Since the moderate success of I Am Setsuna, it was clear that Tokyo RPG Factory had captured that classic JRPG vibe that had been missing for quite some time, namely the battle system that put Chrono Trigger on the map. Much like hot new music artists, Tokyo RPG Factory’s second outing, Lost Sphear, tries very hard at improving on their previous work, but comes across as more of a difficult second album.
Things start with a rather curious premise, as the world is slowly succumbing to a white light, becoming “lost”. When Kanata’s home town suddenly disappears while he and his two friends are out fishing, he searches for a way to bring it back, only to find he has the power to restore objects in the world using memories.
While the overarching story does lead to a satisfying conclusion, the characterisation is paper thin and plods along from one set piece to another. It doesn’t help that a lack of side quests that could potentially flesh out their character arcs makes the experience somewhat linear. By the halfway mark, I honestly couldn’t care any less about them.
As a fan of older JRPGs, there’s perhaps a bit too much that’s familiar about Lost Sphear. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in itself, but the game crams a lot of gimmicks and mechanics found in classic JRPGs into the pot. Much like I Am Setsuna, the battle system takes a lot of inspiration from Chrono Trigger, with ATB mechanics that dictates who acts and when. The twist is that you now have the ability to move characters around the battle during their turn, and alongside area of effect attacks, that adds a light tactical element to battles. That aside, it’s nearly identical to that of I Am Setsuna, only with some renaming and more obvious cues for activation.
Perhaps the weirdest observation I had with Lost Sphear was regarding memories. These are obtained in various ways, usually after battle with monsters or picked up in the oddly barren Overworld. In a call back that seems unusual, you can also obtain memories by talking to people and holding down a button when a particular phrase is highlighted. It’s not quite the same as the conversation system from Final Fantasy II – the Japanese one, not the American name for Final Fantasy IV – but the similarities are uncanny.
Later on in the game, the party will be able to wield Vulcosuits – mechanised armour that augments characters’ stats and grants unique attacks. Each one requires a separate, universal resource in order to operate and while this is indeed possible, there needs to be more ways to recover it efficiently. Had Lost Sphear incorporated the Vulcosuits as a more integral part of fighting enemies, it would have made for a more memorable combat system.
Other similarities to classic RPGs soon make themselves apparent; the empire with an element of untrustworthiness and travelling around the world to restore McGuffins to name a few. Even though there is a small hint of originality in creating Artifacts to restore the geographical locations on the world map, Lost Sphear doesn’t have much that’s unique.
Even the art style and monster usage is highly derivative of I Am Setsuna, right down to the attacks they use. It’s not a terrible thing, as the studio is carving out their own identity in a similar fashion to Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, yet when the rest of the game feels like a patchwork quilt of classic JRPG mechanics and conventions, the result doesn’t resonate as well. There are also a few dungeons that seem rather basic in their design, contributing to that bland feeling.
That’s not to say I didn’t like anything about Lost Sphear and how it plays. It’s a perfectly serviceable RPG that will get over a dozen hours of entertainment and harkens back to the good old nostalgic days of the Super Nintendo, albeit with a more modern visual style and music that is decent if sadly not memorable. But therein lays the big issue with the game: It is a jack of all trades but a master of none.
Most people probably won’t mind Lost Sphear’s nostalgia tinted approach to game design, but there’s surprisingly little to write home about. Despite a rather intriguing premise, the characters come across a tad too bland, while the quest itself is too linear. It’s hard to knock it too much, but after the thoughtful journey at the heart of I Am Setsuna, this is a pretty average showing and certainly not a fresh take on the JRPG.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4