Sunday, October 12, 2008

Lost & Found: Console RPG Love

I hate RPGs. Let me back up a little bit-- I used to love RPGs, along with every other holier-than-thou gamer who, in high school, turned up their noses at anyone who bought the original PlayStation for Madden and not Final Fantasy VII. Clearly, the unwashed masses were missing out on the greatest thing ever.

Flash forward a few years later and well, it seemed the genre was getting boring-- and it was spilling over into another favored genre, the adventure game. (Or "action RPG," if you will, and I won't.) Final Fantasy VIII I played through to the end twice without seeing the ending-- damn that last boss/my not having enough magic. Final Fantasy IX, I loved, and Final Fantasy X was more or less tossed on the "play later" pile for a couple of years. (And XI could suck it thanks to its monthly fee.) FFX was the last RPG I bought (not counting GameBoy Advance ports of NES and Super NES games, of course) and later the new Zelda for Wii slammed the coffin shut on adventure games for a while, too. (As neither Wind Waker, Ocarina of Time, nor Twilight Princess held on to me long enough to beat it.) Obviously, I was flushing money down a toilet.

Last week I scored a $15 copy of Lost Odyssey, and so far I'm liking it. It feels more like a Final Fantasy than VIII or X, in both the good and the bad ways. It's deeply flawed and as a storytelling medium, a little scatterbrained. Yet it's actually making me want to play it for reasons I can't quite figure out yet. As I approach what I presume is the end of the first disc (of four), the real story has yet to be revealed. The first combat takes place when the game starts, and the next is over two hours later. There's a lot of background and introduction, and the title is highly indulgent. Let me explain how, and this falls under the schizo storytelling I mentioned before. (And yes, I know this game came out months ago, but you're reading this still so blah.)

In Final Fantasy I-IX, the story was told with text-- there was little or no recorded dialogue in the game. X introduced limited dialogue for many of the major events, and that's exactly what we have here. Some of the story is told with the standard text windows-- like in the 8-, 16-, and 32-bit games. Some is like on whatever the Playstation 2 was. And the weird thing is that more still is told in the forms of these "dreams" you have to unlock-- the main character's life is told in flashbacks, which are actually short stories. Really, they come off as more or less parables or novels, in that they involve the main character and "a man" or "some guy" and no other named people. I don't know if I like it, but it's an interesting way to eat up game time and extend the narrative with nearly no extra storage space being wasted-- and since it's on 4 DVDs, there's a lot of storage space, much of which likely being wasted.

A significant portion of the game so far is cut scenes. I've probably watched 60% of the play time, as there is a lot of story being crammed down my throat. In old generations, this sort of time would be spent wandering an overworld and leveling up, something this game seems to discourage. It really wants you to advance the plot, and as such, random battles aren't always easily available to you. As of yet. Like I said, I'm on disc 1 here.

Despite being from Mistwalker (founded by ex-Square, ex-FF people) this game is more Final Fantasy than Final Fantasy. A mysterious brooding hero with memory problems? Line-up combat with limited animation? A bizarre system of learning new abilities? Chicks with bare midriffs everywhere and a queen with a thong of sorts? It's all here. Heck, there's even a sequence when you get stuck in a dungeon and have to escape-- if ever there is a Square drinking game, this should be one of the main components. That and "..." as dialogue, which this game has as well.

With the advent of the downloadable arcade game, I've figured that game value can more or less be quantified thusly: $0.25 for about 10 minutes of fun is basically fair. With lots of getting my ass handed to me by the first boss, I've probably clocked in about 8 hours, and paid $15 for the game on ye olde clearance rack. This means I'm extremely close to getting my money's worth, which is fantastic. I'm told by reviewers that the entire game is 50-70 hours, and I'm currently going to shoot for it. I said the same thing about Twilight Princess last year and haven't touched it since, so who knows. Wish me luck, as now I'm going back and forth between Lost Odyssey and Mega Man 9 and I gotta beat something soon.

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