Lost Sphear (PS4) Review – Familiar Fantasy

Lost Sphear (PS4) Review - Familiar Fantasy

Lost Sphear is the tale of a world wherein people, places, and objects are gradually becoming “Lost”. They simply disappear, seemingly gone forever, leaving behind only shimmering particles of white light. The player assumes control of Kanata, a young man with the extraordinary power to restore that which is Lost by projecting memories into reality. Once the Lost phenomenon spreads to his hometown of Elgarthe, Kanata embarks on a journey to piece his world back together, eventually coming face-to-face with the nature of his own reality.

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Lost Sphear (PS4) – images for this review provided by Square Enix and Tokyo RPG Factory.

Given that Lost Sphear is the spiritual successor to I Am Setsuna, it naturally contains a host of iterative improvements to its gameplay systems. Immediately evident is a suite of quality-of-life options that have become increasingly genre-standard fare: Lost Sphear allows the player to fast-forward through event scenes at either twice or sixteen times the default speed. This is useful should they fall in battle and not want to read through a villain’s long-winded speech before being able to try again. Even better, the game features separate switches to turn off battle movement and animations entirely in the interest of expediency. There is also a simple Party Chat feature that makes the characters muse on their current objective in case the player forgets where to go, as well as an option to turn off characters’ (Japanese-only) battle cries for a more authentically retro experience.

Lost Sphear differentiates itself visually from I Am Setsuna with a broader colour palette—yes, there’s more than white snow and maple trees this time—and more diverse environments. Likewise, the game’s pleasant soundtrack is more instrument-rich than I Am Setsuna, which featured almost entirely solo piano compositions. The jaunty main battle theme is a highlight, evoking Joe Hisaishi’s work on Spirited Away.

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Lost Sphear (PS4) – images for this review provided by Square Enix and Tokyo RPG Factory.

The biggest improvement here is undoubtedly the game’s refined battle system. It retains the same turn-based core mechanics from I Am Setsuna, but now allows for manual positioning and targeting for more strategic opportunities. This change alone makes battles significantly more strategic and interesting from the get-go, allowing the player to pull off satisfying one-turn victories with a well-placed attack. The Momentum system from I Am Setsuna also returns, rewarding well-timed button presses with additional attack effects to turn the tide of combat. Spiritnite, I Am Setsuna‘s primary source of character customization, is back in simplified form as well; these magical stones now confer character-specific skills and easy-to-understand passive bonuses to suit the player’s style.

Combat in Lost Sphear gains a final layer of complexity early in the game with the addition of “Vulcosuits.” Less “suits” and more Xenogears-inspired robotic frames, these limited-use wearable weapons boost characters’ stats and amplify their core skills. While wearing their Vulcosuits, every character gains access to a totally unique command called a Paradigm Drive. Kanata, for example, gains the ability to execute a co-op attack (and yes, the first one is “X-Strike,” just like Chrono Trigger), while magical powerhouse Obaro acquires greater mastery over the elements.

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Lost Sphear (PS4) – images for this review provided by Square Enix and Tokyo RPG Factory.

The player can exert even further control over their playstyle with the new “Artifact” system. Essentially, Artifacts are landmarks that the player can create on the overworld using crystallized memories acquired throughout the course of the game. These confer a variety of useful effects, both within battle and without, that range from convenient tweaks like adding a world map or increasing movement speed to greatly skewing battle calculations to favour physical attacks over magic, increasing critical hit rate, and so on. Their effects are significant and add a fantastic layer of meta-strategy to supplement the player’s actions within battles themselves.

Where Lost Sphear truly lags behind—even more so than I Am Setsuna, somehow—is in terms of narrative. Its core conceit of restoring the world with memories simply isn’t that interesting. The game forces the player to spend time engaging in JRPG drudgery like gamboling about with childhood friends and serving a totally-not-evil empire, for whom the party commits war crimes before throwing their hands up and saying “enough is enough.” It makes an uninspired first impression—and indeed, that may be intentional, given the developer’s objective of recreating classic RPG experiences of yore—but a slightly more interesting story does eventually take shape. There are noteworthy twists on world-building elements that I simply took for granted until the game inverted them later, much to my surprise. Even with these flashes of inspiration, the story is uninteresting enough to drag down the entire experience.

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Lost Sphear (PS4) – images for this review provided by Square Enix and Tokyo RPG Factory.

