This review was published on Push Square (27 Jan, 2018).
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 using disc provided by Square Enix.
Memory is reconstructive
It's one thing to make a game in the style of a classic 90s role-playing title, but it’s another thing entirely to make one that matches the heart and focus of those beloved titles of yesteryear. Lost Sphear marks Tokyo RPG Factory’s second attempt at rekindling a spark of the past as the developer continues to pump out old-school RPGs.
It makes sense, then, that Lost Sphear finds inspiration in so many prior games. The battle system may be a slight development on the one introduced in I Am Setsuna, but it’s a combination of Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy, and Xenogears that deserves the royalties.
Combat revolves around an active-time battle system, but you can enhance attacks by charging up a meter and pressing the square button at just the right time. Spritnite, or skills, can also be equipped into slots which provide different buffs or effects. It’s a fairly basic system, but you can have fun with it. To be truly effective you need to master the art of positioning, moving characters around the screen on their turn to effectively position for attack or defence.
"Lost Sphear has so many half-baked systems that most of them feel redundant."
Battles become somewhat more complicated when you pick up vulcosuits, which are essentially mechs. When equipped, your characters’ stats increase, and each individual gains a unique ability. It was an exciting moment when we first picked up the vulcosuits, but they’re limited and can sometimes be more of a nuisance than a blessing.
Every move while wearing the suits uses a combined pool of points which diminish rapidly and take far too long to replenish, meaning that they’re not nearly as useful as they could be. Since you’re effectively encouraged to save these points for bigger battles, you’re rarely inclined to experiment with each of the characters’ unique abilities. The knock-on effect is that, when you do use them, you haven’t had time to practice and you can become overwhelmed.
It’s also not the only element of the game that falls short. Cooking is a mess; you have to provide the necessary ingredients and pay the chef to cook them for you. These ingredients are often rare, and the temporary stat boost from eating the dish is rarely worth the cost or effort. It basically makes the whole system redundant.
You can enhance your weapons at shops, but, again, there’s little profit in doing so. You’re better off buying new gear or picking some up from chests, especially since enhancing quickly becomes a costly endeavour, and often more expensive than just buying new stuff.
"Lost Sphear's dialogue lacks the strength to make it seem truly heartfelt. There are some tender moments, but we found it hard to feel fully invested."
Much of these issues might be more forgivable if the narrative was a strong one, but we often found it hard to care. On paper, it sounds promising: much of the world has become lost and replaced with empty white voids that only our protagonist, Kanata, seems to be able to heal. To do so, he needs to collect the memories of those affiliated with the area. You and your team of comrades therefore take it upon yourselves, partly pushed along by the empire, to return the realm to its prior state.
Collecting memories reminds us of Ni No Kuni, where you're tasked with talking to the right person to gather what you need to continue – in this case memories rather than emotions. Lost Sphear is nowhere near as charming, though, and the dialogue lacks the strength to make it seem truly heartfelt. There are some tender moments, and the premise is interesting, but we found it hard to feel fully invested and it ultimately falls back onto predictable ground.
However, there are parts here that we really like: the soundtrack is beautiful and has much more variation than I Am Setsuna, and the admittedly simplistic, stylised aesthetic is a pleasant one. The gameplay is slick, loading screens are short, and it feels polished in its presentation.
Sadly, aside from these positives, Lost Sphear is a hodgepodge of just above mediocre elements that fail to merge into a satisfying collective. Like its narrative, the game seems lost. It looks to its ancestors so much that it neglects to forge its own identity. Those looking to Lost Sphear to rekindle the nostalgic feelings of yore are likely to be disappointed since it lacks the soul, depth, or focus that made those titles so beloved.
A less focused outing than its predecessor, Lost Sphear gets lost amid its various, undercooked systems, and it fails to successfully consolidate its many inspirations. It’s a pleasant enough game with a nice aesthetic, but we doubt we’ll be looking back on this one with too much sentimentality.