I wish I were immortal just so I could play all the games on my backlog. Lost Odyssey for the Xbox 360 is about immortals who’ve lived over a thousand years and they’ve experienced a lot. Maybe too much. Life has taken its toll and the only thing that’s made it bearable is the involuntary amnesia that was inflicted on them by fellow immortal, Gongora. Finally having finished the game, I felt its age in both a metaphorical sense and a literal one. It took me three restarts to actually complete the odyssey and even then, it took me almost half a year as I chipped away at it, writing two retrospectives earlier at Kotaku about that journey. Like every good RPG’s conclusion, I felt a sense of sadness at the idea of parting with these characters I’d spent so much time with. Even if they were digital companions, at least for the final leg of the journey, they felt real.
Time flies by unevenly and there’s both a sense of envy and sadness at what the immortals are gifted with when even family can become a curse. The burden of a thousand years of memories is overwhelming and it’s even implied that only by having lost their memories were they able to cope with them.
The party pursues the evil Gongora to Grand Staff where the abandoned remains of Gongora’s magical experiments lurk about, ready to unleash their rage on the party. Gongora, unsurprisingly for a monomaniac, wants to harness the power of a god. I did wonder if Gongora and his obsession with defying his fate would have been better served if he’d simply forgotten about his past too. His retaining of his memories has denied him the melodrama of an identity crisis and he’s instead directed a thousand years of frustration towards his homeworld. He lacks the subtlety of emotion that marks the other immortals who are tired of their long lives. Each of them struggles to find a reason to continue, as with Kaim wanting revenge for his daughter, or Ming taking her position as queen and protecting her people.
Ming’s dream is one of the most painful. As the queen, she is faced with conspiracy after conspiracy from aspiring usurpers trying to take the throne. She feels a sense of weary futility at the interminable struggle, knowing that ultimate power isn’t really worth it. At the same time, she maintains her authority in the hopes of doing good through her reign. When General Kakanas pretends to submit to the queen, she plays along, but already knows what he’s up to. Rather than a sense of satisfaction at defeating his attempted coup, there’s a resigned disappointment that understands human nature and its insatiable greed. In light of her understandable cynicism, her romance with the mortal playboy mage, Jansen, felt forced. Even though I like both characters, the music video meant to set up their relationship came out of nowhere. While I know love, even between immortals and mortals, doesn’t need to make sense for it to happen, it was probably one of the bigger narrative missteps overall. The fact that the game ends with their wedding felt like an unearned climax rather than the culmination of something that happened naturally.
Gameplay wise, I did feel disappointed by the final stretch as I overpowered my characters, making what should have been the most difficult bosses in the game the easiest. The immortals have the ability to learn skills from the mortal characters, whereas the mortal characters have to slowly learn their skills through grinding and experience. The vampiric relationship means the immortals can essentially siphon their abilities and master them, as with Jansen. Since Jansen is a black magic specialist, it means all your immortals can become powerful black mages too, at which point, he was no longer a key member of my party.
That last open spot went to the pirate son of the immortal Seth named Sed (his name is a nod to the Final Fantasy icon, Cid). The Lost Odyssey pilot, who appears much gruffer and older than Seth, still yells, “Momma!” eliciting playful incredulity in the mortals. His ship, the Nautilus can jump into the air and transform into an airship. He’s one of my favorite Cids and the freedom to explore an overworld map was a welcome one since the Final Fantasys of that console generation had done away with them.
There are two side quests that break the balance of the game. The Royal Seal quest is one of those with the special accessories and weapons your characters gain. The objective is easy; find seals throughout the world that only Prince Tolten can unlock.
A weak and cowardly prince who gets manipulated by Gongora, Tolten is a frustrating character on whom all of his privilege is wasted. If he hadn’t been so naive, he could have thwarted Gongola instead of handing him the reins of power. Gongora instead attempts an assassination of Tolten. He uses the fake news about the prince’s death (even though Tolten is alive) to declare war on their rival, Gohtza, eliminating their main force using his magical abilities. Gongora then ascends the throne.
Tolten has some excellent skills for the immortals to learn from and has a huge advantage with the items he gains. The Royal Knight’s Emblem gives the biggest HP boost for the immortals, while the Quad-Element Amulet gives them the ability to absorb all elemental damage, essentially nullifying most magic attacks. On top of that, Tolten is gifted the most powerful sword in the game, Age of the King, by defeating the Golden Knight. Technically, only Tolten could use it, but after the immortals learned the skill called Royal Equipment, I gave the best weapons to the immortals and never used Tolten again. It’s only good to be the king if everyone around you isn’t immortal.
Another indispensable item is the 1000 Year Memories which increases the accessible skill slots of immortals by ten. After having scoured the world for slot seeds and fighting enemies in the Backyard, which is this game’s version of a gladiatorial match, I didn’t know what to do with all the empty spots. My party was invulnerable to almost every type of attack, gaining three accessories, doubling SP and exp, having an automatic shield and barrier on, and upping their combat and magic strength.
Lost Odyssey tries to mix the gameplay up with every one of its dungeons. In the Temple of Ancients, the convoluted and labyrinthine structures forces players to use all the party members by splitting them up. Since I’d primarily used my immortals until then, this put me in the position of fighting with characters I’d rarely used. This increased the sense of connection I felt with them as I got to put their abilities to the test. I do wish there was a JRPG that let me use every member I’ve recruited at the same time. Ten party members attacking enemies at the same time would be pretty awesome.
The gameplay maintains this variety when it comes to the boss fights. The master of the Temple of Ancients is probably the hardest enemy in the game because it requires a very specific strategy in relation to the row tactics. Since it resides in the back and lets its Keystone guards wreak havoc, one of the immortals has to use Break Hit which ignores the row any enemy is in. Your party has to take down the Left Keystone or else the fiend counters every physical attack, making the Break Hit moot. Once that’s done, one of the mages has to cast Powerus on Seth and Kaim, who in turn pound away at the beast. If you make the understandable mistake of defeating both Keystones, the fiend starts unleashing Shadowus’ which can inflict a whole lot of damage. If you don’t use Break Hit, most of your hits will barely land since the fiend is in the back row.
Unfortunately, that sense of tactics and creativity didn’t apply to the final villain, Gongora. His hits barely landed and my immortals made mincemeat out of him as they were way too powerful. It didn’t take me a thousand years to learn immortality can make life boring.
There are things I would have loved to have learned by the end. How did Sarah and Kaim actually meet? Did they have a relationship before they arrived, or did it develop after their immortality? And what’s on the other side that Gongora dreads so much?
I was sad when my journey came to an end. It wasn’t just the characters I was saying farewell to though, but a type of game I’d grown up with. Namely, the Final Fantasy games under Sakaguchi’s supervision; epic, operatic, with turn-based combat, sublime music by Nobuo Uematsu, and prerendered cutscenes to make me marvel. While there’s a lot to like about modern Final Fantasy games, their game design philosophy is so different from their predecessors that it’s like playing a different franchise; I have no issue with that as evolution is necessary. But in Lost Odyssey, I felt like I got to play one of the old Final Fantasy games all over again.
I would have loved to have known what happened to Seth and Gongora. Also, what’ll happen to Ming and Jansen after a few decades? Seeing them a thousand years later would have been amazing. Or maybe time would have been even harsher to them? While the ending tone seems optimistic, if there’s anything we’ve learned from the memories of the first thousand years, it’s that life is an unpredictable cycle whose only guarantee is pain and suffering. For these immortals, these brief moments of respite are the best they can long for.
It’s unfortunate that despite the immortality of the characters, their videogame fate had an expiration date, making Lost Odyssey truly their final fantasy.