Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Lost Odyssey: Mortals and Immortals

After clearing Grandia last week, the game that I have been playing the most of has been Lost Odyssey for the XBox 360. Honestly, it feels more like a Final Fantasy game than Final Fantasy XII does, so I have been enjoying it quite a bit. The main premise of the game is that the main character, like several other major characters, is an immortal who has lived unchanging for one thousand years. However, while Lost Odyssey has plenty of game mechanics in place to help tell the story of immortal characters traversing the ages and a strong base concept, it doesn't seem to really take advantage of what it has in place.

Lost Odyssey splits all party members into two groups: immortals and mortals, and uses different mechanics to determine what skills and abilities they have. Mortals are pretty straight-forward: they gain new spell levels, skills, and passive abilities as part of leveling up. For example, Cooke gains White Magic spells and abilities to augment her healing magic as she levels up. On the other hand, Immortals acquire Skills through two methods: learning a skill that a Mortal knows by fighting alongside that Mortal, and permanently learning a Skill from an equipped accessory. Furthermore, Immortals acquire more Skill Slots (and thus the ability to equip more learned Skills) by using items called Slot Seeds. As a result, Immortals tend to be much more flexible than Mortals, with greater access to passive abilities and complex combinations of abilities. Between the Immortals' added versatility and potential power over Mortal characters and the strong story emphasis on them, the Immortal characters tend to stand out as main characters over the Mortals. In many ways, the game system seems perfectly suited to telling a multi-generational story, where you have a fixed number of Immortal characters in the party at all times, and a large cast of Mortal characters who enter and leave the party as the story progresses and the years flow by. Unfortunately, that is not what the game designers opted to do.

Instead of telling a story that crosses the ages, Lost Odyssey has so far played out like a fairly ordinary RPG. Despite the fact that Kaim Argonar and the other Immortals have a thousand years of history behind them, most of the major plot points seem to have taken place within the last thirty or so years of the game. At the same time, most of the major character development for the Immortals took place in the unseen past. Most of this backstory is conveyed to the player through the "Thousand Years of Dreams", a collection of short stories written in the first person that can be viewed whenever the party rests at an inn. However, almost all of the dreams that I have viewed are stories more focused on various people Kaim has met across his journeys, instead of on Kaim's own character development. So, Lost Odyssey has so far felt like a game with a typical RPG plot and limited character development for the central characters. I am hoping this will change as the game goes.

I think a multigenerational story would have worked much better. That way, the player could watch the character development of the Immortals first hand, as opposed to learning about it after the fact. The game's story as a whole would have stood out much more as well. The real shame is that the game system seems so perfectly suited for such a story that it feels like wasted potential.

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