Lost Sp­hear PC, PS4, Switch

Tokyo RPG Factory’s se­cond project mixes melan­choly with nos­tal­gia

EDGE - - GAMES - De­vel­oper Pub­lisher For­mat Ori­gin Re­lease Tokyo RPG Factory Square Enix PC, PS4, Switch Ja­pan Early 2018

Com­pared to those of his col­leagues tasked with fig­ur­ing out the fu­ture and prof­itabil­ity of the Ja­panese RPG,

At­sushi Hashimoto’s day job is more straight­for­ward. As di­rec­tor of Tokyo RPG Factory, a small team sta­tioned within Square Enix’s lav­ish Shin­juku head­quar­ters, Hashimoto’s brief is sim­ply to make af­ford­able games that re­cap­ture the spirit and am­biance of the com­pany’s beloved 16bit cat­a­logue. He is, in other words, in the busi­ness of nos­tal­gia-mak­ing – a com­fort­able place to be when the con­tem­po­rary JRPG is fal­ter­ing. While the di­rec­tor of the no-doubtin-de­vel­op­ment Fi­nal Fan­tasy XVI sweats some­where else in the build­ing in search of maps to places that don’t yet ex­ist, Hashimoto need only un­furl the well-worn and proven blue­prints of Chrono Trig­ger, Fi­nal Fan­tasy VI and all the rest, and fol­low their ex­am­ple.

Not that he hasn’t brought his own vi­sion and flair to the en­ter­prise. I Am Set­suna, Hashimoto’s di­rec­to­rial de­but, was re­leased in 2015 and was both a crit­i­cal and com­mer­cial suc­cess. Built in Unity, it was a thor­oughly straight­for­ward game with a straight­for­ward score, a straight­for­ward plot and the straight­for­ward rhythms of team com­bat and re­cu­per­a­tion. But in its plain­spo­ken con­fi­dence and com­pe­tence, the game filled a yawn­ing gap in the JRPG mar­ket. It sold enough, seem­ingly, to guar­an­tee the fu­ture of Hashimoto and his team’s con­tin­ued ex­cur­sions into the past: Lost Sp­hear is the team’s se­cond game, one that aims to ad­dress some of the nig­gles and com­plaints aimed at its pre­de­ces­sor, with­out the need to pick up its nar­ra­tive threads and build a for­mal se­ries. This is an all-new story with an all-new cast, even if its style and ap­proach of­fer a con­tin­u­a­tion of I Am Set­suna’s ex­am­ple.

Hashimoto, how­ever, is not tak­ing any­thing for granted. “With I Am Set­suna, we had an idea of what would be a good game and an in­ter­est­ing ap­proach,” he tells us. “To a cer­tain de­gree, we found there was a gap be­tween our per­cep­tion of what we thought a con­tem­po­rary RPG in the clas­sic style would

need, and what fans were look­ing for. For ex­am­ple, there were no inns in our game. It turns out that a lot of peo­ple love inns. So we’ve put them in to the new game. Wher­ever pos­si­ble, this time around we’ve tried to close those sorts of gaps.”

I Am Set­suna’s theme was the folly of un­ex­am­ined tra­di­tion – of do­ing things just be­cause that’s the way they’ve al­ways been done (an apro­pos sub­ject, con­sid­er­ing the cur­rent state of the genre). Lost Sp­hear also has a sub­ject rel­e­vant to its form: that of fad­ing mem­o­ries. When a rec­ol­lec­tion is lost in a per­son’s mind, that lo­ca­tion or in­di­vid­ual dis­ap­pears en­tirely from the world, to be whisked off to a pur­ga­tory known only as Lost, where it re­mains, un­re­cov­er­able. One day 16-year-old pro­tag­o­nist Kanata re­turns home to find his home town wiped off the map in this way. He soon dis­cov­ers that, un­like the rest of the pop­u­la­tion, he has the power to re­store that which is lost. To­gether with his child­hood friends, Lu­mina and Locke, as well as an older man named Van (names that will be some­what fa­mil­iar to Fi­nal Fan­tasy afi­ciona­dos), Kanata works to re­in­state these lost pieces of the world.

