It helps that the other characters are also surprisingly likable, whether they’re hoodwinked royals, compassionate pirates or foppish would-be Casanovas. Each has his or her own character arc, and even if some of the turns and twists prove predictable, there’s always something enigmatic or exciting that makes you want to know more. And when it comes to it, Lost Odyssey is probably the most successful RPG tear-jerker since you-know-who coughed it in Final Fantasy VII. Some of the game’s strange emotional depth comes from the dream-memories Kaim awakens as he makes progress through the tale. Presented as simple text short stories these slowly flesh out Kaim’s part and personality, filling in what it feels like to tread the earth while generation after generation of friends, comrades, children and lovers are born, live and die. Written by an acclaimed Japanese novelist and thoughtfully translated, they’re more haunting than a hundred brash cut-scenes ever could be.
In the end, all those dated mechanics and potentially game-wrecking annoyances don’t count for much when put against the pull of the characters and story – particularly when, while hardly forward-looking, the actual pace and experience of the gameplay is really very good. After all, wasn’t Final Fantasy XII – for all its innovations and intelligent new ideas – a little bit boring a lot of the time? Lost Odyssey is a stately game and too traditional for its own benefit, yet the more I play it, the more it feels like the War and Peace of Japanese RPGs; sprawling in scale and ambition, yet strangely intimate at the same time – a game that can deliver on the big moments, but also on the smaller stage as well. I’d love to give it a nine and tell you all to go and buy it, but given the game’s various issues and the rather slow build-up at the start I guess that an eight is a fairer score. Forget the ratings, however, and forget any disparaging Final Fantasy comparisons you might have come across elsewhere. If you know and like Japanese RPGs – or even if you used to – then Lost Odyssey is one that you really ought to play.
It might have one foot firmly stuck in the past, but Lost Odyssey’s ambitious, emotionally-charged storytelling is leagues ahead of the more progressive Final Fantasy XII. A seriously flawed classic, but a classic all the same.