Lost Sp­hear

I Am Set­suna’s spir­i­tual suc­ces­sor chal­lenges its player and its past

EDGE - - GAMES - De­vel­oper Tokyo RPG Fac­tory Pub­lisher Square Enix For­mat PC, PS4, Switch Ori­gin Ja­pan Re­lease Jan­uary 23

PS4, Switch

The bit­ter winds of snow-driven JRPG

I Am Set­suna were harsh; its bat­tles, less so. Play­ers quickly re­alised cer­tain pow­er­ful skills and com­bos could drop en­e­mies in mere mo­ments. As a wist­ful nod to the good old days – Chrono Trig­ger, Fi­nal

Fan­tasy VI and so on – it made a case for it­self through sheer charm. Tokyo RPG Fac­tory’s fol­low-up pays sim­i­lar homage to the greats, but is also freshly de­ter­mined to set some ants among the nos­tal­gic pic­nic.

While I Am Set­suna sub­tly tweaked the Ac­tive Time Bat­tle Sys­tem made pop­u­lar by

Chrono Trig­ger, Lost Sp­hear has made a more dras­tic change, let­ting you freely move party mem­bers around the bat­tle­field. The tac­ti­cal depth this adds is dis­tinct. When our party runs across a clutch of Mories in a nearby for­est, our thoughts are as much on po­si­tion­ing as they are on com­bi­na­tions of at­tacks. We can now, for in­stance, send tough-gloved Lu­mina sprint­ing around the back line to hit a whole clus­ter of the an­gry green par­rot-crea­tures at once. Locke’s cross­bow, mean­while, re­quires some light ge­om­e­try: if we move him to the top of the screen, we’re able to catch four en­e­mies in our line of fire. And these are ba­sic at­tacks to boot – char­ac­ters’ reg­u­lar blows can of­ten hit across more squares than their in­di­ca­tors might sug­gest, and, cou­pled with this new range of re­al­time mo­tion, there’s more util­ity and cre­ativ­ity to be wrung out of the bat­tle sys­tem than ever.

The con­stant reeval­u­a­tions of a highly change­able bat­tle­field force a proac­tive ap­proach: in Set­suna, you’d sim­ply have to hope foes would move into vul­ner­a­ble groups of their own ac­cord. Here, the re­sult is akin to a mildly stress­ful game of bowl­ing, set­ting them up with hero Kanata’s de­fense-low­er­ing skill, then knock­ing sev­eral down with a well-placed blow. Even this in­tro­duc­tory Mory en­counter is some­what tense, since these small feath­ery y nui­sances hit de­cently hard. For­tu­nately, I

Am Set­suna’s Mo­men­tum sys­tem re­turns to lend a hand, as you boost dam­age with a timely tap of a face but­ton be­fore an at­tack k fires. Lib­eral, ir­rel­e­vant ap­pli­ca­tions of the e pre­fix ‘Set­suna’ also fea­ture. Our shrine maiden hasn’t been for­got­ten just yet.

But the con­tin­u­a­tion of Set­suna’s spirit, t, if not its story, is wel­come. Kanata’s home e town of El­gar­the is a de­light to ex­plore: del­i­cate light­ing and show­ers of au­tumn leaves de­pict a warmer melan­choly than

Set­suna’s snowy is­land. There’s change in

Suit­ing up one char­ac­ter and keep­ing them close to the en­emy works well

the air. Nev­er­the­less, the vil­lage is bustling with life and lit­tle sto­ries: the uni­ver­sally beloved innkeeper; the kid pa­tiently teach­ing his pet tricks; the dead­beat hus­band who spends too much time in the sauna to es­cape his in-laws. A gi­ant bell serves as a warn­ing when mon­sters at­tack, and com­i­cally named dogs play in the streets. Soon, how­ever, El­gar­the and ev­ery­one in it will dis­ap­pear, whole chunks of the game’s over­world fall­ing into a white void. Only our hero Kanata can re­turn these for­got­ten parts of the world, us­ing mem­ory frag­ments re­cov­ered from bat­tling en­e­mies.

