Lost Odyssey: The Best Final Fantasy Game This Generation
Apologies for the slightly confusing headline. Some of you may have come here for a discussion about Final Fantasy XIII or XIII-2 – that certainly isn’t going to happen because for me both of those games were absolutely horrendous. I will explain in a little more detail why over the course of this article I’m sure, but the most important thing I want you to take away from this is the existence of a game called Lost Odyssey.
Lost Odyssey is what Final Fantasy should have been, and the interesting thing about it is that the game is nearly five years old. I’ve seen it lying around on pre-owned shelves for a while but never really took a second glance at it. TheGameJar’s Ryan told me that he has mentioned it numerous times on the Death By Robots Podcast but either I wasn’t there or just wasn’t listening. I’m barely half of the way through the and I am already in love with it, even if it is a bit slow to get going. It is superior in every way to any current-gen Final Fantasy and was made by the creator of the series, Hironobu Sakaguchi, along with a stunning score composed by FF stalwart Nobuo Uematsu.
If you wouldn’t mind indulging me for a moment I would like to take you through a few comparisons between Lost Odyssey and Final Fantasy XIII / XIII-2.
Characters & Story
RPG’s are driven by the characters, the world and the story. You can have the most robust combat and loot mechanics in the genre, but if your world doesn’t feel alive or there isn’t anyone you truly care about in order to play out their story then you can forget about anyone actually investing their precious time in your game. Final Fantasy XIII made no sense at all; there were gods and not-so-gods, with two worlds and crystal people. XIII-2 took that same nonsense and combined it with time travel to give you something that was even less comprehensible than the original. So thank the heavens for Lost Odyssey, a game in which you can explain the basic premise in a couple of sentences; the player takes control of Kaim, a man who has lived for a thousand years and who has no memory of his past.
It is set in a world nearing a “magical industrial revolution.” Kaim struggles with the return of his memories and the pain they bring. Lost Odyssey does play along to the now cliché ‘moody frontman’ stereotype with it’s protagonist, but as the game progresses you realise that there is more to Kaim than this. Without going into spoilers you do see him at his most powerful and at his weakest, which means you can empathise with him. Let’s look at Lightning in XIII / XIII-2 – while yes it’s great to see a strong female lead character there is never a point in either of those games where Lightning is anything more than a miserable bitch.
That might not be so bad if the supporting cast in XIII / XIII-2 was packed full of interesting characters, but they aren’t. I can safely say there are only two characters I ever gave a damn about in those two games; Sazh and Fang. With those you knew why they were there, what they wanted to achieve, the pain they felt when things didn’t go as they pleased. The rest of the XIII ensemble is made up of douchebags and generally annoying people. Don’t get me wrong, if characters are intended to be douchebags and written into the story like that then it’s fine, but you can’t tell me that Snow was meant to give you the feeling of pure hatred every time he was on the screen. Jansen in Lost Odyssey is a true example of someone who can come across as a douche, but it’s part of his character – he also goes through a transformation (he is also hilarious, if overacted).
Combat mechanics in RPGs are really down to personal preference – I prefer turn-based combat as opposed to real time. I find it more strategic, giving me more time to think and plan. Lost Odyssey is turn-based, but it also adds in a couple of other really interesting ideas. As your character runs towards the enemy to strike, if while making a physical attack you have a ring equipped, there is a small timing minigame where stopping a circle in the correct place gives you even more damage. It’s a nice take on the Gunblade in Final Fantasy 8, but the rings also have other properties i.e. damages fire enemies, water enemies etc.
Another interesting addition to Lost Odyssey’s combat is the introduction of a line system. You can place party members in either the front or back line; the latter are shielded by the front line so you can defend weaker party members. It adds more strategy and helps keep the combat feeling unique. Some may have liked FFXIII’s combat system; again it is completely personal preference but the only challenge there was making sure you had the correct Paradigms set up. Here’s a little quote from the official XIII-2 website:
“Each party member is assigned an offensive, defensive or healing role. Executing a Paradigm Shift will allow the player to change each character’s role. Using different paradigms for different situations is key to winning these real-time battles. Quick thinking and smart tactics keep the battles intense and enjoyable”
I hate to disagree with the website, but it didn’t make battles more intense and enjoyable. What it did do however was make sure I actually did something in the battles at the time. XIII & XIII-2’s fights were effectively on autopilot unless you wanted to switch the paradigm. It was one of the most soul destroying experiences, repeatedly pressing “auto battle”. There is also the fact that you only really got to control the actions of one character – I want to be able to control everything that happens on the battlefield, or at least have the option to.
Ever since Final Fantasy X on the PS2 the series seems to have become more linear; while I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing for those that just want to get through it there needs to be an option for those who love exploring the worlds. Lost Odyssey is very much like FF7 / 8 where you get access to a ship/craft after a while which you can use to look for secrets, which that is a nice touch.
When you get into the slightly more linear areas Lost Odyssey drops something in that is so simple and brilliant that I cannot believe it hasn’t been added into a FF game before; a sprint button. Ambling through corridors is a thing of the past with this amazing addition. You can literally just zoom about everywhere looking for secrets and shops, or you can use it to get to the next area a bit quicker. The speed increase may seem a little silly but my god it is actually one of my favourite things about the game – I could have finished FFXIII in half the time if this was included.
Don’t get my wrong, XIII and XIII-2 have a few things going for it; they look gorgeous but they were released a few years after when working with the current gen tech was a lot easier for developers. The FMVs are breath-taking at times but you can’t just ride on that forever – you need to change and adapt. We have Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning’s Return coming later this year and while I hold out no hope for it being entertaining because it is focussed on the charisma vacuum that is Lightning (and her story that nobody really cares about) there may be a few interesting ideas that can be used in future titles. I really want to see Final Fantasy back on form; I want new ideas, I want an interesting storyline that isn’t so overly complicated, I need the Wiki page open to understand what’s going on… and in order for the modern Final Fantasy’s to do that it needs to take a look backwards at the game developed by its original creator.
This may sound stupid but it is true; Lost Odyssey is the best Final Fantasy game this generation – maybe not in name but in everything else.