you just end up liking them; even Jansen who is a mortal and a bit of a drunkard/ladies man becomes more and likable as the story goes on and even from the off his quips and comments raise a smile and a laugh. Above all you feel these people could really exist in some manner, and that is a good writing.

End of the day that's what Lost Odyssey is all about; the people and the story. It is a journey and while others my decry JRPGs as movies with some interaction I find myself thinking 'hey, why not?'. What are games after all but a method of story telling, sometimes the story is simple ("kill everything which moves") and some times it is a cut scene ladend 4 disk spanning epic which could very well be a movie in some respect and in another needs to be a game.

I think Microsoft Game Studios and the developers Mist Walker and feelplus really hit gold with this game.

(And as a complete aside it uses the Unreal Engine, and frankly without looking at the back of the booklet I never would have known...)
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