The caveat of Lost Sp­hear’s flex­i­ble com­bat is that bosses are can­nier, us­ing your poor po­si­tion­ing against you. A later bat­tle against bow-wield­ing war­rior Sherra and her two go­rilla-es­que guards is pun­ish­ing, even at a lofty level 18. When we un­con­sciously move our char­ac­ters into a tempt­ing line, Sherra fires off a charmed ar­row at­tack, be­witch­ing three of our four party mem­bers. The un­for­tu­nate Van is duly knocked out, and a restart soon fol­lows im­mi­nent. Our next run at the fight is more care­fully spaced, as we hit all three en­e­mies with long-range at­tacks as of­ten as pos­si­ble (Kanata has an area-of-ef­fect skill that can lower mul­ti­ple foes’ de­fence, which proves es­sen­tial) and keep our he­roes sep­a­rated. A scat­tered for­ma­tion, how­ever, spells dis­as­ter for AOE heal­ing ef­forts. Things are tense, our de­ci­sion-mak­ing swift and not al­ways cor­rect – and here, at least, there’s no sin­gle over­pow­ered at­tack to lean on.

We sup­pose there are the mech suits, though, great clank­ing piles of metal that can turn your dinky war­riors into su­per­charged ro­bot ter­rors on a whim. The Vul­co­suits are more bal­anced than they sound, how­ever. Press­ing the left bumper trans­forms one or all of your party into mecha, each with a dif­fer­ent and more pow­er­ful set of at­tacks and skills. Higher de­fence prop­er­ties mean they’re a great op­tion for your wounded char­ac­ters to re­treat to. Po­ten­tial bal­ance is­sues are mit­i­gated by a Vul­co­points me­ter: us­ing the suits and their abil­i­ties in com­bat rapidly drains the team’s shared charge. As long as the items that must be found to charge the me­ter aren’t too plen­ti­ful, this me­chan­i­cal cu­rios­ity is set to add a new layer of strat­egy to Lost Sp­hear’s com­bat. Suit­ing up one char­ac­ter and keep­ing them close to the en­emy to tank big hits works well.

We also quickly learn the ben­e­fits of trans­form­ing a sin­gle char­ac­ter with a spe­cific skill, at cer­tain points in more dif­fi­cult bat­tles, to con­serve me­ter – al­though the quick think­ing and for­ward plan­ning re­quired will doubt­less take fur­ther get­ting used to. There are rea­sons to hop into Vul­co­suits dur­ing ex­plo­ration sec­tions, too: me­ter can be spent to rocket-boost your party through ar­eas and past en­emy en­coun­ters, and some­times we find that we need the ex­tra clout to break through tough ob­sta­cles in our path. The whole sit­u­a­tion feels slightly off, tonally. In our demo, at least, it’s never ex­plained why Kanata and friends can in­stantly morph into ro­bots like it’s the most nat­u­ral thing in the world. Then again, it’s prefer­able to the ap­pear­ance of ‘moral choice’ events later on. Though they are, ad­mit­tedly, re­moved from the con­text of the full game, choos­ing to save or spare cer­tain copy-pasted sol­diers you’ve de­feated feels half-hearted in its ex­e­cu­tion.

Com­bat re­freshes and some melan­cholic mecha aside, Lost Sp­hear is mostly rather fa­mil­iar. But, as the name im­plies, Tokyo RPG Fac­tory is a stu­dio know­ingly carv­ing out a nos­tal­gic niche for it­self – and, on this ev­i­dence, do­ing an ex­cel­lent job of it. Lost

Sp­hear is mak­ing a strong case for the rel­e­vance of the qui­etly ac­com­plished, ret­rostyle JRPG in a mar­ket of bom­bas­tic ac­tion. It’s a prod­uct of both Set­suna’s fail­ures and suc­cesses – its clas­sic spirit ar­gu­ing that we shouldn’t for­get the past, lest we lose what makes it so spe­cial.

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