Lost Odyssey also fits in some deep and rewarding skills and magic systems. Interestingly, two of your initial party line-up are immortal – which proves handy as they auto-resurrect after a few turns in battle. To balance this, your superhuman heroes are incapable of learning new skills or levels of magic as they level up. Instead, they need to link to a mortal character and learn the skills from them, or develop new skills by using various enchanted items. I know it sounds tedious, but it’s actually surprisingly compelling as you work out ways in which to get your team immune to poison or up to speed with the latest, greatest spells. Magic, meanwhile, scales up nicely, with elemental relationships again having an important place, and the various attack and defensive spells growing more spectacular as time goes on.
All the same, Lost Odyssey definitely feels rather retro, and some aspects of the game are either bewildering or just plain dumb. You will spend a lot of time watching loading screens – even if individually the loading times are fairly short – and the gaps between save points can be huge. In one case I totted up a good fifty minutes before I saw the next sparkly golden globe that told me I could save. In a game that features some fairly brutal random encounters, this can be hugely irritating. Even more annoyingly, Lost Odyssey has a habit of throwing in set-piece battles or boss encounters where the strength of your enemy’s attack seems totally out of proportion to the current powers of your party. Less than two hours in you’ll meet one who can wipe out every one of your heroes within two turns, and there are several other brick walls of difficulty that you’ll meet later on. Part of me wants to defend these battles on the basis that they produce interesting tactical challenges – and they do – but another part is telling me that a few less dedicated RPG fans might give up at such points and return the game to the shop from whence it came. This would be a tragedy.
You see, despite all its dated elements and numerous annoyances, Lost Odyssey is easily the most enjoyable, addictive and compulsive Japanese RPG I’ve played in several years, for the simple reason that its story-telling is majestic. The central figure, Kaim, isn’t yet another surly teen or plucky urchin, but an immortal man who has had his memories stolen and his heart worn down by the cruelties of life and the passage of time. His gradual reawakening to emotion is a genuinely heart-wrenching experience. His story begins like any old tough guy on a mission narrative – albeit one with a spectacular disaster-movie opening – but as the game moves on it shifts seamlessly from political drama to war epic to family melodrama and beyond. Along the way we get betrayals, surprising alliances, a touch of romance, military coups and official conspiracies, the odd spot of rather silly comedy and even a weirdly touching funeral. Bar a few slips, the tale is superbly told.