Lost Odyssey and the Elusive Grown Up JRPG: So Close, Yet So Far

A few months ago, I wrote several hundred words beseeching the gaming gods to deliver unto us a grown up Japanese RPG. I asked for a turn-based battle system full of elemental and status-changing goodness wrapped in a mature story and presentation that starring adult characters with adult problems. I wasn’t necessarily looking for a game devoid of the genre’s stereotypical plucky teenage heroes, just one that focuses on mature concerns and deals with them seriously. A few commenters were nice enough to suggest I try Lost Odyssey.

After months of leaving the game at the top of my queue, Gamefly finally sent Lost Odyssey my way. I dove in greedily, immediately impressed with the epic opening cutscene that establishes main character Kaim as a legitimate immortal badass. Not even a meteor can take this guy down. The visuals are gorgeous. The turn-based battle system is tough but fair and requires just enough planning to keep the player engaged, even against lesser enemies. Boss battles deliver a real big fight feel and build enough tension to fill up the precipice on the other side of the fiscal cliff. If you screw up even one turn, you’re done. I screwed up a lot of turns, but I kept coming back for more.

Sadly, the part of Lost Odyssey I was most looking forward to–the grown up narrative touted by our readers–has left me a bit disappointed. Lost Odyssey certainly deals with some serious adult themes–the role of government, the disconnect between generations, the very nature of memory–but its presentation occasionally makes it hard to take seriously. Several important characters come off as just a bit too cartoony, which makes them difficult to take seriously. The voice acting is often flat or overly melodramatic, and sometimes it feels rushed, like the writer didn’t know exactly how much time the character was going to have to deliver certain lines. What could’ve been a poignant funeral scene was ruined by a tacked-on fetch quest to find flowers and a pointless torch lighting mini game. There’s a lot of narrative goodness here, but the presentation makes it less effective than it could have been.

The preceding is not meant to be an indictment of Lost Odyssey. It’s a very good game that’s kept me thoroughly entertained, both in terms of gameplay and story, but as far as the elusive grown up JRPG goes…this isn’t quite it. It’s close, though, so close that it pains me to say it doesn’t fill that void I’m looking to fill.

Where’s the turn-based JRPG with a narrative and tone similar to the original Mass Effect? Where’s the game that knows when to be serious and when to be funny? I’m not convinced such a game exists, but if it does, I’m going to find it. In the meantime, I won’t hesitate to recommend Lost Odyssey to anyone looking to satisfy a JRPG craving.

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