My first 10 hours with on Nintendo Switch Lost Sphear felt pleasant but unspectacular. Just like the previous game from Square Enix developers Tokyo RPG Factory, I Am Setsuna (you can read my review of that here), it leans on a lot of classic JRPG elements, but the occasional moments of wonderful original ideas pulled me through. Don’t expect a revolution, but the small refinements made in Lost Sphear make it worthwhile for those who enjoy the genre.
I Remember This
Going into Lost Sphear off the back of I Am Setsuna, the expectation is for a similar style of game. Tokyo RPG Factory were built around the mission of designing JRPGs that harken back to the glory days of Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger. The systems of Lost Sphear are familiar for those who have played these types of games – played in third-person, you control your party of up to 4 characters as they travel, with combat encounters playing out in an ATB (Active Time Battle) arrangement.
This means that time doesn’t stop between turns, and characters move as their ATB gauges fill up – when full, you can either do a standard attack or use abilities. This latter option is customisable depending on which Spritnite crystals you give a character, and additionally, as combat progresses, a Momentum metre fills up. When this is full, a press of the Y button enables further effects like extra damage. This is all pretty much identical to I Am Setsuna, but there are some changes.
I Am Setsuna designated where characters were positioned depending on the moves they made. Lost Sphear alters this, letting you move your character to the position you would like. This adds a bit of freedom and added control to proceedings, which is welcome. The combo attacks of I Am Setsuna, meanwhile, have taken a backseat – they are resigned to the Vulcosuits.
Vulcosuits are a new addition to the combat, introduced around the 8 hour mark. Equipped with the L button, they enable stronger attacks, as well as combo abilities when multiple characters are ready – moves use up an extra gauge which are tied to the Vulcosuits, but it depletes very quickly. Given that it uses up a move to equip or remove them, this makes it all seem unnecessary; visually they look clunky, too, and my reaction was to get out of them. Perhaps the usefulness of the suits will improve over time, but the initial impression isn’t good – it feels like the Vulcosuits were introduced just to add something, but they ended up just being unwieldy.
Doing a better job at setting Lost Sphear apart is the story. Main character Kanata is from a small, humble town, where the biggest threat is small monsters that are easily dispatched. Soon, though, he and his his friends Lumina and Locke come across a much bigger issue. Parts of their home and the world beyond are vanishing into the “White Fog”, making locations and their inhabitants disappear. Kanata is the only one with the power to restore these places by using Memories. These items can be found by exploring, defeating enemies, or by looking for key words in conversations.
It’s a really nice set-up, and watching out for prompts in conversation adds to the general story rhythm of a JRPG; there is an extra sense of reward for completing tasks, especially when opening up vast parts of the overworld. The characters themselves are likeable and distinct, from Lumina’s composed attitude to the reckless Locke – an interesting undertone is that Kanata and company don’t have parents. It seems that they have been forgotten, even, which could lead to really powerful story beats later on.
As well as this, other more complex ideas are starting to be integrated. As the story goes on and people realise what Kanata can do, people of authority try to use his powers for their own gain. He and his friends must be vigilant of what they get themselves into; one scenario is particularly questionable, and the characters have to look at their moral standing. If the strong premise of Memories continues to be used in this way, the story could have a really effective arc.
Overall, Lost Sphear isn’t blowing me away, and relies on a lot of mechanics that we have seen before in the genre. Yet, these are still solid and satisfying, and combined with an intriguing story makes for a charming and interesting JRPG. Other than the major topics above, there are plenty of little improvements that are noticeable after playing I Am Setsuna. That game lacked Inns, or any place to heal your whole party – in Lost Sphear, one of the first buildings you come across is an Inn in your home town. It’s the game immediately saying “we listened to you”. You can now move a lot faster around the map when in between locations, too – in I Am Setsuna, the slow movement speed could make getting around the map a pain.
This was especially apparent when you were just trying to find your next objective. If you missed certain dialogue in that game, you could be left with little idea of your next move – the party chat option in Lost Sphear helps with this, where the characters remind you of the current situation. It is touches like this that show a willingness from Tokyo RPG Factory to improve on the problems of their past game. Just take the opening hours compared to I Am Setsuna – there are less walls of text early on in Lost Sphear. The intro has you learning from doing things rather than being told, and it’s much more accessible because of this.
Lost Sphear also has an appealing sense of polish to it, with visuals looking smooth and running well. It is also refreshing to move around a world tonally different to I Am Setsuna. That game was covered in snow, which was a distinct and magical look, but the bright, varied appearance of Lost Sphear gives it a different feeling within the same art style.
Lost Sphear supposedly takes around 30 hours to complete, compared to the 20 hours of I Am Setsuna. My current inclination is to finish this game, as the game is holding my attention well enough with the interesting story. If you are burned out on JRPGs, there is no hurry to get to this – if you aren’t, though, and are looking for one that is solid and well-made, the first third of the game indicates that Lost Sphear is a good choice.