Lost Odyssey Brilliantly Explores The Tragedy Of Being Immortal
Last month, I wrote about the first leg of Lost Odyssey and how much I was enjoying it. The second disc and first half of the third have been even better. The worldbuilding is mysterious and intriguing, with each new section making me want to know more about the immortals I’m playing as. The narrative gets richer with each new set piece, the bond the characters have growing as they face off against enemies that come in a variety of forms.
The Wanderer of Darkness
Lost Odyssey’s storytelling acts almost like a counter argument against magic and immortality. About halfway into the game, your party enters the great city of Gohtza. It’s a technological marvel, revolutionised by magic industry. But when you talk to the citizens, they reveal that many people have lost their jobs due to magic automating their positions. Although the new industries have great benefits, they’ve also resulted in a stratified society where those who aren’t part of the elite are suffering. The contrast between the wealthy aristocrats and the people in Low Town is stark.
Adjacent to Gohtza is the city of Kent. Their people have been decimated by the magical meteor which struck them at the battle in the opening of the game. They are full of hatred at the immortal they blame for their loss (good thing they don’t recognise said immortal is the protagonist, Kaim!).
The argument for immortality doesn’t fare much better. The burden of long life takes a terrible emotional toll on those who carry it. You learn at the end of Disc 1 that Kaim’s wife, Sarah, is still alive. During their search for Sarah, the party hears rumours about an Old Sorceress who is very dangerous. You have to confront her since she has sealed off a cave your party needs to cross.
That ends up taking your party to Kaim’s old house. Within its walls, your party uses a series of magic mirrors to travel from the decrepit state the mansion has become to the past where everything is spick and span.
The dissolution and messy remains are metaphorical for the Old Sorceress’s state of mind. She is surrounded by four Bodies of Thought, each utilising one of the elements. They take turns attacking her from all angles, but never turn their attack against the party. The party’s goal is to save her from killing herself. Since each of the Bodies is comprised of a different element, you have to be careful how you fight.
During the battle, the Old Sorceress will unleash a desperate scream. This changes up all the elements so that an approach that worked previously won’t be effective anymore and might actually hurt her. It’s only after you defeat all the Bodies of Thought that you realise Sarah is underneath the veil of the Old Sorceress. Driven to depression by the realisation that her daughter was dead, she had been torturing herself for decades.
Even after destroying the Bodies of Thought, Sarah’s depression nearly overwhelms her again. It’s only thanks to her grandchildren, Cooke and Mack, singing an old lullaby, that Sarah finds some semblance of serenity. As Sarah realises Kaim is back, they slowly make their way through the world together, supporting each other through their grief. Kaim is driven by his desire to avenge his daughter, while Sarah finds motivation in the love of her grandchildren.
Having a kid of our own gave this situation much more gravity. More than any of the Dream flashbacks or cutscenes, this battle revealed so much about the plight of immortality. What would seeing the deaths of those dear to them, and the number of them accumulating with the passing centuries, do to their minds? What seems like a boon for Sarah and Kaim is actually a curse. Their desolation increases with every passing year. There’s an understandable reason why Kaim doesn’t seem all that eager to retrieve his memories.
Eclipse of Time
Their amnesia takes on an entirely new wrinkle when they confront the man who caused their memory loss, Gongora. Gongora is a fellow immortal and a powerful magician who wants to build a magic engine called the Grand Staff. In your first battle against him in the Experimental Staff, he annihilates your party. I’m so grateful for this gameplay/narrative choice. Multiple RPGs come to mind where you confront an ultimate villain for the first time and proceed to give them a spanking. The villain laughs it off and says something along the lines of, I’ll be back for you later. But because you’ve already defeated them, they don’t seem as deadly anymore (one of the examples that immediately comes to mind is Seymour from FFX).
In Lost Odyssey, there’s no doubt who has the upper hand. But it’s not just Gongora’s physical and magical abilities that make him so powerful. Having retained all his memories, he accuses Kaim and his fellow immortal of being traitors to a noble cause. Their memory loss was a punishment for their misdeeds. This accusation makes them question if their odyssey is even a righteous one. But Gongora seems to be struggling against demons of his own as he’s in a mentally fraught state in the Experimental Staff. It’s not clear yet who’s on the right. It would make for a surprising twist if it turned out that Gongora is actually fighting for a good cause, while Kaim and company, having lost their memories, are actually the villains. As Kaim states, “If the record of a thousand years shows that I am really a traitor, then I’ll have to accept that, and pay the price.”