If Hashimoto sees him­self as a kind of Kanata, lift­ing a style of for­got­ten game from ob­scu­rity and anachro­nism, he’s not let­ting on. He is will­ing to ad­mit that Lost Sp­hear has a de­lib­er­ately melan­cholic tone to match its theme. All of his favourite games from child­hood ended in sad­ness and loss, he says. “That’s the mood I want to cre­ate here.”

De­spite the suc­cess of Tokyo RPG Factory’s de­but, the de­vel­op­ment team has re­mained the same size for this fol­low-up. “There’s no neg­a­tive rea­son for why we haven’t ex­panded the team,” says Hashimoto. “We just hap­pen to think that a dozen or so peo­ple is the ideal size for a game of this vi­sion and scope.” It’s a diplo­matic an­swer. As any block­buster de­vel­oper knows, balanc­ing the fi­nan­cial costs of large-scale de­vel­op­ment with the po­ten­tial sales is a del­i­cate, high-risk en­ter­prise.

Per­haps for this rea­son, RPGs are in­creas­ingly be­ing made by smaller, of­ten wholly in­de­pen­dent teams. There was a no­table dearth of am­bi­tious stu­dio JRPGs at this year’s E3. “It’s cer­tainly true that there are fewer games like this be­ing made to­day,” Hashimoto says. “There are var­i­ous rea­sons for that. More than any­thing, the amount it costs to make any kind of game of that size is pro­hib­i­tive these days. But I like to see that as an op­por­tu­nity. It is a time for smaller teams like ours to shine through.”

As­sume the po­si­tion

I Am Set­suna’s bat­tle sys­tem al­lowed char­ac­ters to seam­lessly en­ter bat­tle when encountering a foe on the map. But each com­bat­ant was lim­ited to fight­ing from a pre­de­ter­mined po­si­tion. In re­sponse to crit­i­cism, Lost

Sp­hear will al­low play­ers to di­rect the po­si­tion­ing of their squad in or­der to, for ex­am­ple, in­clude as many en­e­mies as pos­si­ble in a ranged or area at­tack. “We did a lot of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion with dif­fer­ent ways you could po­si­tion team mem­bers in bat­tle,” Hashimoto says. “The so­lu­tion we came up with adds a keen strate­gic el­e­ment.” Hashimoto was un­will­ing to dis­cuss spe­cific de­tails, but char­ac­ters will, at some point, be able to wear mys­ti­cal Vul­co­suits to ex­pand their com­bat op­tions.

“We just hap­pen to think that a dozen or so peo­ple is the ideal size for this game”

Crit­ics ar­gued that IAm Set­suna be­came too easy through a com­bi­na­tion of pow­er­ful com­bos and an un­lim­ited in­ven­tory, two facets that have been over­hauled to main­tain chal­lenge in LostSp­hear

ABOVE Chrono Trig­ger’s bat­tle sys­tem once again pro­vides the tem­plate for Lost Sp­hear’s com­bat, al­beit now with the ca­pac­ity for po­si­tional strate­gis­ing

IAmSet­suna proved an early suc­cess on Switch. Lost Sp­hear has been de­signed specif­i­cally with the con­sole in mind, since it’s a plat­form that Hashimoto says is ideal for the kinds of games the stu­dio wants to make

ABOVE The ob­jects that ‘dis­ap­pear’ from Lost Sp­hear’s world range from rocks up to en­tire towns

TOP LEFT Play switches to an over­head world map when­ever you exit a town or dun­geon, in the fa­mil­iar style of pre-PS2 Fi­nal Fan­tasy games.

LEFT Where IAmSet­suna lim­ited its scenes to the bu­colic – thick forests, thun­der­struck moun­tain­tops, rolling hills – LostSp­hear has a wider range of lo­cales, in­clud­ing dour, yet oddly strik­ing in­dus­trial cities

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