Video review to follow shortly
Lost Sphear is the spiritual successor to Tokyo RPG Factory’s first title – I am Setsuna and like that game it draws heavy inspiration from classic JRPG’s from the 90’s that made Square a household name, titles like Final Fantasy and in particular Chrono Trigger.
Like a well worn record we are re-introduced to a familiar tale, that of the unlikely chosen hero that can save the world from a dreadful threat.
This time the world is literally getting lost as places and people are vanishing, leaving behind a white space, a void that it turns out only our hero Kanata can fix by restoring the memories of a place or person. Kanata is a loveable orphan that is thrust into this crazy tale along with his best friends and along the way these children develop into adults, are joined by a wide range of others and deal with times both humorous and worrying.
In a nutshell this is a story you know well and depending on your point of view, love or hate. We are given some pleasant moments and the idea of revealing a lost world through memories is excellent. Humour is delivered mostly through short cutscenes and conversations with NPC’s – an area that Lachlan wrote an interesting article on however overall the story can feel overtly like a tip of the hat to its inspirations, the result is a somewhat anaemic in places.
Jumbling together parts of those great games gives this story form but a lack of memorable identity over its 25 or so hours to complete.
The music of Lost Sphear stays true to the feel of the world we are in and its spiritual inspiration. We have the classic jig at Inns and melancholic, piano lead journeyman music. The score is impressive with a lot of attention to detail.
On the other hand there are no risks here, everything is…. comfortable and I couldn’t rack my brain to specifically remember a track that stood out over the others, maybe the lack of big boss track hindered that experience its hard to pinpoint.
Sound effects are pleasant and on the money from the familiar end of battle loot collection noise to the odd words in Japanese your characters make at times when attacking.
Visuals & Performance
Lost Sphear straddles two worlds with its visuals, it has a slightly washed out surreal look to it that is combined with sharp 3D environments to make you feel a bit like you are playing a pop up story.
Its aim is to capture the colours and effects from our nostalgic 90s classics whilst overhauling them for use on modern TVs and on the portable Switch. In part this is certainly achieved and the towns, dungeons, characters and monsters look good however on the flip side it lacks some of the smaller details that we can expect from modern games whilst lacking the artistic cues of hand drawn games of old.
Whilst many people did not like the arty approach to I am Setsuna it is clear that its bleak, whitewashed world gave it a strong sense of personality that is lacking this time around.
Lost Sphear follows a tried and tested blue print of turn based battles and a linear story mixed with exploration and questing.
Battles take place on the map you are on itself rather than loading a different screen and once there your characters move around the battleground freely in an Active Time Battle system, you get to select either a basic attack or skill with each character having a different range of basic attack and individual skills ranging in size letting you strategically setup devastating rounds against your enemies.
Equally important as lining up your attack correctly is not moving your characters all into range of a devilish enemy that could take out your squad in one go.
You have a familiar set of stats including agility that determines how quickly your attack bar refills in order to take an action.
This movement feels good and the control system is easily picked up by anyone who has played this type of game before.
Your characters are certainly not all equally as strong with some having much more relevance in battles due to their skillset, Van for example can attack many enemies each turn making him a strong choice each time around.
Level progression and the games curve feel right and as you progress the game begins to introduce more and more mechanics, spritnite – very similar to Materia is obtained quite early and enables you to load your character up with various skills either as an active, passive or in combination with charged skills.
Each character can equip a pre-defined set of Spritnite, about half a dozen or so which is a shame as you cannot fully create a squad that is unique which feels like a missed opportunity.
In addition you get access to powerful spritnite that can be used to enhance your weapons but these are rare and very costly leading me to not use them until near the end of the game at which point I found I didn’t need them!
The game continues to pump out new mechanics at a frightening pace almost to the end of the story, Vulcosuits are introduced later as mech suits that look great and introduce some new dynamics to combat but also provide some confusion and don’t affect a battle as much as you would expect of such an awesome mechanic.
Each Vulcosuit is slightly different and enables your characters to use skills in a slightly more powerful version, Kanata’s allows you to perform an awesome combo attack but the rest of the characters don’t have this or a similar unique mechanic which makes them feel a bit like they are thrown in just because they are cool and having a shared pool of points to use in order to power them lead me to find them an annoyance to maintain unlike the game which inspired them Xenogears.
Hit and hope
Lost Sphear throws in so many mechanics that its a bit hard to keep up and has the undesired effect of watering them down due to overload, that said some of these mechanics offer good strategic play such as momentum which is charged as you attack enemies and can be triggered by a well timed press of X whilst attacking to perform an enhanced attack. By combining Spritnite with momentum attacks you can introduce cool combos such as an AOE fire spell that also poisons enemies.
Artefacts are a throwback to Disgaea, these are towers on the world map which can be converted into a number of debuffs or buffs either in a localised region or across the whole world map. They consume a number of lost memories making the decision of which to deploy an interesting exercise worth exploring.
Too much of a good thing
The problem of jamming all of these mechanics into a single game is that none of them are fully realised in the same way they were in the games that inspired them, I get the feeling that if the developer peeled back one or two of these layers they could have fleshed out the remaining mechanics further to more success.
What they have failed to forget in this trip down memory lane is that these things are not new anymore, at the time they felt fresh and by not introducing any new mechanics the gameplay feels a bit stale at times.
Thats not to say there are not fun elements here – heading out on missions and taking on big bosses feels as good as can be expected and similarly levelling up and obtaining top notch gear feels awesome it just feels a bit lost at times among the mechanics and well worn story lines.
On the move
The game plays perfectly on the move, here its right at home as one to pass time with taking on a few missions. One of the in game things you can do is chat to your team to figure out where you should be heading and each time I loaded the game up on the move this feature was useful, unlike some of the games it draws inspiration from it feels like a game you can pick up and carry on with quite easily.
Lost Sphear delivers 20-30 hours of gameplay for your hard earned cash due to its length of story, that said it can be a slog at times and there is no replayability and very little by way of wanting to 100% the game. Considering this game costs a full $49.99 in the US and £39.99 in the UK its a tall ask.
No performance issues
Authentic JRPG experience
Overly complex mechanics
Lacks unique feel
No replay value