114 Lost Sphear

EDGE - - GAMES -

PC, PS4, Switch

There are sur­prises in the sto­ry­telling, with one or two gen­uine shocks, even if one twist is blind­ingly ob­vi­ous

De­vel­oper Tokyo RPG Fac­tory Pub­lisher Square Enix For­mat PC, PS4 (tested), Switch Re­lease Out now

Cen­tred on a plucky group seek­ing to re­vive lost places by sum­mon­ing old mem­o­ries, Lost

Sphear’s story might seem a lit­tle on-the-nose com­ing from a stu­dio whose rai­son d’etre seems to be just that. As with its win­try de­but, I Am Set­suna, this is a con­sciously old-fash­ioned JRPG, de­signed to evoke fond feel­ings of a time be­fore ex­trav­a­gant, fully voiced cutscenes and lav­ish pre­sen­ta­tion be­came the norm. It uses the same top-down cam­era as its pre­de­ces­sor, and also fea­tures a turn-based bat­tle sys­tem with re­al­time el­e­ments. There’s some shared ter­mi­nol­ogy, too, and a melan­cholic un­der­cur­rent to its nar­ra­tive. Yet if this spir­i­tual suc­ces­sor of sorts has been pressed into a sim­i­lar mould, it’s not quite the pro­duc­tion-line num­ber it first ap­pears – and not only be­cause you have a party of four this time, rather than three.

The world’s still blan­keted in white, but it’s not snow that’s cov­er­ing the ground; rather, a strange phe­nom­e­non is oc­cur­ring whereby towns and vil­lages are be­com­ing ‘lost’ – re­placed by a twin­kling, empty space. It turns out that they’re not so much gone as for­got­ten: the resid­ual mem­o­ries of these places have some­how at­tached them­selves to nearby mon­sters, and only by de­feat­ing them can our he­roes re­in­state these set­tle­ments and their in­hab­i­tants.

In prac­ti­cal terms, that means guid­ing earnest pro­tag­o­nist Kanata and his grow­ing party of al­lies from town to city to swamp to cas­tle, de­feat­ing clus­ters of crea­tures while pulling the odd lever and hit­ting the oc­ca­sional switch. Some of these mon­sters are sub­tly re­pur­posed from Set­suna, but most are orig­i­nal de­signs. In­deed, it’s a more vis­ually di­verse jour­ney in gen­eral: though it lacks a dis­tinc­tive aes­thetic iden­tity, it doesn’t have the same prob­lem where your next desti­na­tion looks much like the last. The dun­geons are struc­tured in much the same way, but even from above the sur­round­ings can be strik­ing. There’s a strong sense of fore­bod­ing when ex­plor­ing a des­o­late ship grave­yard, its wrecks linked by creak­ing gang­planks; by con­trast, a mir­rored lake at twi­light is so beau­ti­ful you’ll hap­pily linger, splash­ing around in the shal­lows.

Not that you can af­ford to be idle when bat­tle com­mences, of course. This time you’re free to move your party around the bat­tle­field, po­si­tion­ing them to launch close-range melee at­tacks or use spe­cial skills from a dis­tance. Each at­tack’s range is high­lighted be­fore you con­firm your se­lec­tion, let­ting you drop Kanata among a group of guards at the pre­cise spot to en­sure a cy­clone at­tack hits them all, or drag rebel leader Sherra around to line up a magic bolt that can be­guile a row of three ra­zor-toothed pen­guins. Mean­while, a mo­men­tum gauge steadily charges: once it’s filled, you can land a sec­ond blow by press­ing a but­ton as you launch the first at­tack. Then again, wait­ing for the op­por­tu­nity can po­ten­tially waste valu­able sec­onds, un­less you can com­plete your ac­tions for the next party mem­ber as the first gets into po­si­tion.

By de­fault, mon­sters and cooldowns will pause when you’re pick­ing a move, a con­sum­able or a tar­get – though a fully ac­tive op­tion is avail­able for those keen to in­crease the pres­sure. We’re not sure we’d rec­om­mend the lat­ter for most play­ers, since an er­ratic dif­fi­culty curve can see you sur­vive one bat­tle with­out a scratch, with the next leav­ing you at death’s door. And though af­ter a few hours you’re given the use of mech suits to boost your at­tack power – and to un­lock po­ten­tially dev­as­tat­ing com­bi­na­tion moves to ease you through the tougher fights – they’re bound to an en­ergy sys­tem so lim­ited you can only re­al­is­ti­cally use them in emer­gen­cies. Even­tu­ally, you un­lock the abil­ity to re­fill the gauge at save-point mark­ers and via con­sum­ables, but the lat­ter are so rare, and so ex­pen­sive, that you’ll mostly re­sort to fight­ing on foot.

Yet just as it es­tab­lishes these lim­i­ta­tions, Lost Sphear also af­fords you room to im­pose your own playstyle on com­bat – and, clev­erly, it’s tied to how you re­de­velop its world. Though key lo­ca­tions are sim­ply re­stored as they were, at other blank spa­ces across the map you can spend spare mem­o­ries con­jur­ing mag­i­cal ar­ti­facts that have lo­cal or global ef­fects. One might in­crease your mo­men­tum the more you move around in bat­tle; con­versely, an­other will boost your party’s col­lec­tive at­tack strength when they’re in close prox­im­ity. Some are sin­gle-use, such as the Magic Eye that dis­plays en­e­mies’ HP me­ters, though oth­ers can be placed in up to three lo­ca­tions to am­plify their im­pact.

There are sur­prises in the sto­ry­telling, too, with one or two gen­uine shocks, even if one twist is so blind­ingly ob­vi­ous you’ll grow im­pa­tient at your team’s in­abil­ity to catch on. In fact, the cast seems to be per­ma­nently be­fud­dled, with any nar­ra­tive am­bi­gu­ity ham­mered out dur­ing lengthy ex­changes where ev­ery­one stops to ex­plain the plot to one an­other. Still, if most gen­uine threats are swiftly re­solved by deus ex machina, it of­ten finds ways to meet the needs of the story while also de­vel­op­ing char­ac­ters or­gan­i­cally. Im­pe­rial com­man­der Gal­dra takes a lot of con­vinc­ing to switch sides, and Sherra’s un­der­stand­able distrust of oth­ers doesn’t mirac­u­lously van­ish once she joins the group.

Yet you could say much the same for I Am Set­suna, and that didn’t drag its heels to the de­gree this does, par­tic­u­larly in its fi­nal knock­ings. There’s a lit­tle too much back­track­ing in­volved, and though a party-chat op­tion of­fers curt re­minders of your next ob­jec­tive, you’re some­times left me­an­der­ing aim­lessly. Even­tu­ally you come to feel less like you’re chang­ing the world so much as be­ing given a half-fin­ished jig­saw: there’s a cer­tain plea­sure to slot­ting in the miss­ing pieces, but com­plet­ing the job can be a la­bo­ri­ous process.

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