A SPIRITUAL SEQUEL THAT’S BEAUTIFUL, BUT A LITTLE MEH. $69.95 | PC, PS4, Switch | www.lostsphear.com
AS WITH THE studio’s 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.
Towns and villages are becoming ‘lost’. 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. It’s a visually diverse journey. 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.
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 move. Meanwhile, a momentum gauge steadily charges: once it’s filled, you can land a second blow as you launch the first attack. 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.
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.
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.