A critical failing that remains unchanged from I Am Setsuna is the below-average quality of the game’s writing. Simply put, it’s bland. I Am Setsuna, at least, featured resonant themes that were ill-served by poor writing; Lost Sphear‘s milquetoast script disappoints on another level because it lacks even the same ambition as its predecessor. I love my Japanese RPGs, but we’ve come a long way from the barely-comprehensible era of 16-bit localization. More nuanced characterization and fewer played-out story beats could have elevated Lost Sphear‘s story to the next level.

To that end, the cast of characters is less charismatic than its predecessor’s as well. They’re generally not as interesting, even in terms of visual design, as I Am Setsuna‘s colourful personages. In the interest of not being overly reductive, I do applaud the developer’s efforts to undermine tropes in some instances, but their strict adherence to bone-headed “RPG logic” in the game’s script often works against it.

Lost Sphear is exactly what one might expect from a self-professed “RPG factory.” Rolled along a conveyor belt until it possessed all of the requisite parts, it has a mass-produced sort of sensibility that compares unfavourably to its hand-crafted contemporaries. Yet in spite of its narrative issues, a handful of creative touches to its gameplay systems help it to carve out a tenuous foothold in my memory. In an age replete with so many other creative works, however, it is dangerous to teeter on the precipice of being forgettable.

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Lost Sphear (PS4) – images for this review provided by Square Enix and Tokyo RPG Factory.

Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out more of Derek Heemsbergen’s  reviews, such as  Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth and his second look at Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age!

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Tokyo RPG Factory Ends Year in $2.4 Million Deficit

Tokyo RPG Factory Ends Year in $2.4 Million Deficit

Tokyo RPG Factory reports a loss of 244 million yen, or approximately $2.4 million USD at the end of their 2016 fiscal year in March. This is according to the Official Gazette (Kanpo), whose most recent publication saw the release of these financial statements.

Tokyo RPG Factory is a development team created within Square Enix with the goal of bringing back the “Golden age” of the JRPG. According to Usuke Kumagai, Technical director for Tokyo RPG factory, the team was created after Yosuke Matsuda, President of Square Enix Holdings, noticed a resurgence in games paying tribute to this age the JRPG among western indie developers. In an interview with CGMagazine, Kumagai explained that the team was formed because “…we wanted to create a JRPG in Japan because it stands for Japanese RPG, and have people play it once again.”

Their premiere IP, I am Setsuna, a game influenced by such titles as Chrono TriggerFinal Fantasy, and Dragon Quest, was released in Japan on February 18th of this year. It was released in North America on July 19th.

It sold 33,629 copies on Playstation 4 and 27 994 copies on PlayStation Vita, with a total of 61,623 units sold in Japan. Tokyo RPG Factory and Square Enix released I am Setsuna in North America for Playstation 4, Playstaion Vita and Windows. Currently, and estimated 26,000 units of the North American version have sold on Steam.

It is not unusual for a new development team to experience a year end deficit, especially after the release of their first game. In fact, the early beginnings of Square were rooted in financial hardships, which led to the merger with Enix in 2001. At the end of their fiscal year in March, Square Enix Holdings reported a 27.5% increase in sales from that of March 2015. Since the financial report for Tokyo RPG Factory has not yet accounted for sales world-wide, success for Tokyo RPG Factory is still a real possibility.

You can read more CGMagazine’s interviews with Tokyo RPG Factory and I am Setsuna in the July-August issue of CGMagazine.

I am Setsuna Preview – The Return of the Classic Square RPG

I am Setsuna Preview - The Return of the Classic Square RPG

I’ve been lamenting the loss of the golden age of the JRPG for a long time. When Square Enix announced that they were bringing I am Setsuna to North America on July 19th of this year, I was ecstatic. I’d finally be able to relive that nostalgic time and fill that void that’s been empty for so long.

Read moreI am Setsuna Preview – The Return of the Classic Square RPG

I Am Setsuna Release Date Revealed

I Am Setsuna Release Date Revealed

Square Enix’s newest JRPG: I Am Setsuna finally has a release date only a few months away.

The game, created by Tokyo RPG Factory and published by Square Enix is set to release July 19, 2016 for PlayStation 4 and PC. The release date was announced via a teaser trailer which can be found below:

 

I Am Setsuna tells the tragic story of a young woman named Setsuna, and the sacrifices she must face in order to the save her home and loved ones. Square Enix says players will be “immersed in an emotional and unforgettable story of true bravery as Setsuna leaves her hometown with her bodyguards on a journey to the farthest land.”

According to Square Enix, I Am Setsuna’s art style and game mechanics are inspired by classic Japanese RPGs, naming Chrono Trigger as one of the lead inspirations for the game’s battle system.

I Am Setsuna will be the first game developed by Square Enix’s Tokyo RPG Factory.