Words Get in the Way of Lost Odyssey
Lost Odyssey wants to be Microsofts answer to Final Fantasy, not that thats such a good idea. Like Star Wars, Final Fantasy survives as a power brand thanks to the shining stars of its past, rather than the overwrought installments of recent years. Final Fantasy XII -- the most bloated, exasperating chapter yet -- has splintered the fan base; the fantasy now is to find an end to this sucker.
So yeah, maybe not a series to emulate. Nevertheless, Lost Odyssey unfolds as an excellent role-playing game, nailing the same core elements -- story and game play -- its competition has neglected for years. Theres just this one new wrinkle that harshes the buzz a bit.
Youll set out as the brooding and ferocious immortal Kaim. Ageless, invincible, and weary, Kaim has wandered for centuries doing more or less what we see him doing now: slaughtering battlefield foes by the dozen. He cant remember much of his past, but the painful bits he does recall leave him convinced its better off forgotten.
Lost Odysseys combat is terrific, thanks to its deceptively deep skill system. Basically, immortals like Kaim acquire new abilities -- spells, counterattacks -- from the mortals around them. Immortals are more powerful and versatile, but without mortals to watch and learn from, an all-immortal party would break up quickly. Devising ways to layer these character types and dozens of skills constitutes an endlessly satisfying game within the game.
As the story unfolds, we meet a few others like Kaim, all but one of them suffering the same sort of amnesia. And its here that Lost Odyssey holds its focus, on Kaim and the others attempting to piece together their pasts in hopes of better understanding who -- even what -- they are.
It unfolds in an intriguing fashion. Bits and snippets of everyday life help Kaim to reconnect. Chatter overheard between strangers in a tavern, for instance, may trigger a memory of a similar conversation he had hundreds of years earlier. These memories are presented as short stories, simple text read from unadorned screens.
Its hard not to have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, the scenes -- by Japanese short-story author Kiyoshi Shigematsu -- are wonderfully written by any standard. Thoughtful, spare, and sensitive, the vignettes -- a painful fight with a lifelong friend, a conversation with a child on the beach, the sight of a loved one dying -- reveal an ironically human glimpse of enduring eternity. Its the finest writing to ever appear in a video game.
But it is a game -- and interrupting it to read a few thousand words can be jarring. (Imagine reading a novel and coming upon a button labeled Press for video of this chapter.) Games are a medium unto themselves, best when theyre not trying to be movies or books.
Yes, it would be a challenge to express the stories emotional subtlety within a normal game narrative. Then again, two of last years greats BioShock and Portal managed to weave complex tales with hardly a cut scene or written word. Obviously, it can be done. Had Lost Odyssey found a way to stay more true to its form, no mortal -- or immortal -- could forget it.
Get the Theater Newsletter
Get a rundown of upcoming theater events and ticket deals in New York.