The newest callback to many gamer’s favorite era of JRPG goodness, coming from Tokyo RPG Factory, is out after a relatively short wait. Lost Sphear aims to remind us of our sentimentality for these early classics, in much the same way that its predecessor, I am Setsuna, used Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI as the basis of most of the game’s systems. Lost Sphear borrows story tropes from the genre more readily that I am Setsuna did. It takes the ‘story of a boy joined by his childhood friends’ norm and combines it with the tried-and-true ‘our heroes battle an all-consuming evil force that wants to destroy the world’ story. There is even an ‘evil empire who uses very shady tactics’ that plays as backdrop to the actual conflict. These aren’t included due to a lack of creativity on Tokyo RPG Factory’s end, but are rather meant to invoke memories of the times we have taken similar journeys in the past.
Lost Sphear follows Kanata, his childhood friends, and a few new faces on a journey to stop the world from succumbing to the “Lost” phenomenon. Object and people have started to become disconnected from the real world, leaving behind only white silhouettes. Kanata quickly discovers he has the ability to bring these people and objects back by using memories associated with them. This is promptly brought to the attention of the military of the Empire. From there, Kanata and friends race around the world to aid citizen in need while uncovering why things are becoming “lost” in the first place.
Having to restore “lost” items is a major focus of Lost Sphear in terms of gameplay and story advancement. The player is confined in an area until they discover the memories needed to restore the path leading to the next area of the game. This keeps the open world feeling manageable when you first start since it never throws you right into an enormous area to explore. It is a really intelligent way of making you feel like you are progressing the game through your own discoveries rather than being pointed somewhere specific. The game uses this to tell several self-contained stories while you are in the area looking for the means to progress. My favorite of these was when the party stumbles across a town where the citizens are plagued with a terminal sickness. The only way you can think of advancing the game is by investigating and helping cure the sickness. In doing this you discover what you need to do to open up access to the next area of the game. In this regard, the writing and the game design is top-notch.
Where the writing could use some improvement is in the dialog and characters themselves. Kanata, our lead, is one of the most bland characters I have played in a role-playing game. He fits all of the stereotypes of the selfless hero whose first and foremost concern is his friends. Kanata is like this from the very beginning of the game, and treats his enemies in a very similar fashion. He has very little growth in the game and rarely takes the time to contemplate his actions or decisions. A lot of times, he just knows the answer to a major problem. It does not make him feel genuine or easy to become invested in. This can make your 25 – 30 hour journey with him feel pretty dull and uninspired.
After spending around 90 hours with Xenoblade Chronicles 2, is was a relief to play a JRPG with combat that is, for the most part, very enjoyable. Lost Sphear‘s fighting is based around an active time gauge that has to fill up before you can take an action. Setting it apart from I am Setsuna, your party can freely move around the field during their turn. Certain attacks can only be done right in front of the characters, but there are a handful of others that attack that damage an area on the battlefield or in a straight line. This gives some depth to the positioning of your team. Since characters and enemies can move to anywhere on the field in a single turn, this takes some deeper strategies away such as keeping ranged fighters on the opposite end of the arena than the enemies. The benefit of thoughtful positioning is also thrown out the window when fighting bosses. Most of their attacks either affect every member of your team, or the entire battlefield as a whole. I quickly found myself clumping all four of my fighters into one area right to the side of the boss so that my melee characters could attack while being in the limited range of healing and buffing AoE actions. In this regard, there is really no benefit to having movable characters. The game would have played very similar if they were just fixed in one place on the battlefield. This remains the same when using the Volcosuits, which are the armor you can change into during battle for increased stats and unique actions, but I typically only used them when prompted to by the story.
Fans of turn based role-playing games are likely to find something they enjoy in Lost Sphear. The game, by far, does not provide a completely revolutionary experience, but for many players it will be an enjoyable way to spend 25 hours of their life. Lost Sphear might not be the best game to pick up to play every day after work, but if you’re looking for a game to take on the go during a long flight or daily bus ride, it may just do the trick.