Magic has obvious positive effects, like being able to heal the people around them. But in the merchant town of Saman, it’s had a strange influence. The villagers walk around in a zombified state, shrouded in a purple aura, giving free rein to their egos. One of the wealthy merchants in the city openly brags about the wealth he’s accumulated through corrupt methods. A man in the Erlio Family House spends all his time talking to a doll. “Can’t you see I’m quite occupied right now? Stop bothering me,” he snaps at you. Then to the doll, “Darling, I love you so much. You are the one that I love the most in this world.” A car called Zak laughs at you and calls you pathetic. Another car called Jack complains, “Ugh, every day I go around dealing with rude people and carrying their heavy bags. Then they kick me when I’m not running well.” If you’ve ever wondered what your car thinks of you, magic can tell you the truth.
It’s these weird encounters in each of the towns that reminds me so much of what I love and have missed about JRPGs. Every city feels like a brand new experience full of quirky denizens. It’s been a long time since I’ve been this excited about seeing what’s next in the journey.
There’s a lot of variety in the gameplay and boss battles. In the Experimental Staff, some of the areas are giant puzzles where you’re shifting machines and opening up new pathways. Wind caves, slippery slopes, and thieving enemies, make the ice canyon a gruelling trial. The battle preceding the Experimental Staff, which is against a Mantala, can be extremely difficult if you don’t plan each step. That’s because every time you attack the Mantala, it hides in the ocean and summons smaller Mantas in its place. You have to time your attacks, defensive manoeuvres, and spells to perfectly align the strongest blows on the Mantala. Otherwise, the battle can go forever.
Fortunately, there’s not that much grinding to do when it comes to experience points. Any time you enter a new area, your characters will level up quickly to where they should be. The reason you still need to engage in fights is to increase skill link levels from the mortals and get SP from bands to learn new abilities. I did find a way to grind my characters beyond their normal levels at the Numara Atolls. Silver Kelolons dot the beach side (they’re akin to the metal slimes of Dragon Quest in giving you a heck of a lot of EXP). If your party has gained the Gamble spell, which is done by praying at all the Kelolon statues in Tosca Village, it makes beating the Silver Kelelons feasible on a predictable basis. I overpowered my characters within a few battles.
Each of the characters gets their chance to shine in battles and more importantly, the story. In an optional cutscene with Ming when you escape Numara, she sees a monument off the shore and recalls a past battle. She saved the city by turning a huge Arthrosaurus into stone, which was how the monument came to be. But the flashback causes her pain and it’s not clear why, making me wonder about her past. Cooke and Mack are always getting into trouble, including one scene where they hijack a magical train in the hopes of communicating with their mother again. Their hopefulness through some of the darker moments in the game help the characters cope with their circumstances. Jansen, the comic relief, turns against his benefactor, Gongora, in favour of the immortals. He lifts up the bag of gold Gongora had bribed him with and says he’d throw it back out of a sense of outrage, but then decides to keep it since he figures there’d be no point in giving up the money. Jansen always remains in character, even in his outrage.
The dreams in the first disc focused on Kaim’s memories. In the second, there are several dreams that your pirate immortal, Seth, regains, and they’re heartbreaking. That is, if you take the time to read them. As I mentioned in the first part of my Lost Odyssey retrospective, I really wish there could have been a way for these sequences to have been more seamlessly integrated. The way it currently stands, the two things that take me out of the immersion of the gameplay are the long load screens (I know I’m playing off disc, but some of these load screens are really distracting) and the dreams. I want to read them as they’re very good, but every time I do, it feels like I’m being sucked away from the world. At the same time, I realise they’re an additional layer, meant to add texture to the narrative, and entirely optional. Just their existence is something I’m grateful for. Who knew reading the story about a shoemaker could be so emotional?
I know some people, including myself, have described Lost Odyssey as a spiritual successor to Final Fantasy. While there’s some truth to that, especially due to the developers being who they are, there’s also a lot the game does to weave together its own distinctive identity. This middle act is where the game went from being a lost odyssey to an epic one. I can’t wait to see how it all ends.