Brainy Gamer Podcast - Episode 10
The Brainy Flamer

Lost Odyssey - fixing a hole

Losto_c Lost Odyssey makes me mad. I shouldn't let it get to me, but I can't help it. I was provoked. 4 discs and 50 hours of hackneyed storytelling punctuated by ponderous cutscenes, fatuous characters, insipid dialogue, and derivative gameplay. The game is worse than bad. It's bad dressed up as portentous. It's a place you've already been, with deeds you've already done, accompanied by music you've already heard - all "made possible only by the power of Xbox 360®."[1]

Why did it have to be this way?

Lost Odyssey is what happens when the primary objective driving a game's creation is fixing a hole. Microsoft lacks a traditional hardcore RPG for the Xbox 360. Final Fantasy can't be purchased for all the money in Redmond, so Microsoft cherry-picks a few FF all-stars, bankrolls their new studio, and orders up a heaping helping of "epic" customized for their white box.

Next comes the hard sell: (all from Microsoft's Lost Odyssey website)

  • Unparalleled emotional story
  • A new benchmark for the RPG genre
  • Plays as an intense and unsettling blockbuster action film.
  • Innovative RPG gameplay
  • A next-gen RPG masterpiece.

Clearly, empty vessels make the most noise because none of these outrageous statements is true. It's one thing to go the Dragon Quest route and preserve a traditional JRPG design with legions of fans. Square-Enix claims refinement, not revolution, in its DQ games, and they usually deliver exactly that. What I find maddening about Microsoft's marketing is the appalling disconnect between the game they are trumpeting and the game Mistwalker actually made.

Lost Odyssey is a big, visually sumptuous, but utterly conventional console RPG. Certainly, Microsoft isn't the first publisher to over-hype a game, but in the case of Lost Odyssey, I think the gap between hype and reality has more to do with a cynical effort to enter a lucrative market, ape a competitor's product, apply a slick finish and call it innovation. In other words, it's Microsoft being Microsoft. Not surprising, I suppose, but I don't have to like it.

Perhaps if the game had been a glorious failure - an unsuccessful but valiant attempt to overhaul a moribund genre...but no. Lost Odyssey is a compendium of threadbare RPG cliches: amnesiac hero, turn-based combat, random battles, endless cutscenes, elaborate fussy backstory with no bearing on gameplay, sidekicks with "personality," poorly translated dialogue, etc.

Gameplay consists of predictable cycles of activity: explore town, trigger cutscene, head to dungeon, defeat boss. Travel to next town, navigate random unavoidable battles, fight using customary options (attack, skill, item, spell, defend, flee), issue instructions and watch characters battle. Shop to replenish supplies. Rinse and repeat. What part of this was "made possible only by the power of the Xbox 360?"

If Lost Odyssey is a new benchmark in the RPG genre...I think we need a new bench.