Ever since I reviewed Tokyo RPG Factory’s debut title I am Setsuna, I couldn’t wait to hear what they would do next. Despite releasing only one title, the studio really made a name for itself by crafting a serious, classic style RPG based on a specific theme (Setsunai, a sort of melancholy bliss) and the entire game—from the combat to the art and music—complemented it. So to see the preliminary details leak on their next venture, Lost Sphere, made me excited for what the studio had planned next. At E3 2017, Lost Sphere wasn’t necessarily ready for a hands-on demo, but sitting with Atsushi Hashimoto during a sort of… hands-off experience revealed a game that might surpass their last outing without feeling like it’s treading in too-familiar territory.
Lost Sphere is the second title in “Project Setsuna” an initiative from Tokyo RPG Factory to bring back the classic JRPG, though it isn’t a direct sequel to the 2016 hit. At first glance, many of I am Setsuna’s trademarks are visible in Lost Sphere. It’s a top-down style RPG with cute character models and a variation on the ATB system (we’ll touch more on that later). There are even some little Easter eggs for fans hidden throughout the game.
“We aren’t going to show any direct links between the two games, but we have included a number of references,” says Hashimoto, adding he wants fans to make connections in their heads, though they are two separate games.
While the fan service and many Tokyo RPG Factory cues are very present, after that first glance, there’s a bit of a different vibe to this game. To start, the white snowscape that defined I am Setsuna is replaced with a lush, colourful world. Hashimoto explained that while the winter theme across the previous title was deliberate to bring fans the feeling of Setsunai, there were some complaints about the lack of varied landscapes. Though I only really saw the overworld, Hashimoto explained that this game features a variety of landscapes and even different cultures and races. This was the most interesting piece of aesthetic to me. The playable characters looked as though their designs were borrowed from Victorian England, but I was assured there will be a variety of characters from different parts of the world.
The story, without getting too far into spoiler territory, revolves around memories, and how they shape the world. Some entity is destroying the population’s memories and as such the land is beginning to fall apart. This means the lush meadows that once sprawled across the land are now missing huge chunks. The hero is the only one who can still retrieve his memories, and it’s up to him to restore the world. The name Lost Sphere plays on the idea of losing memories (i.e., lost) and the moon. Though Hashimoto wouldn’t go into detail about the role the moon plays, I was assured it does have a major role in the game.
Memories are an interesting premise to play with coming off such a heavy game like I am Setsuna. Unlike the ultimately heart-wrenching themes Tokyo RPG’s first title conveyed, memories are a mix of joy and sorrow. Hashimoto explains that Lost Sphere won’t be quite as sorrow-filled as I am Setsuna, though he does explain his favourite stories from 90’s JRPGs are more serious.
“What we really feel as developers, the games that stuck with us, that we have memories of, evoke those kinds of emotions that are slightly sad and more serious,” says Hashimoto, adding that while Lost Sphere is serious, it’s not as heavy as I am Setsuna. “We want to recreate that in the games we make and give lasting impressions.”
Atmosphere aside, Lost Sphere brings with it a completely overhauled battle system. Those who played I am Setsuna were pleasantly surprised to see the ATB system in full effect during combat. Along with the general aesthetic, this was a defining feature of many of the beloved golden-era JRPGs—specifically, but not limited to, Chrono Trigger. Now, that combat system returns, but with a bit of a facelift. Named ATB 2.0, this revamped battle system uses the same basic premise as its predecessor. Each character has a time meter that runs out when an attack is made, or if they wait, another meter can fill for a special or joint attack. In ATB 2.0, that part is still very much alive, though now, there is more strategy peppered in. Characters can now move around on the battlefield, instead of only moving where an attack takes them, and their moves have a visible range. Now, players can line up attacks to hit multiple opponents within a blast radius, and the same goes for healers too. Hashimoto explained that while you can’t use this new mechanic to say, get behind a boss in a fight, it can be used to strategically place players in the right area once the player knows the range of the boss’ attack.
Lost Sphere has some big shoes to fill, as I am Setsuna was a powerful game. Though it might borrow heavily from its predecessor, there is something unique from Lost Sphere that isn’t really seen in many modern RPGs. Tokyo RPG Factory could have another classic on its hands, and with a revamped battle system, The Lost Sphere could be a completely unique experience.