Please note that this is not the final review but an impressions article based on initial time spent playing the game.
Lost Sphear is the latest game from Tokyo RPG Factory following on from I am Setsuna. It is a throwback to the 8- and 16-bit era of JRPG featuring turn-based combat using the Active Timed Battle system found in classics such as Chrono Trigger and the Final Fantasy series.
I love this style of game as it gives you some time to consider your actions, but does not allow for an infinite amount of time for you to consider every possible move. It has been the best compromise developed between real-time battles and turn-based battles and one not yet improved upon. Mechanically, the implementation is near flawless although I do think that the ATB timers are a bit too fast making me feel a bit rushed to make a decision. This is not helped by the fact that the timer indicator is not the traditional bar next to the portrait but is rather the portrait of your characters filling up. I have often found myself thinking that I was controlling the actions of one character when it was another and giving the wrong command. Additionally, the portraits are a bit small on a large screen TV making them equally difficult to monitor the action on screen.
Combat itself not the usual static turn-based system with your party on one side and the enemies on the other. During combat, you have the option of moving around the field of battle to gain positional advantage, except that you do not really. Flanking or attacking from behind affords you no advantage other than to possibly get you out the way of a rush attack from an enemy, I was surprised to see that there are no advantages and equally disadvantages to flanking or being flanked.
The game features an intriguing battle enhancement in mechs that you can wear in battle. Using a separate resource called VP you gain additional stat and HP boosts as well as more powerful attacks. In order to prevent you from just running around in the more powerful suits, VP is a very scarce resource and potions to restore VP are equally scarce. The final impression I have of combat is that the variable difficulty makes no difference regarding the award of loot and XP. This disincentivizes you from playing on higher difficulties as there does not seem to be any reward. That said if you are looking to experience the story without having to reload often, playing on easy is perfect and does not penalise you.
The story, despite the fact that JRPGs are stat and combat heavy, are the aspects of Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy and other classics that we remember. Unfortunately, the story here just does not resonate. The premise is intriguing as the main character has a power to recover memories of the world that can be used to restore areas, people, and objects that are mysteriously lost to the world. Unfortunately, the execution is lacking as the script and pacing just do not stick in your mind when you switch off the console. I am about halfway through the game, ten hours or so, and if you ask me to point to a major plot point from hour four or even seven, I will struggle. I have just gotten to a point where Kanata, the main character, mentions something about his mother who disappeared when he was much younger and that reminded me that in the first hour he made a deal with a major NPC for that NPC to search for her. This character motivation is not mentioned often but seems important. The writing and pacing, unfortunately, don’t make it so. Another is a party member that you lose early on, around hour two. He is mentioned now and then, but has been gone so long and mentioned so seldom that you just don’t care about him anymore.
The soundtrack is a pleasant mix of nostalgia and modern JRPG music. It is not repetitive and matches the stages, maps and onscreen action. Hopefully Square releases the soundtrack on iTunes as it is an entertaining soundtrack and one I would like to listen to outside of the game.
Having said all that, when I am in front of the TV with my controller in hand I do feel compelled to continue playing the game. I do not know if it is my nostalgia or the game itself but I do want to keep playing and I have been playing for at least two hours at a stretch; something that I have not done for a long, long time. While the game’s flaws over my playtime have been numerous, they are not so bad that I feel like dropping the game. So far it is fun enough and engaging enough to keep my attention and it does fill that classic JRPG hole. I could fire up my PSTV and play the classics again, but I’ve played them before, at least this game is new.
Grumpy Old Man who still collects toys (THEY. ARE. NOT. DOLLS), PC Gamer lured to the Dark Side of console gaming, comic book reader and fan of all things pop culture.
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