E3 2007: Eyes-on Lost Odyssey

E3 Disclaimer: AMN’s E3 previews are designed to inform you of what each game at E3 plays like, and what we think of what’s shown. These previews are not reviews, and we reserve final judgment of each game until it is finished and released. These previews offer an honest opinion of what a publisher chose to demo at E3. So, without further ado, read on.

What the Game’s About
Lost Odyssey is the second of two Eastern-style RPGs developed by Mistwalker, the studio founded by Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi. Ostensibly the more Western-friendly of the two Xbox 360 projects, Lost Odyssey abandons the whimsical style of Blue Dragon in favor of a darker visual motif and more mature themes. The studio’s links to the Final Fantasy franchise and traditional JRPG design are transparent, as the game features highly stylized character design, flashy turn-based combat, and what promises to be an interesting if somewhat melodramatic storyline. The E3 demonstration featured far more polished presentation than that of last year’s TGS demo, introduced new characters and offered new an expanded look at the battle mechanics.

What’s Hot
We finally received some details regarding the game’s storyline, and it actually sounds pretty interesting. The main character Kaim is an immortal warrior that has fought in hundreds of wars, taken thousands of lives, and outlived almost all of the people he cares about – hence why he looks so gloomy. Now Kaim’s universe is being threatened by a powerful, evil magical force and the key to destroying it may have presented itself at some point in Kaim’s past. The only problem is, he can’t remember any of it. So in order to stop the evil infecting his world, Kaim has to revisit his painful past. Yes, the storyline has all the staples of Sakaguchi’s previous games, and those elements are probably getting a little old for a lot of fans, but some of the new elements like the main character’s immortality sound potentially intriguing. The new characters, including a chest-heavy female mage, a hulking knight in golden armor, and a bearded old man with a rifle also look great. Just from looking at their character designs, we wanted to know more about them – their personalities and their narrative threads.

The game has come a long way since the rather uninspired TGS demo, especially in terms of the use of color. No longer is the screen a gloomy collage of grey hues, as the character and enemy designs have been spruced up with flashes of color that help accentuate each model’s exquisite level of detail, and battles are highlighted by impressive particle and lighting effects. The environments on display were far more ornate and interesting than the barren wasteland at the TGS demo, as we visited bustling towns and lush forests, snuck through military ports, and even fought atop a speeding train as it sped through a giant metropolis. Cinematic camera angles do a good job of framing the exploration gameplay, and players can make adjustments to the view on the fly. We had always considered Blue Dragon to be the more visually appealing of Mistwalker’s two RPGs, but now we’re not so sure.

The battle system will please fans of the slower, more tactical fare seen in Final Fantasy X. Removing the pressure to act before the enemy allows the player to put a great deal of thought into each move and more difficult battles will push players to think three or four turns ahead. Sounds easy enough in an age of real-time combat and split-second decisions, but once the player has three, four, even five party members to account for and packs of enemies to contend with, the challenge certainly picks up. New strategic variables have been added to spice things up as well, including range and collective defense. Range impacts battles as one would expect it to – certain moves won’t work against enemies that are out of range, and enemies can alter their positions in the middle of a battle to exploit that fact. Collective defense is an interesting mechanic wherein allies positioned in proximity to one another create a cumulative guard effect that must be broken down before any of the characters behind it can be hurt. The larger the number of allies involved, the stronger the guard. There’s nothing particularly ground breaking here, but the combat system certainly feels like it will offer the kind of strategy and depth that has kept turn-based combat alive for so long.

What’s Not
The battle system is going to be divisive. We’ve already discussed the benefits and appeal of the slower, turn-based combat, but there’s a large and growing population of gamers that are getting sick of the same-old shtick. We’re skeptical as to how many Xbox 360 owners, many of whom bought the console primarily for the fast action of shooters and racing games, will be willing to slow down and savor the battles in Lost Odyssey.

This demonstration gave us our first exposure to the localized version of Lost Odyssey, and quite frankly, we’d be more than willing to accept the Japanese dialog with subtitles. The english voice acting is terrible, it’s chock full of unnatural pauses and completely lacks any convincing emotion. The dialog probably came off worse than it actually was because we saw the game right after Mass Effect, but the difference in the fluidity of the conversations between the two games is like night and day. Furthermore, the facial experiences in Lost Odyssey all look stiff and unnatural. Mistwalker needs to fix these issues, because at this point they could seriously hinder the player’s investment in the storyline.

Lost Odyssey looks and feels like an unofficial Final Fantasy for the Xbox 360. The battles are straight-forward yet offer a solid amount of depth, the story simultaneously epic and melodramatic, and the presentation at times is simply brilliant. There are still some issues that need to be cleaned up before the game’s target release by the end of the year, but with so many great games coming out this holiday we almost wish Microsoft would push back Lost Odyssey, take the time to polish it and ensure it reaches its full potential. We have our doubts that the game will become a major hit with the Xbox 360 audience, but what the hell – their loss.