Developer: Tokyo RPG Factory
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: 23/01/2018
Platform(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Nintendo Switch, PC
Whilst an old-school style game isn’t exactly a rarity in video games these days, Tokyo RPG Factory’s I Am Setsuna felt like a breath of fresh air when it released in 2016. Not because it did something different – after all, it was designed to play just like an old-school RPG – but rather because it managed to capture the spirit of those old 16-bit RPGs that graced the likes of the SNES and Mega Drive. It was great, and it had me eagerly anticipating the next release from the studio.
That new release is finally with us, with the recently released Lost Sphear the next RPG throwback that’s made its way to modern consoles. Bringing with it the same old-school vibe that graced I Am Setsuna, Lost Sphear offers another grand adventure that sees players venturing across the world as they look to save it from a strange disappearance phenomenon. Is it any good though, or is Tokyo RPG Factory’s second effort more of a miss than a hit?
Lost Sphear puts you in the youthful shoes of Kanata, Lumina and Locke, who, after a brief visit to the woods, find their hometown has seemingly disappeared with an enchanting fog-like substance in its place. Fortunately, Kanata discovers that he has a unique power that allows him to clear this fog by using the memories of those around him. After finding out that the entire world is suffering from the strange phenomenon and getting recruited by the good intentioned but dastardly Imperial Army, Kanata and his friends head out on an adventure to not only help bring back the world’s missing landmarks but also bring peace to it too.
Admittedly, the narrative could feel a little bit predictable at times, but not in a bad way – whilst it did feel like I was checking off a list of ‘RPG clichés’ at times, I actually found myself appreciating it. See, Lost Sphear doesn’t try to do anything too clever, but instead puts you in a series of enjoyable situations where the plot keeps you hooked in by almost clearly marking the villain and what you’re going to have to do. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of mysteries to be found throughout the game and there’s a rich history to its world, but you’re never ever going to feel over-enamoured by plot complexity.
Whilst restoring the world plays a big role in the narrative, it also features prominently within gameplay too. By speaking to specific NPCs or defeating enemies, you’ll unlock an assortment of different memories. Certain memories are required to progress the story by unlocking vital parts of the environment, whilst others will unlock smaller things like treasure chests.
It’s a great little system and one that gives Lost Sphear a real sense of individuality. I just wish that it was a bit more developed and versatile in-game. Almost every big building or prominent landmark has to be recovered in order to progress the game, so there’s rarely any choice in how you decide to approach it. That’s fine and all, but I would’ve loved a bit more freedom in what exactly I choose to recover and in what order. A bit of player choice would’ve gone a long way and would probably have promoted more player exploration – even if it was completely optional. Instead, I’d see a block of white and would know I’d be recovering it shortly to progress the story.
At least the world map gives you some flexibility in this sense though, with Kanata able to recover specific Artifacts that offer boosts such a faster walking speed on the world map, improved critical hits, or even enhanced stats in certain regions of the map. From an aesthetic or narrative standpoint, they never felt overly prominent and they do just provide boosts, but it was a nice to have a small sense of freedom in how I decided to approach the world’s recovery.
Oh, and it’s definitely worth mentioning that the world map is great. I love the epic world maps from the RPGs of yesteryear, so the presence of one in Lost Sphear was certainly appreciated and added a real sense of scale to the adventure. Whether surrounded by mountains, forests, the sea, or gazing at a slightly out-of-reach island in the distance, you always feel like you’re part of this vast world.
Of course, one of the most important aspects of any RPG comes with its battle system, and thankfully Lost Sphear delivers plenty of showdowns that blend together strategy and quick-paced action in an entertaining fashion. Anyone who has played I Am Setsuna will notice similarities with the game again adopting an ATB system and the Momentum attacks (which offers an extra attack on an opponent through an admittedly easily exploited quick button press), though Lost Sphear does have a few of tricks of its own too.
The most obvious example of this is with each character’s movement. Whenever you use an attack, a skill, or even an item, you actively move your character around the battlefield. This adds an extra sense of strategy to each encounter, with the player able to take into consideration things like keeping party members far apart from each other so they don’t take damage from an enemy’s AOE attack, or even putting a party member in a position where their attack will deal damage to multiple foes at once. Be warned though – enemies can move around too, so you’ll constantly have to shift each of your party members around if you want to stay on the ball and out of harm’s way.
There’s also the Vulcosuits, which are robotic suits that each character can wear to enhance their stats in battle and arm them with a few specialist moves. You can easily switch to your Vulcosuit with a quick press of a button too, so they’re fairly versatile in-combat.
However, they often felt limited by the need of VP (the Vulcosuit’s energy) and with no easy way to recharge it, their use is typically only reserved for a handful of battles per dungeon. Typically, this brought on the mind-set that I’d save them for a boss battle, but by the time a boss encounter would come around I’d either not want to waste the turn required to change into my Vulcosuit (every turn counts in these tough encounters) or not feel experienced enough with them to know how to how to best use them in combat. If I’m being honest though, I rarely faced a situation in-battle where I felt like I couldn’t progress without their use anyway.
Other than this, the battling will feel familiar to anyone who has played an RPG with an ATB system in place – you’ll simply wait for each character’s turn to come around and then perform an action with them. Besides the standard attacks, there’s a wide assortment of skills on offer that are used through the power of Spritnites. Spritnites can be purchased from vendors throughout the various towns and each come in different forms, with some providing purely offensive capabilities and some buffs and de-buffs. It’s all run of the mill stuff as far as RPGs are concerned.
I actually found myself loving Lost Sphear’s battle system, even if the game was a little too easy as far as standard enemy encounters were concerned. It was during the tense boss battles where it really shined though and where you’d have to get your thinking cap on as far as strategy is concerned. Clever skill use, proper positioning, and a balance of attacking and healing are required to beat the bosses, with some easily demanding multiple attempts before you’re able to vanquish them. It’s good fun, and the fair balance of difficulty ensures you never get bored of battling.
Now by no means is Lost Sphear the most stunning RPG you’re going to come across (partly thanks to its old-school visual style), but I couldn’t help but to get drawn in by its distinct character design and impressive environments. Some of the vistas you’ll stumble across are mightily impressive, with one spectacular sight across the grand city of Watt in particular standing out for me.
It just gets all the little things right, be it making cities and towns feel lived in, having environments look unique, or simply offering a sense of scale to make everything feel that bit more grand. Mix this up with some clever use of camera angles and you’ll find it easy to love Lost Sphear’s creative little world.
The game also delivers on the audio side too, with the soundtrack from I Am Setsuna composer Tomoki Myoshi offering a wide-range of stunning tunes from start to end. It’s been a while since I’ve been completely absorbed by an RPG’s soundtrack, but Lost Sphear’s stood out to me almost immediately and helped bring every scene to life. I’ve still got the catchy Overworld theme stuck in my head now and I can even see myself listening to the soundtrack again on its own in the near future, which is something I haven’t done with an RPG since Final Fantasy X – it’s just that good.
Playing Lost Sphear was like re-visiting the classic RPGs of yesteryear that hooked me in with their enjoyable combat mechanics, impressive world design, and incredibly evil (though somewhat predictable) villains. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and whilst I’ll certainly admit that it had a few flaws, I was completely absorbed by it throughout the entirety of my twenty hour-plus adventure. Believe me, if you’re an RPG fan you need to buy it.
It acts as the perfect reminder that RPGs don’t need to have super fancy visuals, overly intricate combat mechanics, or a convoluted plotline to grip players in – they’ve just got to have heart, and that’s something Lost Sphear has in abundance. Here’s to the next fascinating adventure that Tokyo RPG Factory send us on…