We got to check out an updated, hands-off demo of Lost Odyssey, the second of two Xbox 360-exclusive role-playing games from Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi set for North American release in 2007. Where Sakaguchi's first game, Blue Dragon, is whimsical and cartoon-like, Lost Odyssey employs a serious art style and more mature tone as it tells the story of Kaim, an immortal warrior who has lived for a thousand years and has witnessed more than his share of pain, suffering, and loss in the process. Microsoft isn't ready to reveal much more about the game's storyline yet, but Kaim will apparently be integral to an effort to cleanse his land of an evil magical influence of as-yet unspecified origin.
During the demo, we got to see a handful of new battle and cinematic sequences. In the first, Kaim and another party member, a buxom, bespectacled girl named Sarah, were fighting atop a speeding train against a number of robotic enemies. In this battle, the pair were on the same train car as their foes, so they were able to use melee attacks, and this gave us a look at the game's timing-based physical attack system. You'll get a contracting circle onscreen when your character attacks, and if you time your button press just as the circle crosses a set marker, you'll get a damage bonus. When another round of enemies rolled up on an adjacent car, however, Kaim and Sarah were forced to employ ranged and magical attacks to take them out. Finally, a massive train-robot boss sped up behind the two fighters and initiated a boss battle, and then a Microsoft rep cut the section short.
The next section depicted a group of what looked like futuristic pirate-like characters arguing over a ship called the Nautilus in an underground hangar. We noted Kaim wasn't present during this scene, and indeed he won't be featured throughout Lost Odyssey's entire storyline. Just as the trio of ne'er-do-wells were approaching the ship, a massive beast fell from the sky and started another boss fight. This encounter contained a scripted path to victory, however, as the beast was positioned directly underneath a crane that was hoisting a number of explosive canisters. While the other two party members tried to keep the enormous, armored creature busy, the third--an old man armed with a rifle--attempted to aim at the switch on the crane and get it to move its arm directly over the enemy. After a number of unsuccessful attempts, he finally managed to set up the trap, and a cutscene ensued that showed the beast's explosive demise.
The last sequence of the demo depicted a number of your party members stealing a large ship from a general's dock. Between this sequence and the previous one, we noted a couple of interesting cinematic tricks that Lost Odyssey will give you. For one, you can use the triggers to zoom in while you're exploring any area on foot, giving you a closer look at your surroundings, which you can pan around at will. Secondly, many cutscenes will contain close-up character inset panels on top of the main action, much like in a comic book or graphic novel, and these will appear onscreen to dramatically underscore particularly important events or dialogue.
Finally, we asked about a menu option we noticed on the demo's title screen called "A Thousand Years of Dreams." This feature (which Microsoft wasn't ready to show us yet) will give you a number of short stories written by novelist Kiyoshi Shigematsu that detail some of the episodes that have occurred over Kaim's thousand-year lifespan. These stories won't factor into Lost Odyssey's main plot, but they will provide a backstory that will show you where Kaim has been, and some insight into his character in the game. The stories will be text-based only, but they'll include artwork and music to dress them up a bit.
With character designs by Slam Dunk artist Takehiko Inoue and music by Final Fantasy maestro Nobuo Uematsu, Lost Odyssey is looking like a solid role-playing counterpart to Blue Dragon, as the two feature radically different visual styles but traditional Japanese-style RPG play. This Unreal Engine 3-powered game has been confirmed to ship this year on the Xbox 360, so look for more on the game in the coming months.