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Lost Sphear Review – Drenched in nostalgia

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Lost Sphear, developed by Square Enix’s internal studio, Tokyo RPG Factory, claims to deliver the next evolution in this new golden age of JRPGs. That’s why I was extremely excited to try it out, as I grew up with the older Final Fantasy titles and I did like I am Setsuna, Tokyo RPG Factory’s first game.

When I first started playing the game over this past weekend, nostalgia rushed over me, brought on by the sounds, musical score as well as the general look and feel of the game. Was that sense of nostalgia and marriage of systems from so many classic JRPGs enough to carry me through the game’s 30-hour campaign? That’s what I intended to find out as I embarked on this journey.

Mission: Save the world

We’ve all heard this story before. A young man from a small village suddenly has mysterious powers that he can’t explain and gets strange visions about a dark future (or past) in his dreams. Then, the inevitable disaster strikes and he is the only one that can save the world. To save the world, he bands together with his friends and later other comrades.

There is a mysterious character that no one likes at the start, but the group slowly starts to accept him. There is a strong female character that doesn’t like when other party members mention her abilities and then, of course, there is a clumsy friend who follows their heart and can’t stop speaking about food.

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You’ve heard that before, right? Well, that’s what Lost Sphear is all about, it is filled with tropes throughout the 30-hour campaign, but the story still kept my interest. You play as Katana in a world where people, inns and even whole towns have started to disappear. You start off in a small town, Elegante, with your friends Lumina and Locke, hunting small monsters and keeping the town safe, until the “unexpected” happens, the town starts to disappear.

Fortunately, Katana realizes that he and he alone have the power to restore the “lost” by using physical memories, thereby restoring the town. That’s the opening 2 hours of the game and after that, you head to different places to restore more of the world that has been lost. The mystery behind why so many things in the world started to disappear is what kept me going, but every turn the story took was extremely predictable.  

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Everything happens just so perfectly that the story doesn’t feel dynamic at all. For example, you can’t take a Winger (aircraft) to head to a location you are being sent to because the winger is being repaired out of the blue. Thankfully, you just obtained a Vulcosuit to get past a labyrinth, the only other way to your destination.

That’s just one example of many where everything just felt too set up. Sure, that’s what most games do, but Lost Sphear’s story direction is just too obvious to allow for any tense moments. Even so, there were some interesting story elements and the game did deliver a couple of instances of brilliance, where I could feel the pain of some characters.

For example, there was this little boy who stole one of my companions’ wallet, so we chased after him. Long story short, it turns out the boy was stealing to survive because his mother was also “lost”. Since Katana and his friends are also orphans, there was such a deep emotional connection displayed during the quest as I restored the boy’s mother. That’s the type of quests I hoped to find on a regular basis, but unfortunately, I didn’t.

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It feels as if the world does have so much potential for great storytelling, but it never really got a chance to shine. Side quest, for the most part, isn’t that good, so don’t expect anything like The Witcher. However, there are some personal side quests from your companions, for example, Locke’s side story where you can get quite a powerful spritnite from (more on that later) and a couple of others that were worth doing.

There is no voice acting during story scenes and you will have to read everything. What makes matters a bit more frustrating is that when characters in your party speak to you, you can’t move forward until you go through all the text, causing a stop/start effect throughout the entire journey every couple of minutes. There are some voices during combat that you can’t make out unless you speak Japanese.

Gaining some momentum

Lost Sphear has a tonne of systems working in tandem all at once. You have an Active Time Battle system which is a bit different than what JRPG fans might be used to. Characters can move freely during battle, but there is still some type of turn-based system in check. A meter dictates when a character can perform their next attack or skill, so I found myself waiting for all my characters’ meters to refill quite a few times.

What I love about the system is that it gives the player a lot of tactical options and it feels more dynamic than what I am used to in JRPGs. The game also has a momentum system, which is more complicated than it first appears. Characters have three points of energy that fill up as they do battle. When you have one of these points, you can press a button at the correct time (when a blue light flashes) to get in a momentum attack. Sounds simple right?

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Well, that’s where Spritnite’s come in, adding momentum-based attack or defence options. Then you also have skills that do AOE damage in a specific radius, so constantly moving your characters to the correct position is a must. Spritnites is a system from I Am Setsuna and is used for a bunch of things, from acquiring new skills to upgrading weapons or armour.

You can upgrade items 10 times, but you can only upgrade using a certain colour of Spritnite once. That and the fact that it is quite difficult to get a lot of money in the game leads to some interesting decisions as to how far you would like to upgrade a specific item and when.  

Earlier in this review, I talked about memories used to restore towns, people, buildings and more. Well, there are also artifacts scattered across the world that you can restore by collecting physical memories from monsters, chests, or even during a chat with a character. When you restore one of these artifacts, your whole party gains a world buff and you can decide which ones you want active. For example, there are buffs that let you see enemy hit points or even gain additional momentum during combat.

