Lost Sphear is the successor of I Am Setsuna, a game that divided opinion when it was released in 2016. Unfortunately, Lost Sphear seems to follow that trend to perhaps its detriment. While Lost Sphear seems to tick a lot of boxes for the RPG genre, it feels like many of the pieces to complete the jigsaw are missing in the white void, therefore, never really gaining a personality of its own to become an enjoyable game.
On a technical view, the game is wonderfully made. It runs smoothly in TV mode, tabletop mode, and handheld mode, without any real lag between them. The animation is elegant and looks charming, and nothing seems out of place. The overworld is well-crafted, essentially a map that’s easy enough to navigate, with plenty of white voids to uncover and explore.
But here unearths one of the most annoying aspects of Lost Sphear, something all RPGs aspire to achieve; exploration and flexibility. The game is incredibly linear, there’s no way to break from the storyline and have a sense of discovery on your own, almost like a narrator at a theatre telling you what will happen next. The player might try to leave the city, but they can’t because the storyline needs them in the city to progress. The player wants to use the boat they were just given, but can’t because a whirlpool is stopping them from traveling across the sea. Lost Sphear wants to look like the player has control, but it doesn’t want you to stray too far from the completion of the story.
It’s a shame, because Lost Sphear has bags full of potential. The story itself is actually quite interesting, with pieces of the world being lost into a white void, and the main character Kanata having the ability to use memories to restore what has been lost. Some of the dialogue between characters can be a little underwhelming, but there’s plenty of personality for some mild amusement in the cutscenes. It’s a classic case of too much spice hiding a bland flavor, as beneath the sassy scenes lays a rather average RPG.
And for a linear game, the progression of difficulty can be bumpy, to say the least. While your normal foes can be dealt with in one hit, making short work of all the dungeons, the bosses just seem to suddenly escalate whereby Kanata and his companions get punished without much of a chance. Admittedly, a lot of this can be overcome by upgrading your weapons and armor to buff your attack and defense, but sometimes you have to trawl back through the dungeon to level some more just to overcome the boss. This is not entirely a bad thing, but as a sense of proportion, either the normal foes should be harder or the bosses should be easier.
That said, the battle system is fresh and vibrant, a unique experience on its own and definitely the highlight of Lost Sphear. While the storyline doesn’t like too much flexibility, the battle system has plenty, and you have to think fast to overcome any foe that might be a little engaging. Not only do you need to have your weapons and armor prepared, but different weapons and moves can deliver different variations of damage. A crossbow, for instance, will be able to damage numerous of enemies in its line of sight. This requires positioning your characters depending on their strengths and moving them around almost like a game of chess. Each character builds up momentum as they attack or become attacked, which can then be unleashed to perform a particularly powerful move.
What Lost Sphear misses is a sense of mystery, a reason to explore and uncover the secrets of the continent. RPGs are much more than battling, they need a personality to put the player into a ‘role’ and start imagining a new world from their own. Breath of the Wild is the finest example of that, and even Xenoblade Chronicles 2 creates a world that the player is eager to discover and become immersed in. Ironically, you can’t get lost in Lost Sphear, there’s no escape into the imagination, and it feels almost produced in a factory as a basic RPG for the masses.
However, there is plenty of groundwork to build upon if Tokyo RPG Factory wishes to do another game in the series. Rather than turning out one every year like a FIFA game, they should give themselves more time to finely tune the game into a unique experience, and give life to the potential that Lost Sphear has. Keep the battle system and give flexibility to the player and they might just have a winning formula.