Lost Sphear just released on Nintendo Switch yesterday. It’s an RPG by Tokyo RPG Factory, the same folks who created I am Setsuna, which I own for the Switch, but haven’t played yet.
This game was on my radar based on the overall plot hook, which sounded very cool. You have a fantasy world where huge chunks are just vanishing, turning bright white. Cities. Mountains. People. All just gone.
And then there’s a character who can harness the memories of the world and can re-create those missing things. It has something to do with the moon. That’s all I know about it.
It sounded neat, so I picked up the demo.
The demo just tosses the player on an overworld map with no real idea of what the story of the world is. Who are these characters? What are they up to?
It kinda tries to explain these things, but I was not satisfied. If I didn’t have the knowledge of the backstory that I do, I’d probably have no clue why huge chunks of the map were white. Is it snow?
The graphics and musical style are beautiful, as you can see. But I struggled with the feeling that everything, including the characters and their personalities, were so distant to the player.
Above, you can see how tiny the overworld characters are. I can understand that.
You get into an area and the characters are still really small and distant. The sprites don’t convey much emotion at all.
When characters speak, there’s no character portraits to let you know who is who. In fact, the only place you can go to see what your characters look like is the menu during battle and on the menu screen. And even there, the images are super tiny!
The translation was a bit wonky. The dialogue that I saw was a bit stiff. The characters who seemed to have the most personality were often the NPCs — including a “mwahahah” general from the Empire.
Yeah. There’s even an evil Empire trope.
Check out that talk box above. See how it’s just flopped near the character speaking it (can you tell which one? … I hardly can)? It’s just covering over all the other characters in your party.
Look at all the rest of the open screen this box could have used. Why is it right on top of the character sprites?
This really bugged me as a design choice. I kept wanting to click on the text box and move it somewhere else (though you couldn’t) because every time there was a conversation, the boxes just flopped right over top of people in your party… while the rest of the screen was vast open space.
Maybe if this had been a talk bubble shape, this would have been more acceptable. But even then, there was plenty of room to put it above the characters, rather than plaster it over the party.
Oh, and when the game started, it asked if you wanted to use voice overs. I was happy to see this, and clicked YES!
What do you know… they’re all in Japanese… and only during battle sequences (that I saw). I have nothing against the Japanese language! But the issue here is that the one thing that could have given me a better sense of who these characters were as individuals – what they say in battle – is completely lost since I don’t understand what they’re saying!
So, opportunity missed.
Oh, and I know this isn’t a demo-only thing because I’ve watched the full release play-through videos, and none of this was addressed.
So, the battle system. It seems like the devs put a lot of attention into it. It had some interesting options, like moving around the screen and setting up places where your characters could attack for hits on multiple enemies. It has a bit of RTS feel to it.
And then there’s the mecha element of Vulcosuits. So the demo drops the suit mechanic on you out of nowhere. You can use it to blow up rocks in your path. It also suggested that you use them for battle because cool combos!
…but to beware not to use up all your VP points or you couldn’t battle anymore. They weren’t joking.
Well, I used all the VP up in the very first battle without really knowing it. I thought surely this would replenish between fights, right? Nope.
The suits were useless aside from blasting rocks for the rest of the demo.
And then, I get to what was sorta a boss encounter. I’d had no trouble fighting enemies up until this point. Heck, most the time, I killed them before they got a hit on me. Well, this boss just obliterated me.
She had an attack that charmed my characters, if she didn’t one-shot killed them… They weren’t that low on life, either. If she didn’t slaughter them, her pets did instead. They hit like a truck and had just as much HP. It wasn’t fun at all.
“And then all hope was lost from the world…”
That’s where my time with this demo ended.
I’m sure there’s probably more story to it (I watched the beginning in play-through videos, and still wasn’t impressed). I just couldn’t get a feel for any of the characters, so I found it hard to care what was going on. It’s a real shame.
Even the reviews have been pretty lukewarm for it. So I’m not the only one wishing this had more to offer:
Lost Sphear’s classically-styled RPG bones can scarcely bear the weight of its uninspired narrative.
Tokyo RPG Factory clearly wanted to build on every classic RPG all at once.
The writing is uneven, the music is generic, and the combat, even with a few new flourishes, just feels like I Am Setsuna redux. The characters are flat and boring, best described with archetypes like “heroic guy who lost his mother” and “spunky, irritating kid with a heart of gold.”
Have you tried this game and found it more engaging than I did? Let me know!