Stepping into an elevator after seeing Mistwalker and I.T. Planning's upcoming Xbox 360 RPG Lost Odyssey, another member of the gaming press asked what it was like, explaining he hadn't gotten to see it yet. "Have you played Final Fantasy?" I responded, eliciting a few nods and chuckles from those who had also attended the presentation.
With Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi handling the design of the game and Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu behind the music, it should come as little surprise that Lost Odyssey bears a striking resemblance to the duo's past work. As a Microsoft representative outlined the game's basic features, it was hard to shake the feeling that I've seen it all before.
Lost Odyssey stars Kaim, an immortal who has lived for over 1000 years, and in true RPG fashion, can't remember any of it. As the game progresses, he'll recall more and more of his past exploits while dreaming. These repressed memories are presented in the form of short stories penned by Japanese novelist Kiyoshi Shigematsu, and once unlocked are available to read at any time under the "A Thousand Years of Dreams" menu option.
Across the game's story, which is set in the midst of a world revolutionized by the sudden appearance of magic, Kaim will run across three other immortals like himself, as well as five mortals. A straight playthrough of this adventure is said to last between 40 and 50 hours.
In terms of battle, Lost Odyssey operates on the same turn-based principles as Final Fantasy. A turn indicator in the lower left-hand corner of the screen displays the order in which the characters will attack. Certain attacks, such as a powerful magic spell, will take a bit longer to charge than a standard physical attack. During a battle atop a moving train, for example, main character Kaim was able to attack with his sword multiple times while the busty spellcaster Sarah prepared a fiery magical assault.
Disappointingly, most of the battles in Lost Odyssey will be of the random encounter variety, with players lunged into battle against previously invisible foes without warning.
However, there are a few slight twists to the otherwise standard battle system. Since Kaim and a few of the other party members are immortal, they automatically revive after a few turns if they lose all of their HP. However, the mortal members will still need to be manually revived, either through spell or item. If the entire party happens passes out at the same time, it's game over.
Another twist brings an action element to the otherwise turn-based proceedings. When a physical attack is executed, pulling the right trigger will boost the damage a character deals out, the exact bonus depending on the timing of the pull.
Certain battles will also require the use of surrounding objects during battle. While fighting a mammoth black monster reminiscent of something from Iria: Zeriam the Animation, the party could target a nearby crane that coincidentally held a number of explosives suspended above the monster. After sustaining enough damage, the crane released its payload and the battle was over. The Microsoft representative claimed that strategic battles such as this would occur about once an hour during normal gameplay.
On a personal note, I have to say that I'm a bit unsure about the character designs, which seem so sexually charged that it is almost excessive. Three female characters were shown throughout the presentation, each displaying an ample abundance of cleavage. One in particular, a princess, appears to be wearing crotchless pants, calling emphasis to her bikini bottom panties.
While Lost Odyssey's apparent resemblance to Final Fantasy is far from a bad thing--the Xbox 360 could certainly use an RPG of that franchise's caliber--it's certainly disappointing for those hoping for an evolution of Sakaguchi's past work. Still, what I've seen is only a small glimpse of the overall game, and I'm willing to give Lost Odyssey the benefit of the doubt as its winter release draws closer.