“Lost Odyssey,” from “Final Fantasy” creator Hironobu Sakaguchi’s nascent Mistwalker studio, spoons out tasty comfort food for disciples of Japanese role-playing games. Packed with sorrowful writing, ethereal tunes, lugubrious amnesiacs, and immaculate vistas, it’s a fantasy love letter with a predictable payload. Twitchy players primed for a “Final Fantasy”-like experience won’t find it here, but sales will be brisk to devotees of the Xbox, which suffers from a dearth of schmaltzy Eastern RPG’s.
Sprawling, menu-laden and melodramatic, with colorful look that’s Jules Verne by way of James Clavell, “Lost Odyssey” entices by degrees. Its protagonist, the immortal Kaim, spends most of the game’s initial dozen hours in a mumbling daze, his lone avatar trawling the edges of illusively spacious forests, caves and baroque cityscapes for pots, treasure chests and exit points, interrupted only by random battles that feel cleanly designed but creatively parochial.
Eventually he bumps into two supporting characters — Seth, a former pirate and fellow immortal, and Jansen, a modish harlequin who teases, kvetches … and even sounds a bit like Ray Romano. The interactions between these three and others they meet are undeniably amusing, occasionally even heartbreaking, thanks in large part to director Takehiko Inoue’s knack for pairing trembling lips and lifelike tears with “Final Fantasy” composer Nobuo Uematsu’s doleful melodic vignettes. And those faces and bodies are rendered magnificently with the aid of the powerful “Unreal 3” Engine.
The tendency toward sentimentalism occasionally drives “Lost Odyssey” into schmaltz, especially during flashbacks penned by award-winning Japanese novelist Kiyoshi Shigematsu. These blocks of sappy prose from a collection dubbed “A Thousand Years of Dreams” which Kaim stumbles on sporadically, read like a cheap attempt to forklift in his backstory and pass the lack of cinematic accompaniment off as “contemplative.”
For all the grandeur of a plot involving latent monarchies, politico conspiracies, and immortals adrift in time, these and other sequences unfold with the solemnity of a History Channel documentary that exacerbates the paint-by-numbers gameplay.
Battles grow as the party expands and skills and spells multiply. Instead of learning skills innately, immortals like Kaim must assign links to mortal party members to learn their abilities over time, which certainly sounds interesting. But since that means everyone can — and will — effectively learn everything, parties tend to begin intriguingly only to become homogenized over time.
Still, it’s hard not to appreciate “Lost Odyssey” for what it is: a gorgeous, complex, mammoth grab-bag of stuff RPG fans dig, along with a few things they don’t. Getting into it requires a certain investment in the genre, which is comparatively slow-paced and talky. But the four DVD’s worth of content should help even twitchy first-person shooters kill plenty of time while waiting for “Final Fantasy XIII.”