Lost Sphear review: Thanks for the memories (even though they weren’t so great)

Square Enix
Square Enix /

Lost Sphear ticks all the expected boxes of a game trying to instill that classic RPG feel, but doesn’t manage to recreate the special feelings players experienced with the classics.

Developer: Tokyo RPG Factory
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: PS4 (version reviewed), Nintendo Switch, PC
Release Date: January 23, 2018

Square Enix’s Tokyo RPG Factory development team was conjured up for a pretty specific purpose: to make RPGs the way they used to be made back in what many consider the golden era of RPGs. You could certainly consider the 32-bit age a golden era, but more the 16-bit where many franchises of the genre (many of them made by Square themselves) made their mark. What Tokyo RPG Factory does with their sophomore effort, Lost Sphear is to try and use many hallmarks from RPGs from that era, but it’s a mostly middling result.

Square Enix
Square Enix /

The story has an interesting premise, at least. Parts of the world just seem to be disappearing at random; nobody knows why. Might be some natives up to no good; might be monsters; might be some sinister force nobody’s aware of. You are the protagonist Kanata, mysteriously given the power to restore lost things and places through memories you acquire either from talking to people or beating monsters. It’s the details where the story gets weak.

I can’t think of one interesting character in Lost Sphear …

I can’t think of one interesting character in Lost Sphear, and part of that is that not a whole lof time in the roughly 20 hours I spent finishing the game is actually spent making this a cast of characters you actually care about. They might be given a singular character trait, but that’s a trait, not a fully realized character that learns and grows through the story. The twists and turns provided in the plot are not only extremely predictable but the least interesting way the story could go. Finally, even though the main story can be finished in a brief amount of time for an RPG, the last few hours few like a lot of unnecessary padding.

Square Enix
Square Enix /

Not helping with the story is the really bland art direction present in Lost Sphear. It’s not to say there aren’t some nice moments and areas. There are certain dungeons and spots in certain towns that have some great effects going on. But for every one of those, there’s a ton of bland towns, dungeons, enemies, etc. It just basically looks like a bootleg game trying to fool you into thinking it’s just like the classics. It’s the same with the music. It’s fine, the occasional tune might have a hint of something memorable, but nothing stands out. It’s all just … fine.

Square Enix
Square Enix /

The strongest aspect of Lost Sphere is easily its battle system. It’s an iteration of the “ATB” system found in I am Setsuna and more notably, Chrono Trigger. I haven’t played I am Setsuna, so I can’t speak to how it compares to that game. But this version of the ATB system is easily the most complex I’ve seen, and is likely better for it. You can move characters around the battlefield, which is essential for lining up attacks to hit multiple foes or have a spell benefit multiple characters or making sure not every character in your party is devasted by a powerful “area of effect” (AOE) attack.

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  • Yet still, some aspects of this battle system feel woefully underdeveloped. You have a “momentum meter” which builds up over the course of a battle, and you can use it to activate an extra attack (which can also add an effect with certain accessories equipped), but that’s all it does. Not saying that isn’t useful, but why can’t I use it to do multiple activities?

    Then there are the “vulcosuits.” These are mechanized suits you can equip in battle which ideally give you enhanced abilities. But their use is so limited I rarely used them at all. They don’t provide much of a boost, the abilities they do give you have rather lengthy cooldowns, and I can’t simply just defend while waiting for my ability to be available again, so I often I just have to jump out of the suit, which wastes a turn.

    In fact, there is no “defending” in a traditional sense of Lost Sphear, which for a game that harkens back to older RPGs is incredibly odd. You simply have to hope your character’s defense and HP are high enough to withstand attacks. There are abilities that can null attacks or raise defense significantly, but enemies have no tells that warn you a big attack is coming. This is more of a problem with the major bosses than your run of the mill enemies, but still, it just would be nice to be able to defend if I don’t really have any abilities to use at the moment and a normal attack doesn’t seem worthwhile.

    Square Enix
    Square Enix /

    Another way Lost Sphear feels underdeveloped is in its gimmick of restoring places, people and things. As I stated previously, you gather memories either by beating monsters or talking to people. This allows you to restore places, but also place “artifacts” which give various effects that can be local to the area you are in or in the entire world. Some of these are fairly cool, like increasing the chance of rare monsters that give you lots of money or experience or damaging enemies every round. But there’s only a few of these in the whole game, and while I’m sure that’s to make you choose wisely, it still feels too limited given the huge amount of artifacts that you acquire the ability to make through the course of the game.

    You can switch artifacts out, but you don’t get those memories back you already used to make an artifact, so that’s lost resources right there. You also use gathered memories to make abilities for your characters (and extra effects for those abilities). Grinding out memories can be one hell of a chore as you might be given, at most, the name of an enemy that drops those memories, but not where they might be found. Good luck remembering some generic enemy you might have encountered six dungeons ago.

    Square Enix
    Square Enix /

    As someone who has been playing RPGs since the 8-bit era, and loves a good RPG that harkens back to the games of 20+ years ago, Lost Sphear should be an easy sell for me. But nearly every aspect of it rings of some hollow attempt to cash in on nostalgia without doing anything worthwhile with it. It’s like one of those movies or books that merely makes references to pop culture and expects that to be enough. It’s not a bad game at all; it’s just fine.

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    When we are surrounded by plenty of great modern RPGs and RPGs that successfully harken back to older eras, Lost Sphear just seems like a relic best left in the past with the games it’s desperately trying to emulate.

    Lost Sphear tries so hard to be like RPGs of the past that it forgets to build on those or establish its own identity.. Toky RPG Factory. . Lost Sphear. 6

    A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.