The Xbox 360 is a console that really seems to be starved of decent RPG's, and Lost Odyssey turns out to be no exception. Upon starting the game, one of the first things you might notice are the absurd load times. I mean, this *might* have been acceptable in the days of the Playstation 1, where video games met the CD format, but in this generation it's inexcusable. Speaking of the good old days, try to remember all the way back to when you played Final Fantasy VIII. WOW! Look at this huge case, with 4 discs inside! Kind of exciting! Not to mention the fact that each of those discs had a substantial amount of gameplay on them. So why would Lost Odyssey possibly have 4 discs? Now I don't claim to know the development process. All I know is I've played games that have at least this much "stuff" on one disc (FFX comes to mind). I think I reached disc 4 after about 30 hours of gameplay. It just seems excessive.
Aside from these two issues, Lost Odyssey is, technically speaking, very good. That is to say, there's nothing actually WRONG with the game. No freezes, no getting stuck in walls, no weird glitches where you have to reset the console, anything like that. Everything moves smoothly, the sound effects match the actions, etc. The game looks great to boot. The cinematic sequences look amazing on the 360, although I would have liked more of them. Backgrounds and environments are lush as well.
Now for the problems. Let's start with the "soundtrack". In the few areas where there actually is music, it's fair at best. So much so that even a mediocre track by another game's standards was welcome. One of the very few RPG's that I've played where I had no problems turning on a custom soundtrack, even with Nobuo Uematsu at the helm of this game.
The battle system seems alright for the first 50-100 battles. After that it gets fairly tedious. Basic attacks strongly benefit from the use of the ring system, which requires that the player hold the trigger down, releasing it at the proper time. It is absolutely necessary in the later battles and makes you pay attention while fighting, but that doesn't make it innovative or even fun. I seem to recall doing something very similar (yet much better) during battles in "Legend of Dragoon" (PS1). There's nothing special about the battle music or enemies, and again the load times between the field and battle screens are annoyingly lengthy.
The ring creation system is average. It's similar to the alchemy or item creation systems of other RPG's, just much simpler. Luckily most of the "ingredients" become purchasable later in the game, so there's no need to slaughter the same enemy hundreds of times looking for that rare drop. While it may seem refreshing to have a simpler item creation system, this one is very limiting in what you can create (only attack boosting items, and not a large variety of them).
On to the leveling system, which I found to be extremely frustrating. I'll present the basic scenario that happens in almost every new area in the game. The first battles are very difficult and may last around 5-10 minutes or so. ALL characters will (almost guaranteed) level up after the battle for the first (maybe) two or 3 battles, regardless of level. After that, the experience gain grinds to a dead halt. The battles hardly get any easier and still last the same appalling amount of time, but now instead of gaining 100 exp (which is ALWAYS the amount needed to level up), the characters will each gain approximately 5 experience. Essentially you end up running from every battle after the first three, because there's no point in fighting. What the designers also did was implement a system that does not allow for multiple levels up in one battle. This is fine in general because it prevents gross differences in character levels in the same party, but (for example) if you fight a difficult battle and one character has 90 experience, they will gain only 10 and that's it, because they leveled up. I understand that the developers seem to want to cut down on power leveling, which is fine, but in the same swing they ruined many other aspects of the experience and battle system. It has the chance to work in the future, it just needs to be fine-tuned.
The downloadable content (which includes some items and a bonus dungeon) is almost a joke. The extra dungeon in particular boggled my mind in that every level (picture a giant tower) looks physically identical to the next, with only a few items moved around. Questionable.
One of the most important things about any RPG is the characters. If the player doesn't like the people they're playing as, there's little reason to continue playing. The story of Lost Odyssey is intriguing for sure, with a bunch of immortals running around, and it's executed just fine. The problem is there are a few characters that just ruin all the storytelling. Luckily the main characters and the rest of the immortals are bearable, Kaim (the main character) is a typical cold-shouldering bastard, nothing we haven't seen before, but his character development is decent, as is that of the other immortals. However, one of the main characters, Jansen, is so annoying that I was seriously hoping that he would be killed off within 5 minutes of his introduction. Also, two of your party members are excessively irritating children. Not only are the voices themselves of these three characters almost unbearable, but their speech and actions are bothersome to the point of sheer bewilderment. I found myself shaking my head at the cutscenes involving them more than a handful of times.
The one very bright spot in this game are a series of in-game short stories called A Thousand Years of Dreams. These 10-to-15 minute long (reading-wise, advanced at your own space) stories not only flesh out the characters, they are genuinely entertaining to read. The background music and the presentation of the text varies from story to story, and really sets a proper mood for each different one. I never imagined the best time I'd have in an RPG was reading text. It doesn't hurt that Jansen isn't in any of them either.
Lost Odyssey is simply an average RPG. It's not BAD, everything works, there's just nothing remarkable about it. I know a lot of work went in from a lot of people, but in a next-gen RPG I would really like something to get excited about. Word is the RPG genre is getting stale, and I think there's no better example than Lost Odyssey.