I really should have thought of this while I had someone who might know nearby, but how do you pronounce ‘Lost Sphear’? Is it a hard, plosive of ‘spear’ of the more sibilant ‘sphere’? Perhaps, as with the great Ubisoft conundrum, it doesn’t really matter. It could be either, neither or both, all at the same time. What really matters is who’s making this game, as it comes from the same team behind the much praised I Am Setsuna from Tokyo RPG Factory.
The world of Lost Sphear is shrouded in mystery to me still, outside of a legend that tells of the moon’s ability to destroy and remake the world anew, and despite having played for a good hour and explored two parts of the game – if anything, doing this bereft of context has removed me further from understanding. What’s clear is that humanity lives in fear of the monsters that roam the wild, and the old live in the fear of their reliance on the younger generation to fight and protect them.
However, this precarious balance of civilisation in dangerous lands is soon thrown out and large parts of the world are ripped away, replaced instead by blank white space known as Lost that leaves little clue as to what was there before. It’s only within the main protagonist Kanata that there is the power to drag these things back into existence through finding and using Memory and using this to restore objects and people to this world. Who did this and why remains a mystery to me, as I’ve already said, but it seems to turn what remains of humanity and the various powers that be against one another.
Again bereft of context for this hands on time, Kanata, Lumina and Locke were enlisted by a military group as they tried to fight through the Sacred Rahet. Hot on the heels of a group known as the Twilighters, you’re given the choice on a few occasions to capture or release those at your mercy, but without knowing what that will truly mean for them. Certainly it’s an intriguing spot of self determination in the midst of what appears to be a grand and dark fantasy tale.
Yet there’s a huge amount of levity and humour within this, with a lot of wonderful quirkiness exposed through the text dialogue and the manner in which its been localised and draws upon local idioms. It ties together so neatly, with a wife telling you that her husband is in for it when he gets back from the sauna for spending too much time there, encountering and being able to walk up to and talk to a Rowdy Dog or Frisky Pooch in town or Locke’s constant and baffling stupidity and ceaseless complaining of hunger. It’s a game that tickled my funny bone on a number of occasions, and even some of the enemies you’ll fight are more cute than they are dangerous looking.
While still having much in common with the active time battle systems of early Final Fantasy games and Chrono Trigger, there’s an added depth to the combat that sees Tokyo RPG Factory take this form and extend it further, giving you license to move around a particular area as you fight. It’s a slightly unusual slant on the active time battles, as you cannot move your characters until their turn has come up and you trigger it. It’s at that point that you can move freely around an arena in which all other characters have been frozen in time, picking your spot and where you want to attack from.
All attacks now have a specific area of effect, and this adds a great deal of strategy to where you position yourself and attack from – you don’t actually gain any advantage for flanking, but I would constantly put my characters behind the enemy regardless. Some like Lumina have a small circle in front for her regular attack or a rectangle to denote Obaro’s sweeping staff blow that can more easily hit multiple enemies together, while ranged attacks can often be lined up so that you can hit multiple enemies and spells cast down on someone with a wider radius to catch more enemies.
Boosting your damage, is the returning Momentum charge which fills up whenever a character is ready and waiting to take a turn, letting you bide your time before striking for a more powerful attack, and you also have the powerful combo attacks between characters. A further interesting aspect is the ability to put your party in Vulcosuits, which boost each character’s health, offers them entirely different abilities and attacks, but are limited by the amount of VP that your party has combined. At times you’ll also use the Vulcosuits to break obstacles in the world.
Of course, that cuts both ways, and you may find yourself on the receiving end of some large and hugely damaging area of effect attacks, which came as a surprise in the first truly challenging battle with a boss character. With attacks that can sway one of your characters to her side or deal damage to the entire battle area, she’s dangerous in her own right, but made even more deadly by being flanked by a pair of mushroom infested gorillas, who can stun and disrupt you with their bad or freezing breath. Needless to say it’s a particularly tricky encounter, and one that threw a game over screen at me to end my time with the game.
Lost Sphear adds some great new ideas to the revived active time battles, though purists might wonder why they insist on tinkering with something that works so well, and it’s brought into a more colourful and varied world. Simply put, if you enjoyed I Am Setsuna, then it looks like you’re going to love Lost Sphear when it’s out at the start of next year.