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So why won’t you just want all artifacts active? Well, enemies also get the same buffs as you do from active artifacts, which adds another layer of depth to the game.

If all that sounds a bit complicated, wait until the game throws jargon at you that you will only understand if you actually lived in the world. The game’s quests are filled with so much of this that I had to try and figure out what a character meant by a specific thing they mentioned, for example, a “winger”.

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Finally, we have the Vulcosuits, another system that the game uses that looks and feel as if the developer pulled it straight from Final Fantasy VI. These robotic suits get introduced roughly a quarter of the way through the campaign and are basically robot suits that buffs up your party’s skills. The Vulcosuits are powerful, so you are limited to how much you can use them with something called Vulcosuit Points, which are scarce until late in the game’s main story.

I didn’t particularly like the Vulcosuits as they feel so limited as everything you do drains Vulcosuit Points, extremely quickly. Even though I had some points to use, I found myself rather fighting without these suits most of the time, except for when the game required me to use them.

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Therefore, the system felt like a bit of a waste and since there are already so many combat systems in place, Vulcosuits were, in my opinion, an unnecessary addition in a game already jam-packed with systems to learn and understand.

Beautiful yet limited

I absolutely love the art style of Lost Sphear. The game won’t win any awards for its graphical prowess, but the world does have its moments of beauty. Restoring a building or even the day/night cycle looks incredible, bright and downright glorious. Since the game isn’t particularly taxing, it ran smoothly and without any noticeable framerate drops on my PS4 Pro.

I also found absolutely no bugs during my 30 hours with the game, which is something I don’t get to say very often. Solid performance and no bugs or glitches found is definitely a big plus for Lost Sphear, but animations do leave something to be desired. Characters look stiff throughout the game and even your party members run in these straight lines all the time during in-game cutscenes. There are also times where a character would push another out of the way. It all just looks so very stiff and if you add the game stopping for text from a character talking about how hungry he is, it is definitely not a good combination.

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The world doesn’t really have any kind of puzzles or things that could challenge you outside of battles, which was a little disappointing. The only thing that challenged me was getting around in towns as the lack of a map saw me running from door to door. I mentioned earlier that reading through all the chat became a little bit frustrating, so some might wonder why you don’t just skip it then. There is an option to skip the chat, but that means you might also lose out on directions given to you by NPCs and you could be looking for a specific building for hours on end.

Even so, the game does allow you to backtrack and read chat from a sequence again, so there is some way to save yourself the trouble. Unfortunately, that also means reading through every bit of text as I never knew when new directions would be given. Whenever you go back to an area the items on the map reappear that you can pick up, making finding resources extremely easy and repetitive. You can simply keep running around the world map, collecting things with a satisfying “ping” sound every time you pick up an item, but that’s not really something I would like to spend hours on.

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The thing is, you need these items as with them you can restore artifacts. Also, you have to get some food ingredients, as buffs from these ingredients if you hand them in at an innkeeper makes the world of difference in combat, for example, massive HP buffs. Even so, the game didn’t feel like a grind to me, as you can play Lost Sphear from start to finish without farming for hours on end.

The Verdict

Lost Sphear is not at all a bad game and, dare I say, it might even be a great JRPG. The story is quite interesting and kept me going even though it was filled with things we’ve all seen before in JRPGs of the past. Where the game’s story fell a bit flat was in the characters that felt very one-dimensional and honestly, quite boring, except for one great character you meet that almost felt out of place. It’s also extremely predictable most of the way through, which was disappointing.

I loved the game’s art style but it might not be everybody’s cup of tea. Further, the musical score in Lost Sphear is soothing, but unfortunately very limited. The momentum system, as well as a tonne of customization options, did keep the combat fresh and as I mentioned earlier in this review, being able to move your characters more freely is a great addition to the JRPG formula.

At times, it felt like the developer tried to put too many systems in place that didn’t get enough attention in the end. I was also a bit disappointed the text-based chat and the lack of some beautiful cutscenes that would have taken the game to the next level. It became frustrating to see my party running in stiff lines up to the next point, where I had to go through all the chat text to further progress in the story.

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Lost Sphear is drenched in nostalgia and feels like a bunch of parts from previous JRPGs thrown together. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I think only true JRPG fans that want another 30 plus hour experience that they probably already had in a different game will appreciate it fully, especially at the current asking price. It just doesn’t feel as if Lost Sphear has its own identity.

This review was based off a review copy of the game provided to us by Square Enix

Available On: PS4, PC and Switch | Reviewed On: PS4 Pro | Release Date: 23 January 2018 | RRP: R779

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