It’s safe to say that Square Enix has had the market cornered on notable Japanese RPGs over the past decade thanks to their front-runner franchise, Final Fantasy. With over 15 titles in the mainline series (not including spin-offs and direct sequels), it’s quite difficult to find a favorite, though almost none can beat the reputation of Final Fantasy VII for the original PlayStation, the first game in the series to make the leap to 3D. So there was global rejoicing when news of a remake started to surface, though fans were not expecting what was to come.
While many Final Fantasy titles, VII included, have been turn-based affairs, more recent games have skewed towards real-time combat. With the remake, developers split the difference, going with a primarily real-time system and the option to play turn-based. So far, players have had a mixed response to this change to such a crucial gameplay component. Many are wishing for that traditional JRPG style, and though the remake may not have it anymore, several games within the genre do. One such game, Lost Odyssey, may prove to be last generation’s greatest hidden gem.
Lost Odyssey was developed by Mistwalker in 2008 as an exclusive title for the Xbox 360, being published by Microsoft itself. The game followed Kaim, an immortal who has lost his memories and is working as a soldier for a growing empire, living a life of over 1000 years. As he meets more and more people, mortal and immortal alike, they begin to unravel a political scheme to slowly dominate the world under one regime, and in doing so, unravel more about themselves.
The game came on four discs, sporting stunning cinematic cutscenes and gripping dialogue, backed with strong voice performances and several unique locations. The game is also peppered with heavy story moments, some manifesting in the form of memories that Kaim recovers during his journey. These memories are relayed in the forms of short stories written by acclaimed Japanese novelist Kiyoshi Shigematsu. While some may find them long-winded, they provide detailed backstory and context into the immortals’ lives and, while not mandatory to view, are enriching to the overall experience.
Like many old-school JRPGs, Lost Odyssey features a turn-based battle system. Up to five characters can be utilized at once, leading to several different combat styles and strategies. Attacks can be enhanced based on the player’s input via the Ring System. A correctly-timed button press can lead to more damage dealt, or a chance to inflict a status effect on the enemy, giving the player more control. The game has an array of spellcasters, warriors, and all in between, each with unique skills that set them apart from their companions.
Another mechanic of Lost Odyssey is the skill linking system. While your mortal characters can learn new skills from equipment, Immortals are unable to do so. Instead, they must fight alongside a mortal counterpart who knows said skill. This encourages players to cycle through party members, each who bring their own unique tactical advantage, not just for themselves, but also for fellow party members.
One of the most exciting features to expect is a timeless soundtrack. Famous Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu provides a familiar yet fresh listening experience for those nostalgic for the classics.
The game came out to quite positive reviews, garnering a 78 critic score and 8.4 user score on Metacritic and an 8.2 on IGN, which is quite good for a JRPG that isn’t franchise juggernaut Final Fantasy. Unfortunately, the game suffered rather low sales, only sporting about 200,000 copies in North America, which did not motivate any ball to start rolling on a potential sequel.
Its lack of sales could partly be attributed to its platform, as most JRPGs at the time were being released as exclusives through either Nintendo or Sony for their respective consoles. The Xbox as a platform was not generally known for its JRPG titles. Much like most of Kaim’s life, the game faded into a distant memory.
While no news of a remaster has been announced for this underrated game, it has been made available on Microsoft’s next-generation console, the Xbox One, through backward compatibility. The game did receive additional buzz back when the announcement was first made and opened the game up to new and old audiences alike. Today Lost Odyssey is something of a hidden gem, one many have heard of but never played. While Final Fantasy VII Remake may be bringing a big-budget RPG to the mainstream, players looking for something a little more old-school may want to give Lost Odyssey a spin.
Feeling burned by Final Fantasy VII Remake's real-time combat? Mistwalker's criminally underrated Lost Odyssey can scratch that turn-based itch.