I really wanted this game to be fantastic. Take most of the previous Final Fantasy crew—Hironobu Sakaguchi, Nobuo Uematsu especially, but even manga artist Takehiko Inoue and former Square employees—and throw in the Unreal Engine 3, bake for a couple years, and what should you come out with? In theory, a revolutionary RPG. In practice? A "Final Fantasy" game for the Xbox 360. Which is, I think, okay in the end.Let's get the gameplay out of the way at first. It's essentially Final Fantasy. Sakaguchi knows how to make Final Fantasy, and Final Fantasy is what he's made. You'll recognize the attacks, the menus, the walking around, and even the damage numbers that come up over your head as Final Fantasy-esque. People who were looking for innovations will find some new things in the way that characters in the front row protect the back row (Wall system), and the way you can destroy environmental hazards in battle (although this was in Final Fantasy X as well). There could be some new stuff they haven't shown off yet too.
The main character, Kaim, lost his memory and the story works in flashbacks and dreams to regain the missing 1,000 years for both him and the player. The story is: 30 years ago (from the game's present), magic was re-discovered. Since then, lots of wars and bad things have happened.
There's a timing aspect in battles where you have to press, hold, and release the right trigger at the exact time to do extra melee damage. It rates you depending on how close to perfect you get.
Now, the engine. When we first saw footage of this at GDC, the Unreal Engine really wowed us with the details of the environments and the things they could do with character models. Now, for some reason, everything seems of slightly lesser quality.
We hate to compare this game to Mass Effect, but they both use the Unreal 3 Engine and they're both RPGs (although one is the American type of RPG, and the other the Japanese style). You can tell the difference when it comes to the character models. Lost Odyssey's models are thin, lanky, and effeminately dressed—just like Final Fantasy's characters. In fact, the person responsible for the costume choices (which are actually pretty nice looking) designed the costumes in Final Fantasy XII as well.
But how do they look? Good, but definitely not as good as Mass Effect's. However, they are detailed enough that you won't have a problem with it, and they're much better than just about every RPG out there now. Different companies squeeze different amounts of juice out of the fruit that is the Unreal Engine, and Lost Odyssey has a less powerful juicer. But, on the other hand, the models are detailed to show veins underneath the skin. Veins underneath boobs. There are a lot of boobs. As many as two per female. And they are all sizably large. Take that, Mass Effect.
As for the environments, they look pretty great when walking around (not in fights), with detailed textures and nice effects all over the place. But in the battle "screen", you're getting a lot less resolution in the textures and environments, although you do have stuff moving around and interactive hazards. Enemies and the boss in the boss fight shown above look great, but the surroundings are only alright. Which is probably not a huge deal, since you're not looking at the environment all that much during a fight. It would have been nice to keep the same amount of detail (or at least more than what they have now) in your surroundings when you're in a battle, but it doesn't seem like that's going to happen.
Here are some miscellaneous (some weird) things we noticed:
There's a short focus camera all the time. I saw this used sparingly in special action scenes in Fable 2 yesterday, but it's used in just about every cut scene here.
The gauge on the top of battle sequences represents how much protection the front row gives to the back row in their Wall system. We're not sure how well this whole scheme will work, but we'll give it a shot before we pass judgment.
Achievements are going to be based on exploration, which means that they're for going out of your way and not just going through the main mission (though there could possibly be some achievements for that as well).
There are 9 characters total, and you can take 5 into battle.
The English voice acting is lip-synced during cutscenes. Doesn't seem like it's lip-synced elsewhere, but we're not sure how much talking there is outside of cutscenes. All the facial models are hand crafted, they say, and actually look pretty decent.
Here's what we think from the demo. Will I buy this game? Yes. I'm a sucker for traditional Final Fantasy games, and seeing one with improved graphics, slightly different gameplay structure, a pretty good story, and the stuff that I grew up with is too tempting to pass up. But those of you who've grown tired of the same old Japanese RPG style may be disappointed in this one.