For fans of RPGs, Lost Odyssey is a comfy old pair of shoes. On the other hand, if the thought of random battles makes you pale then playing this would be like walking on broken glass. Basically, it's a game of opposites: easily one of the best-looking titles on any platform built on the most traditional roleplaying foundations in gaming. It's incredibly annoying, ridiculously overblown in its story, and sometimes even laughably hamfisted. But, even so, it's still one of the most compelling games on 360.
The most obvious achievement is the visual design. The detail in everything from a war tank to a shop's interior is obvious, and the cut-scenes are the best ever seen in an RPG. Very few games have looked as effortlessly good as this. It's strange, therefore, that despite all the obvious visual splendor, there's a distinct lack of overall polish: in particular, the angular PSone-era animation when Kaim moves around the stunningly rendered environments is jarring. The camerawork is jumpy, the framerate drops regularly, and there's often screen tear when moving around.
If all that wasn't bad enough, the voice-acting is just as patchy: the tone is often out of kilter with the content, and the dialogue often so bad anyway that it's doubtful even Robert De Niro could make anything from it. This is part of a bigger problem, with a laughable sense of drama, featuring clichéd characters and a story that becomes ridiculously silly as the game wears on.
But here's the really strange thing. Some of the smaller 'dream' stories hidden away in this game are special. The relation of these miniature masterpieces to the ongoing and po-faced main tale is often strained, but their rootless nature (each one is an undated rememberance from Kaim's past) stops them seeming odd. They contain some of the finest character building seen in an RPG, and help to make Kaim an interesting character - without these, his personality would be about as satisfying as an empty bag of crisps.
Underneath all these pretty graphics and cut-scenes, though, there's a game straight from 1985. It's not a wholly bad thing, and anyone who's played an RPG from Square Enix knows exactly what to expect: all the town-wandering, levelling and worlds in crisis are present and correct - and, as well as that, the battle system is as old-school as they come.
Lost Odyssey does make a few additions to the basic RPG turn-based combat, the first of which is rings. Rather than being the difference between a healthy bank balance and financial ruin, in Lost Odyssey rings act as the funnel for all of your weapon enhancements and trigger a little more involvement in the fighting. In short, you collect bits and bobs around the world that can be combined into new types of ring effective against specific foes, and can switch between your ring collection at will.
There's a spot of timing introduced: as you charge at the enemy, a ring appears and squeezing the right trigger zooms a second 'aim ring' towards it. Release the trigger when the two are lined up and you score a perfect hit, miss it and your character might miss. It sounds like nothing, but in practice it's a strangely satisfying addition, and, in general, collecting rings turns out to be quite compulsive for the hoarder in all of us.
That goes for much of the game: it's nothing really new in substance, but it's balanced, deep and because of this, it becomes interesting. Even when you hit the odd difficulty spike or have to sit through cut-scenes, the story is different enough from the usual Final Fantasy 'kid-saves-town-then-world' fare to pull you onwards - and there's also a huge amount to get through, with our runthrough clocking in at over thirty hours.