Lost Sphear on PlayStation 4
When I wrote my I Am Setsuna review back in 2016, I was actually genuinely surprised to see my fellow reviewers didn’t cozy up to the first effort from Tokyo RPG Factory as much as I did. I thought it was a modern, polished JRPG that respected my time and successfully delivered on its promise of channeling traditional JRPG gameplay back onto home consoles in a way that made sense. Admittedly though, a lot of that love I had was anchored on the novelty of I Am Setsuna; that it was a game designed to tug at the nostalgia heart strings of PS1-era JRPG fans. It succeeded for me at least.
Sadly, that honeymoon is over with Lost Sphear. My expectations were much higher for the second game from Tokyo RPG Factory, and I was looking forward to see how they would improve on a solid first effort. All in all, it’s a mixed bag. While there might be less snow this time around, and there are aspects of gameplay that are definitely better, there are also some areas where Lost Sphear takes a few steps back.
Let’s start with what Lost Sphear gets right. It features a battle system very similar to I Am Setsuna which is both fast-paced and tactical. You can overpower easier enemies by taking advantage of the combat functions available to you such as momentum and spritnite abilities (both function very similarly in this game). However, boss battles up the difficulty considerably, and asks the player to be much more thoughtful and tactical with his/her decision making.
Another layer of tactics is added in Lost Sphear as players can now summon mechs (known as Vulcosuits) and can also move around in battle to gain favorable positioning. For example, you can spread your party out to avoid an AoE attack, huddle up to gain an enhancement buff from a party member, and line up a ranged attack to pierce through a group of enemies. This addition fits like a glove, and is a great example of where Lost Sphear enhances what I Am Setsuna did well: fast-paced tactical combat. Both games are part of the few JRPGs where I actually enjoy fighting trash enemies.
The Vulcosuits on the other hand are fine, but are a little awkward for a lot of the game. You get the suits pretty early on, and they are hyped up as being these powerful weapons you can use in battle, but they are incomplete. You’ll need to progress through the game to unlock the mech’s special ability, and until you do, they aren’t that much better (if even at all) than just fighting without the suit on. I largely ignored them for a good portion of Lost Sphear, which was disappointing because when you do actually reach their full potential they add yet another layer of strategy to the game’s excellent combat. Better late than never, I guess.
Lost Sphear’s story, which we’ll get to in a moment, sees the world slowly fading away, or as the game refers to it, becoming “lost.” Kanata, the main character, possesses a unique ability to gather memories either through combat, or through dialogue, and restore parts of the world. It’s a really neat mechanic. Common memories you find through killing monsters can be traded in to unlock new abilities which is one part of what appears to be an effort to streamline the item management in Lost Sphear versus what it was in I Am Setsuna (it was a mess). This is much appreciated.
Collecting certain memories is needed to move the story along at times, but you can also optionally restore sections of the world map which reveal new land, and reward you with an “artifact” that grants you different bonuses of your choice. You can choose the bonus provided you have the memories for it, and customize them to fit your battle strategy. You can either get a wide variety of different boosts, or stack (up to three) of the same bonuses such as an increase in critical hit damage and increased momentum for moving around. Throughout the game you’ll rack up a pretty large list of artifact bonuses and it serves to further enhance the game’s excellent combat.
Where Lost Sphear really struggles is in its story and characters which, for some JRPG fans, might be a deal breaker despite how fun other parts of the game are. The pacing of Lost Sphear’s story is at “slow painful crawl” for most of the game. Hours will go by and things will happen, but so much of it doesn’t feel that relevant to the overarching narrative. Character development is few and far between, and other than a few exceptions such as Van, most of them stay one-dimensional and uninteresting. You spend a lot of the game just gallivanting around helping people just because you’re nice and you have nothing better to do while waiting for something important to happen. Interesting stuff does eventually happen in the story. It isn’t a total lost cause; but it’s drip fed to you throughout the course of the game, and there’s just a whole lot of filler content to get through in between the moments where Lost Sphear’s story really percolates.
Visually, there isn’t snow everywhere this time, which is great, but the art direction doesn’t feel special anymore after seeing it in I Am Setsuna. It’s virtually the same, and assets such as enemies from I Am Setsuna are reused. The music is generic, and can even get irritating at times when you’re searching around for an objective and listening to the same basic loop over and over and over.
This is a shame because, while I might be in the minority, I found I Am Setsuna’s story to be entertaining throughout and honestly pretty damn good when it was all finished. I really struggled to stay interested in Lost Sphear at times. Obviously not the direction that fans, or window shoppers were hoping to see in that regard.
While I might be sounding pretty down on Lost Sphear, it’s coming from a place of disappointment rather than general dissatisfaction about the whole product. I was hoping that Tokyo RPG Factory would build on I Am Setsuna in all areas and instead it regressed in some, and improved in others. I don’t want to get hung up on that comparison for the entirety of this review though.
So, putting that aside, Lost Sphear is still an enjoyable JRPG worth playing through. Like its predecessor it’s a brisk (by JRPG standards anyway) experience that won’t take you 80 hours to complete. While the story does take eons to get truly compelling, it is at least easy to just push through until it does because it’s actually fun to play. There’s no annoying random encounters to slow you down, there’s minimal grinding to be done, and it’s very rewarding when you figure out the right strategy and party makeup to take down a difficult boss.
Lost Sphear isn’t a classic, so don’t set your bar there otherwise you’ll definitely get let down. But, if you’re a fan of I Am Setsuna, or at least just want a solid enough JRPG to pass the time this winter, Lost Sphear will get that job done and provide you with a few memories worth hanging onto.
Score: 4/5 – Great
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