Here's a turnup for the books. I got my copy of Lost Odyssey about a week ago, and with memories of how sick I got of Blue Dragon still lingering in my mind, popped it into my 360 and prepared for the worst. As one hour became two and that became four, it was looking like I'd prepared adequately.
Random battles? Jesus. A fixed camera? Give me a break. An effeminate, amnesiac hero with a large sword? Way to break the mould, Gooch. Things weren't looking good. Then a funny thing happens. You reach a point in the game - I won't give it away, but I will say somebody dies - where you find yourself absolutely enthralled in what's going on around you.
And it has little to do with the "game". Lost Odyssey is a solid, if unspectacular example of a JRPG, one which almost seems to revel in keeping things simple. If, for example, you've grown accustomed to things like FFXII's quasi-real-time battles, forget it. Lost Odyssey's static, random stoushes will feel like a trip back to 1998. Which for some (ie the people already hyped for a purchase) is great news, but others? Not so great. Lucky for this game, then, that the "game" part isn't what carries it.
Because you see, Lost Odyssey isn't really a game. OK, it is, and it's a pretty decent one, but bear with me. The Gooch said as much himself, when he offered that the game was about emotion, not innovation. It's about the story, the world, the experience. And I'm man enough to admit that, as the tears flowed down the character's Unreal Engine 3-animated faces upon the aforementioned moment of death, that emotion had me hooked.
And you stay hooked. Between the gorgeous visual style of the game (SHOCK: The Unreal Engine can do blue skies!), Uematsu's excellent score and a cast of characters unusually compelling for the genre, you'll soon be enjoying the story just as much, if not more than, the wandering, chatting and combat. Oh, and reading. Lots of reading. Playing the role of Kaim, an immortal man struggling as 1000 years of forgotten memories come flooding back to him, you not only play through his current quest, but revisit his past lives through constant flashbacks as well.
These take the form of short stories, each written by acclaimed Japanese author Kiyoshi Shigematsu. They're usually a massive pain in the arse, both for their unnecessarily long duration and the frequency with which they interrupt the action. At the same time, though, it's hard not to be impressed with the sheer amount of work that's gone into rounding out the game world, and if you can be bothered reading up on them (if not, they're easily skipped), they're a great way to prolong the experience and immerse yourself in Kaim's story.
The voice-acting is also surprisingly good, considering there's so much of it and that the game ships with three language tracks (English, Japanese & Korean), which I guess goes some of the way towards explaining the four discs the game arrives on. The rest of that data is probably taken up with the game's cutscenes, which seem to trigger every 5-10 minutes, and at times feel endless, some leaving you stranded without gameplay for upwards of 20 minutes.
And you know what? Again, like the camera and combat (which to be honest I prefer, I like to keep things simple), that doesn't matter. Because if you're the type of person who enjoys their JRPGs, and enjoys these sweeping, grand tales of empires and heroes and big swords and big breasts and magic, you'll most likely be digging the cutscenes, which are well-acted, well-animated and well-written. If you don't enjoy that kind of stuff, why the fuck are you still reading this far? This isn't for you.
So, is this a revolutionary JRPG, one that will help drive hardware sales and light a fire under Final Fantasy? Hahah. Hell no. It's all a bit too "traditional" for that. It is, however, better than Blue Dragon in almost every respect. It's more mature, better looking and definitely more polished. And it's definitely the best JRPG on the 360 at the moment, so if these kind of games are your thing, you may have to get used to the idea of spending 100+ hours in front of a 360 game.