However, there’s no getting past the fact that Lost Odyssey doesn’t play like an HD-era RPG. You’ll understand this from your first random monster encounter, as a whole lot of nothing in the wilderness suddenly turns out to be a motley crew of savage beasts, and the screen warps to show the sort of preparing-for-battle animation we saw in Final Fantasy VII back in 1997. Where FFXII brought us monsters you could see coming and an AI-controlled party aided by a programmable gambit system, Lost Odyssey takes us back to sudden scraps where you run through each member of the party in order, telling them to attack, defend or use an item or magic spell. Then you watch as the ensuing round of combat takes place, heroes and enemies taking polite turns to batter or blast each other senseless. When it’s over, your victorious heroes run through their cheerful celebration anthem, again like it’s still 1997. It’s like going back in time, only much, much prettier than you remember.
Still, just as they did in Blue Dragon, Mistwalker has tried to introduce some new tweaks. Firstly, your party doesn’t have to be arranged in one long line; you can place spellcasters in a rank behind your bruisers and brawlers and give them a better chance of survival. Secondly, and again like Blue Dragon, combat has been given a real-time element. Here it’s the ring system; give each of your characters an enchanted battle ring, and when it’s their turn to strike a blow, you squeeze and hold the right trigger. A circular indicator now appears over your chosen monster, while another circle shrinks rapidly on top. Release the trigger at the optimum moment and you achieve the perfect hit, dishing out an extra helping of damage for the beast in question. Time it not so well, and the damage bonus isn’t so impressive. Blow it badly, and you’ll even take the edge of the damage by a little. It’s a more interesting system than it might sound, partly because it forces you to do something in combat rather than just make your decisions then sit back and twiddle your thumbs while the battle rages on.
On top of this, the battle rings themselves are the subject of a surprisingly deep system of customisation, whereby various minerals, substances and miscellaneous chunks of dead monster can be worked into new rings with different properties. Some offer general benefits like a straight damage bonus or the ability to build up health or magic while defending, while others are tailored to the destruction of particular groups of monsters – most have some elemental relationship (fire, earth, air, water) and fit into either organic or mechanical categories, and with the right ring you’ll do additional damage to them. While you can customise rings on your own, there’s also a useful ring-smith wandering around who can combine existing rings into new configurations. It’s one of the easiest and most effective crafting systems to grasp that I’ve ever come across.