Thursday, July 9

I played Lost Odyssey so you don't have to

Honestly, I think I finished the game in part so I could write that headline.

I knew what I was in for when I got this game; an old-school JRPG, where the good guys line up on one side and the bad guys on another and you throw swords and spells called 'Windus' (that's the 3rd level wind spell!) at each other. Random encounters, raiding people's houses for loot, some levelgrinding tedium; basically everything I experienced in Final Fantasy 7 only prettier. I still hated it.

In a game that plays for 50 hours or longer (I put in over 60) having a complex, weaving story is something that one comes to expect. What happens next? becomes a relevant way to prod the player from "random city on the coast that we start from" to "fucked up mountaintop that we must fight a strange griffin upon" to "remote village where no one goes to the strange house on the hill" and so on, and so on.

Unfortunately, the story is straightforward and mindbendingly dull. Kaim, the hero, is part of a group of immortals who have been part of the world for a millennia. His memories are lost, he knows only that he is a soldier. After a cataclysmic battle he is set on a quest that leads him to uncovering his memories and this, naturally, leads to saving the world.

Now, what I've just told you is the spoiler free version of this game but here's the problem: even if I told you the spoilers I would be adding absolutely nothing to the synopsis I just wrote. There are no big reveals, no twists or turns that aren't telegraphed like a atomic bomb tested in the middle of San Francisco. The villain is cartoonishly comic, and if it weren't for the Presidency of Bush Jr. I would deny that anyone that obviously evil could ever gain that much power in such a blunt manner.

There are a ton of short stories in the game where Kaim gets back chunks of his lost memories but there are at least two problems with this. First those stores are told well outside of the main narrative. They don't inform the current storyline (with rare exceptions) and they don't enhance Kaim as a character; he's still a brooding, humorless dick. Second, the presentation for these stories are a complete break from the game; the player has to sit there and watch as words are very prettily shown on the screen with a hazy nature background as scenery. There's no GAME there. In a medium that is supposed to be interactive they've broken the primary rule; disassociating the audience from the game.

It's understandable that the basic gameplay mechanics might become dull over time. Sadly, they are boring right from the start. Your muscle attacks with swords. There is no strategy there, because attacking with swords is a lot faster and better than using any of your learned skills. Your wizards cast spells. The spells they cast should be ones that are in opposition to the elemental characteristic of the enemy. That is, you cast Water against Fire, Fire against Wind, Wind against Earth, Earth against Water. I think. Sixty damn hours in and I still had to look up which element was best vs another element.

In this case, I blame designers. There wasn't anything intuitive about selecting the elemental spells in the menu, so those subtle reminders that would've helped me map out what to do weren't there. Going to the manual in the middle of a game is an indicator of bad design.

Bad design also comes into play when moving from place to place. Getting to and using the map is difficult, as there are two map screens; one that tells you the names of places and one that just shows you the world. Sometimes I just want to check where I am in relationship to a city but I can't just do that, I have to actually go somewhere because just seeing where I am on a map doesn't tell me anything unless I know where I am in relationship to another place. So I have to go to another place, even if it's where I just came from and that involves a load screen and waiting and boredom.

What's a real drag is having certain characters predisposed to death. There are two who have understandably low health points-the characters are children-but they're vital to getting through the game! So the player has to sit there and resurrect them time and time again, in hopes they will survive to the end of the battle, because dead characters don't level up. One of the best things in the game that I did was engage in a short sequence that made me a ton of money. Buying resurrection potions suddenly wasn't a problem, and I bought a ton of them. More than I can ever remember having to buy for an RPG.

Gameplay gets tiring, moving around is a pain in the butt, and the story is boring. Is there an upside?

There is; the character Jansen Friedh. A friend described him as 'what would happen if you put Bruce Campbell in a game' and that's not too far off the mark. Funny, complaining, interested in getting laid, interested in not getting the crap beat out of him, Jansen is the most human and likable character in the game. Sure his character arc is utterly predictable but at least it's fun to watch. Nobody else gives the story any tension whatsoever--they spend sixty hours being exactly who they are when you meet them.

So I say avoid it.

Finally, I'd like to thank these Gamefaq writers: German Dragon, INVAL1D, and Split Infinity. They made searching through the cities and getting through the maps far easier than the game designers did, and I am eternally grateful to them for the work they did.


A.Ho said...

Sounds like misery to me.

DM said...

It sadly was. Unfortunately, by the time I was fed up with the game, I was on disc 4 so it's like: I might as well finish it.