We might as well just get this straight from the start. Like Mistwalker's Xbox 360 debut, Blue Dragon, Lost Odyssey can easily be condemned as a good-looking, HD throwback to the good old days of Japanese RPGs. Nearly two years after Square-Enix tried to revolutionise the genre with Final Fantasy XII, Lost Odyssey feels less like a rival, and more like a deliberate attempt to step backwards to the days of Final Fantasy VIII. Time and again you'll feel yourself horrified by such hideous anachronisms as random monster encounters, huge stretches without a single save point or the jarring switch from exploration to yet another turn-based combat sequence. While Lost Odyssey has its share of interesting or innovative game mechanics, it's not a game that's been designed to drive the genre forwards. No matter how much you love it, all the stuff I've just mentioned is guaranteed to get on your nerves at some point during the game.
It's impossible to review Lost Odyssey without making comparisons with Final Fantasy XII, so I'm not even going to try. Mistwalker's founder, Hironobu Sakaguchi, created Square's classic RPG series and played some role in its progress right up to Final Fantasy X-2, and Lost Odyssey feels very much like an attempt to reclaim that old territory. It's a sprawling, epic RPG, more serious in tone and more realistic in visual style than Blue Dragon, with the exploration and action framed by exactly the sort of lengthy cinematic cut-scenes that Final Fantasy VII to XII have become famous for. Like Final Fantasy, it takes place in a world where the forces of magic freely mix with elements of Victorian-era industrial technology and great chunks of what you'd normally label sci-fi. Lost Odyssey looks a lot like a Final Fantasy game, and with music from FF series composer, Nobuo Uematsu, it also sounds a lot like a Final Fantasy game.
Of course, while it looks like a Final Fantasy game, Lost Odyssey does at least look like you'd imagine a Final Fantasy game would if rendered in glorious high-definition using the Unreal 3.0 engine. That means it looks glorious, narrowing the gap between in-game graphics and cut-scenes more successfully than any Japanese RPG we've seen before. Sure, the world has a few muddy textures and Mistwalker hasn't taken the characters down a totally photo-realistic route, but things like the weather effects, the water effects and the rendering and animation of the heroes are everything you would expect from an HD-era RPG. Architecture, creature design and the attention to detail shown in the character's hair, clothing or armour are frequently breathtaking. The cinematic depth of field effect is brilliantly employed.