Video Game Review: Lost Sphear
Lost Sphear offers more visual variety than its predecessor.
After its enjoyable first project, I Am Setsuna, developer Tokyo RPG Factory is back with its second release under the Square-Enix banner, Lost Sphear. As with its predecessor, Lost Sphear channels JRPGs of the past, most notably Chrono Trigger, but does its uncanny resemblance to other titles, including Setsuna, undermine its appeal?
Combat has changed very little from I Am Setsuna with the Active Time Battle (ATB) System making its triumphant return. The momentum meter is back as well, filling as encounters go on and allowing you to inflict more damage if you properly time the button press to activate it. We had some issues with the timing before, but it feels more responsive this time.
There are two changes of note. One is that you’re now able to move around freely during combat, positioning your characters as you see fit (e.g., melee fighters on either side of a target and ranged spread out at distance). The other is the introduction of Vulcosuits, individual mechs that your team can put on and take off at will. They look cool and offer up some more powerful attacks, but they don’t fundamentally change encounters, which rates as a missed opportunity.
Travel on the overhead world map remains a dull experience, too, as there’s still no random enemy encounters. As such, all you end up doing is running around from Point A to Point B with the option to nab glimmering objects to acquire random loot. It all handles well, and the ATB system is a proven winner, but it ultimately just feels like a continuation of Tokyo RPG Factory’s first game.
Put bluntly, Lost Sphear looks nearly identical to I Am Setsuna. The world has more diversity to it (and much less snow), but the character and enemy designs are unmistakable — in fact, some of your foes are lifted directly from the last game and merely reskinned. While we enjoyed that old-school look the first time around, seeing such a similar presentation furthers the feeling of sameness that already permeates the combat.
Although we weren’t enthralled with Setsuna‘s piano-heavy soundtrack, it definitely had more personality than the generic tunes featured here. At the least the former created something of a somber tone. This time the music is just sort of there.
In Lost Sphear you play as Kanata, who along with Lumina and Locke resides in a small village that mysteriously vanishes while you’re away. You quickly learn the phenomenon, referred to by the military as becoming “lost,” is happening throughout the world with no obvious cause or cure.
Part of that equation quickly changes when Kanata discovers he has the power to bring things back into the world through the use of memories he collects. It’s an interesting, if not entirely original premise, and the game uses it a lot.
Some memories are collected through conversations with people that knew a specific person or location, while others are earned by defeating foes. Blank areas on the world map can be restored by creating special artifacts that act as permanent buffs to things like speed and damage. Memories are also used in the crafting of spritnite, which allows you to acquire magical abilities.
Lost Sphear is chock full of under-the-hood systems, equipment and collectibles. There are the basics like increasingly more powerful weapons and armour, and from that you can graft on different types of magic, fortify items and more. Cooking is also a potentially big part of the game with lots of helpful recipes concocted from tons of ingredients. There’s so much to absorb it ends up feeling like overkill, however, and it creates a lack of cohesion.
While everything plays fine and the overall story is solid enough, there’s nothing particularly endearing about the characters, which consist of archetypes we’ve seen a thousand times before. That isn’t a sin on its own — after all, they’re reused so often because they work — but the uninspired dialogue undermines character development and, consequently, your attachment to them.
In terms of length, Lost Sphear is markedly longer than its predecessor, checking in closer to 30 hours with the option for more if you want to do additional leveling and exploration. It’s a bit more difficult as well, though that mostly covers a handful of frustrating boss battles in which they inflict catastrophic status effects on your party. Oddly enough their use of those attacks appears random, however, often making the best course of action to try again and hope they don’t use it.
Had Lost Sphear been Tokyo RPG Factory’s first release we might’ve lauded it in many of the same ways we did with I Am Setsuna, but it isn’t. Whereas the latter felt like the clichéd “love letter” to old-school JRPGs, Lost Sphear feels more like a tribute to I Am Setsuna.