Tokyo RPG Factory made one of my favourite releases of 2016 in I am Setsuna, a quaint and cute old-school JRPG. Its simple yet surprisingly involved combat system, well written story and superb art design all contributed to what was an overall great game. So when Tokyo RPG Factory’s second game Lost Sphear was announced, I knew for certain that I was going to get the game. Now that the game is out, I can’t say the it is bad, but I can’t say it’s that great either.
With a familiar old-school JRPG vibe, Lost Sphear sees you assume the role of Kanata, an orphaned young man who lives in a small village. Together with his friends, Locke and Lumina, they set out to protect their village from the monsters which threaten the villagers. However, things are not as they seem and quickly the village becomes covered in a white mist and is ‘lost’. It is then that you discover that Kanata has the unique ability to return things from being lost and it then become his and company’s objective to save the world from being lost. In terms of story, the game feels needlessly bloated in the first half of the game. While it does have its moments of brilliance, Lost Sphear’s narrative really doesn’t shine until the second half of the game. There’s a certain nuance which just doesn’t feel like it’s conveyed very well that only starts to become apparent once you’ve surmounted the initial narrative noise. There are a variety of characters which join you on your adventures, and in terms of their development and subplots Lost Sphear does a solid job. Most of the characters’ ideals align with that of Kanata, but their morals and methods don’t always match up quite so uniformly. When the overarching story becomes murky, Lost Sphear’s characters shine through, and it is one of the game’s stronger points.
Never wake Mother in the morning
Given that Lost Sphear is a JRPG, it would be fairly safe to assume that combat plays a large role in the overall experience. For those who played I am Setsuna, you pretty much know exactly what to expect, but for those that didn’t I’ll break it down for you. Lost Sphear’s combat relies on action tokens which are acquired over time during combat sequences. Once you manage to accrue an action token, you can act or hold off for a while and gain Momentum. Momentum, when activated, allows for attacks or skill manoeuvres to gain an additional ability. For basic attacks it generally means that you gain an extra hit, something which can prove incredibly useful in battle. For other abilities it all depends on what you assign as your Momentum benefit. You can set it as another hit, recover your health or various other boons. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t do a very good job of challenging the player and fails to implement a stable difficulty curve. Much to a similar degree that I am Setsuna did it, when the game wants to instigate the opponent’s power climb, it does not do it in a way that feels progressive or intuitive. Instead, you’ll face off against bosses who have ludicrously overpowered moves. For example, there is a boss who has an instant kill move, something which can be used frequently depending on RNG. Another boss has a move that deals high damage (if not fatal) to everyone in the room. The game shows you what balance is and then throws it out the window. To be honest I have never really played many of the old-school RPGs that this game was inspired by, but if that is their general idea of a good difficulty curve I want no part of it. It’s not hard, it’s just bad design.
There isn’t a lot of gearing and equipment management in Lost Sphear, all you really have to do is change your weapon and armour while also upgrading them should you please. The most annoying part about changing your armour is the fact that your attire visually does not change. Your weapons do, which is nice, but it would also be nice if your clothing changed with your armour.
Lost Sphear of Thieves
Visually, the game employs a chibi-like art style and it does quite a good job looking nice, especially in one of the later areas where there is a lot of running water near the path and the greenery has begun to grow on the pavement. There’s not really much else to say aside from it looks nice. For PC users, the only graphics options you have are for resolution, so naturally I played at 4K. Even at that, the game never pushed my hardware. My CPU and GPU fans were never very audible without compromising temperature. In terms of optimisation, Lost Sphear nails it. As far as I know, the Switch version runs at 30 frames per second while the PS4 version runs at 60 frames per second, so it seems you trade off some of the performance for the portability aspect of Nintendo’s killer system.
In terms of music, Lost Sphear is the cat’s pyjamas. While there are some music pieces which appear to be taken pretty much directly from I am Setsuna, the music in general is still awesome. Composer Tomoki Moyoshi has displayed an excellent knowledge of music and how it can be used to convey complex emotion. The soundtrack ranges from bright and happening to sombre and sparse; it’s a beautiful accompaniment to the on-screen action.
While Lost Sphear does a few things right, its biggest downfall for me was the fact that the first half felt needlessly bloated, and the game has a wonky sense of difficulty and tends to throw its own balance out the window. Even with its nice art design, good music and engaging second half, I wouldn’t describe it as a must buy, but old school JRPG fans are bound to find some charm to be had.
Reviewed on PC | Review code supplied by publisher