World building is an important part of any Japanese role playing game (jrpg). Epic stories and a great combat system can be undone in an instant by an uninteresting world. You are going to spend 40 or so hours in this place after all, so having a world you want to be engrossed in is an integral piece of any successful jrpg puzzle.
Lost Sphear is the second game by Tokyo RPG Factory, and spiritual successor to I Am Setsuna. I Am Setsuna was positively received, but one of the most common complaints was it’s world seeming empty. Digging in to Lost Sphear, I decided to see if Tokyo RPG Factory had improved upon that aspect in their latest game.
An underrated aspect of world building are the NPCs that inhabit a town. In a jrpg these characters tend to offer up nothing but a sentence or two of flavour text, but that flavour can add so much to the games recipe if done well. A town full of dull people with nothing to say can make the whole area feel lifeless and sterile, where a simple sentence on their own lives can make each building feel lived in.
Talking with the first towns NPCs, I can safely say Lost Sphear delivers in that regard, at least in the beginning. Not only does every character have their own unique name (something games have overlooked in the past), they also offer up small little snippets into their lives. Children will be boastful, one so proud that he was able to finish his carrots, another just wanting to brag about his toy. Parents talk wistfully about their children, one delving into their move to a country town. But a single dysfunctional family sold me on the games ability to set up brilliant flavour text.
Upon entering a sauna, I met a character named Jann. This encounter seemed innocent enough, with a throwaway gag about the in-laws staying over, nothing too interesting there. I also met an old man named Ghapham who complained that the family has come to stay with him, and that they didn’t tell him “…they were bringing their dysfunction with them!”. Figuring it to be another throwaway line I kept exploring the town, but then I stumbled upon a house that ties those two together.
The house is to the right of town, and has three people inside. Camilya turns out to be the wife of Jann, and complains to you that her “idiot husband of mine can’t find time for anything but that sauna!”. In the corner there is the old woman Tzimo, who complains that their well kept house attracts the less fortunate, and asks why a woman of luxury can’t be left alone to enjoy the good life. Clearly she isn’t donating to the less fortunate. Finally there is a little girl, Madze, who delivers a line that says it all. “Nana likes to call my dad ‘him.’”. Too real Madze. I now understand why Jann spends all of his time at the sauna!
A towns NPCs really can build a believable world. When their lives aren’t there to serve you, and they are given a rich enough background, it can really make a town feel lively. A lively world is one you want to come back to. Lost Sphear’s opening area achieves this beautifully despite its townspeople being limited to one or two sentences. It is genius writing, and something I hope carries through the rest of the game.