While they aren’t incredibly common, there’s a strong variety of video games out there based on the rich lore of H.P. Lovecraft’s supernatural writings. Some games attempt to directly adapt specific Lovecraft novels, like Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, but it’s more common for developers to take the world and mythos of Cthulhu and craft their own narrative heavily inspired by the iconic creatures and iconography of Lovecraft. The best of these games also tend to remove all the insanely racist and sexist parts of H.P. Lovecraft’s writing at the same time. The Lost Child is the latest of these Cthulhu-inspired video games, and it is truly a cosmic horror of a game.
The Lost Child is a dungeon crawling JRPG that sees you controlling Hayato, an investigative journalist who specializes in the occult. After a mysterious woman gives him a locked suitcase, another woman shows up claiming to be a servant of God and ends up roping Hayato into a mind-boggling quest to destroy the evil that is invading Japan and save the world from destruction.
The game throws a thousand calorie serving of Lovecraftian jargon and cheesy cliches at you, but never takes a moment to try and explain them or develop the characters who are spouting these details. Hayato is little more than a blank vessel for the player, and every character you meet lacks any well-developed personality or clear intentions. Events and story beats happen with little rhyme or reason, and all I could do was smile and nod as I hammered away at the A button to get past it all.
Bizarrely enough, this game is actually a follow-up to the 2011 cult-hit action game El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron. If you aren’t one of the seven people who played that game, you won’t be particularly out of the loop. The two protagonists of that game make brief appearances in The Lost Child, but anything involving El Shaddai in this story is little more than a cameo.
For any big Cthulhu fans hoping to at least find enjoying in that aspect of the game, I doubt you’ll be satisfied. The story of Lost Child constantly mashes together Lovecraft iconography and vague religious themes of the Catholic or Buddhist variety, but nothing cohesive or understandable ever comes of it. Instead, characters just talk about heaven and God a lot while you fight Shin Megami Tensei rejects with names like Hastur or Deep Ones.
The visuals of the game don’t fare any better at embodying the cosmic terror of Lovecraft’s world. None of the characters you meet have any sort of unique or striking design, apart from the good ol’ Cyber Priest. He’s a giant TV screen with an old dude’s face on it and four cats sitting on top of it. He was dope. Everyone else, though, is just a generic anime character rendered in an equally generic art style.
The demons you do battle with are even worse. Despite sporting very Cthulhu-y names, practically every creature you come across is either a generic RPG demon or an anime babe in wild armour. You’ll also be encountering these creatures in 3D dungeons that feel lower quality than something from the earliest years of the 3DS. Environments are simple, dull, and rarely have any variety, much like the rest of the art in this game.
The gameplay is probably the strongest part of this otherwise dull package. At first glance, the dungeon-crawling and demon-brawling just seemed like more aping of Shin Megami Tensei. You traverse mazelike 3D dungeons in first person, capture demons to use on your own team, and evolve them into newer and stronger forms. Beyond those basic mechanics, though, are minor systems that add a lot of addictive risk/reward gameplay into the mix.
Your human characters gain experience after every battle, but your monsters don’t. In order to level up your monsters, you need to feed them a currency called ‘karma’, which you earn after battles but also through your otherwise unimportant dialogue choices. If you die in battle, though, you’ll be sent to a secret place and given the option to pay karma in order to be sent back to the point in time right before the fight began. I ended up trying to maintain my karma levels so that I still had a good stockpile in case I did end up needing to be revived, which happened frequently.
There’s also an interesting treasure chest system that is risk/reward in its purest form. As you explore dungeons or defeat certain enemies, you’ll encounter treasure chests with a Danger Meter and an Investigation Meter. If you choose to try unlocking the chest, you’ll increase one or both of these bars. Fill the Investigation Meter and you can open the chest, but fill the Danger Meter and your party suffers massive damage. Your monsters have various abilities that can help unlock certain traps or lower the Danger Meter, but these will drain your MP, meaning you’ll need to decide how much you want to sacrifice your MP or HP for the sake of potentially getting extra loot.
These base combat systems were pretty enjoyable, but the loop surrounding it all was always dull and taxing. Finding new dungeons is a tedious chore of navigating map menus and clicking on character names to talk to them until your partner tells you where the dungeon is located, and the layouts of these multi-floor dungeons were mostly headache-inducing mazes that were rarely fun to navigate. The lack of any impactful or memorable music just made the journey even more tiring.
The Lost Child is a dull, uninspired dungeon crawler. On paper, a Lovecraft dungeon crawler with a Japanese flair could be something truly iconic and memorable. Instead of realizing that ideal, The Lost Child apes existing dungeon crawlers and throws a dozen ideas at the wall, with none of them managing to stick. Combat can be fun and the El Shaddai nods are cute, but it isn’t enough to make this cosmic terror worth losing your sanity over.
Version tested: Nintendo Switch
Also available for PS4 and PS Vita