“Old School” Lost… and Found Again?
There’s a significant demand for reboots and re-imaginings of games from years past, especially the 8- and 16-bit eras of console gaming. In particular, some may consider the SNES era the golden age of classic RPG titles, from the Final Fantasy series to other well-known games like Breath of Fire and Chrono Trigger. So it should come as no surprise, especially with the huge amount of RPG maker tools out there, that there would be a demand for new games that bring back some of the nostalgia from that era.
Enter Lost Sphear ($34.99, Steam, $49.99 Nintendo Switch, the latter played for this review), a new title from Tokyo RPG Factory, known recently for I Am Setsuna in particular. It didn’t take me long to see that what I just described is exactly what the folks at the Factory were trying to accomplish. Almost everything about it reminded me of many SNES RPGs. But was it successful in it’s mission? Let’s get down to brass tacks.
Memories of an Era
You follow the adventures of a young man named Kanata in a world facing an unusual predicament. Various objects, people, and even entire places are becoming “Lost,” reduced to a glowy silhouette of their former existence. Your primary mission is to locate memories of these things to put the world back together again. Along the way, as with any RPG, you will join up with various other allies to support your cause, using an array of weapons and skills to stop whatever gets in your way.
Pretty standard stuff – of course, this is a pretty standard RPG. It is clearly designed to evoke nostalgia of an earlier time: A traditional overworld linking various places together, top-down perspective, and simple-yet-modernized graphics with a classic fantasy style. Various nice little touches reinforce this feel. For example, the pixel-heads of the characters seen in the menus.
The difficulty is the story is a bit stuffy and dry. The localization is well done; it’s the story itself that somewhat lacks flavor. It is a little too typical, too cliche. It feels more like something you’ve already played before, rather than a new game evoking memories of the past. The story just wasn’t exciting or compelling enough keep me interested. That being said if you do enjoy the story, there is a nice feature where you can rewind the dialog if you accidentally advanced it. In games I played back in the day, I used to do this a lot and ended up resetting the game so I could see the dialog I missed, so this is a good quality-of-life enhancement to the early days of the genre. The music, while polished and well-made, felt a bit uninspired, and didn’t do enough for me to keep me drawn in.
The combat system is probably the highlight of the experience. It strongly resembles that of Chrono Trigger and it’s Active Time Battle (ATB) turn system with a few unique (and borrowed) wrinkles that come together for a fun experience. Firstly, like Chrono Trigger, battles take place within the world, not in a cut-away battle sequence. Second, positioning is important, almost to the extent of today’s MMORPGs where you need to move and stand in places such that you can avoid enemy area-of-effect attacks. It also includes a feature, called “Momentum Mode,” which reminded me of Super Mario RPG, where you can gain bonuses on your attacks by pressing a button with good timing when a party member takes an action. The main difference here is you have to build momentum by taking and dealing damage before you can do this. Battles were fun and challenging on the normal difficulty setting (The game offers three levels of difficulty, but I found the normal setting to be a reasonable challenge as-is). That said, as is common with classic style RPGs, there is a lot of grinding, whether it’s to level up or to collect the items you will need to progress.
Sadly, I have to say that nostalgia is just not enough to carry a new title. This game is full of it, but beyond the battle system, that’s all it has. There are some minor flaws here and there that get in the way of things. When I started the game, for instance, the game asked me if I wanted to turn the voice overs on, which made me wonder why they’re not on by default. I quickly got my answer: not only are they only in Japanese, but they’re limited to the grunts and shouts of the characters during battle. The dialog itself is not voiced. For how expensive this title comes off as, it really should have had full voice-acting. While the localization is mostly well done, there are a few typos here and there. Nothing major overall, but noticeable.
I fear I might be sounding overly negative here. On the whole, Lost Sphear is a pretty good game that I had some fun with and it does evoke some memories of the past, exactly as the developers intended. But I feel like it needs more than that. Together with the lack of voice acting and other minor flaws, it’s hard to justify the game’s rather high price tag, as its production values just don’t seem to be in line with titles at this price point. There is some fun to be had here if you are fond of classic JRPGs – and I would recommend it for such people – but I would wait for a good sale before considering this one.
Final Score: 6/10
Review copy provided by Square Enix for Nintendo Switch. Screenshots taken by reviewer.