Lost Sphear is the latest game from Tokyo RPG Factory. It tugs at your nostalgia for the golden age of JRPGs and has all the hallmarks of the games you know and love, such as Chrono Trigger and the 8- and 16-bit Final Fantasy games.
Lost Sphear follows your typical protagonist - a teenage orphaned boy with a great sense of duty and a mysterious destiny. Kanata is aided by his fellow orphans – Lumina and Locke - in addition to the mysterious Van, the ages lost Obaro, and others with similar goals to Kanata, on his quest to save the world, striving to restore the lost people and places. These “lost” don’t disappear from the world fully, but rather become a white silhouette of what they were. These “lost” are restored by accessing the memories of what they were. These memories are stored in the stories which are told by the people that knew them, in places that they once lived, and in monsters that populate the world. The latter can only be retrieved by killing the monsters, an odd disconnect from the main story’s noble goals.
This primary goal is where the game truly fails to capture the imagination, compared with the way its forebears did. The story and dialogue do not capture the player’s imagination, as while the idea, the kernel, is intriguing, the execution is not. The dialogue is trite, yet not that over-the-top trite that makes those older games so much fun.
Kanata comes off as far too earnest and his companions far too accepting of this, going along with him when he decides to investigate something that, on the surface, isn’t that controversial or relevant. Even the cynic, Van, goes with the flow most of the time, while Obaro spouts some ancient wisdom when convenient while adding nothing of real substance to help unravel the mystery. Kanata himself conveniently forgets his motivations. He is searching for his lost mother and takes on the quest, as payment requiring information on her. But when that quest is completed the character just continues on the main plot, not once asking about his mother and the information. He only thinks about her a couple of hours later – in play time – when another story quest is finished and even this is only in passing.
The best description of the story is "half-baked" and similarly so are the game's mechanics. Well, maybe they are "three quarter-baked" as the systems are competent. Firstly, there is the combat system that is a traditional active turn-based (ATB) system. I like the system as it gives you the turn-based time mechanic to consider your moves but, like a timed game of chess, you do not have an infinite amount of time to act as your turn can be superseded by the enemy attack. A nice addition to combat is the ability to move around the field and position your team so as to avoid certain attacks, useful against certain bosses. This system, though, does not follow its logical path as the position does not reward you with any attack bonuses or damage multipliers for flanking. Equally so, you are not penalised for being flanked. However, positioning is useful for characters like Van who have attacks that do damage in a straight line and, with careful planning, you can damage a number of enemies with one attack.
Another addition to combat is the Vulco Suits. These are mechs that you can wear to boost your stats and HP, as well as unlock newer, more powerful attacks. Using a separate resource known as VP, your attacks are powerful, but they do have long cooldowns making the suits ill-advised for periods of continuous combat. In addition, VP is a scarce resource as only the right Artefact Point, rare potions or a rest at an inn will restore the points. I tended to use the suits only for boss battles as it seemed a waste against common monsters.
The game tends to be a tad too easy as there are no random encounters on the world map, thus no opportunity or necessity to grind. In dungeons, you can see the enemies and avoid them if you want to, but I suggest that you do not as you need these few encounters to level up in order to deal with the inevitable boss battles. You can grind by re-entering areas of the dungeons that you have cleared as enemies respawn, but you know how to defeat them so these battles lose some of the surprises you get from random encounters.
Combat efficiency is improved by continuously buying and looting new weapons that you can upgrade with ten different colours of an element called "Spritenite". The upgrade system is simple and welcome, with the only drawback being that you cannot disassemble any items you upgrade. The artificial scarcity of Spritenite means that you can’t fully upgrade without backtracking to older dungeons to earn more gold to buy the Spritenite.
A final, key survival mechanic is related to food. In this regard, it works in a similar manner to Breath of the Wild in that cooking certain dishes will give you buffs and other effects to aid you in battle. The system was never properly explained and the combat was actually not that tough so I ended up selling all the ingredients I found to afford the new gear items and upgrades.
Graphically, the game is simple, yet incredibly pretty. The characters aren’t blocky as in FF7, but they aren’t exceptionally detailed like FFXV. The backgrounds are wonderfully detailed in 2D and you can see that a lot of love has been put into the art design. The game’s soundtrack is wonderfully classic and does evoke fond memories of the games that came before. Unfortunately, as it is an independently developed game, the budget for full voice acting did not exist. There is limited voice acting during battles, but fortunately, you can choose a Japanese voice cast which adds to the atmosphere.
While the flaws in the game may seem as if I do not recommend the game, there is something intangible about it that keeps you coming back. If you have the time and a love of old-school RPGs but want some modern advancements to the core mechanics, you could do a lot worse than Lost Sphear.
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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Tokyo RPG Factory
1 February 2018
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