Lost Sphear (Switch) Review
It’s an undeniable fact that role-playing games have changed quite a bit in the past few years. Rising development costs have meant that many games fail to capture the feel and atmosphere of the games of the early nineties. Some developers are still keen to create a game that harkens back to that period though. Enter Lost Sphear, the spiritual successor of sorts to I Am Setsuna. A game clearly influenced by the great RPGs of yesteryear, Lost Sphear attempts to mimic elements from all your favourites to provide a decidedly old-school experience. The kicker? It never really carves out an identity of its own and still carries some of the negative baggage of the nineties with it too.
Lost Sphear follows Kanata, a young adventurer who awakens to discover a mysterious white fog that’s slowly destroying the world by making it literally disappear. Predictably, Kanata also possesses the power to restore the damage that the white fog is doing to the world. Eager to save everybody, Kanata leaves his hometown with a ragtag group and a lifelong friend to explore and even discover why he has been bestowed with such ability. It’s a storyline that’s riddled with tropes and archetypes that most fans of the genre have seen done before.
Which is unfortunate, because Lost Sphears biggest selling point is also one of its biggest detriments. An attempt to emulate the look and feel of the greatest RPGs of the nineties, Lost Sphears similarity to so many games that came before it works against it more than anything. You’ll predict most of the twists hours before they come. You’ll feel the whiplash as one concept is dumped before it’s properly fleshed out and another one introduced. Most will struggle to muster interest for the first half of the game too, which moves at a glacial pace.
Thankfully, Lost Sphear plays much better than it tells a story though with some caveats. Carrying over the active time battle system from I Am Setsuna, the transition between battles and field exploration is seamless. You have greater control over your characters, allowing you to not only dodge attacks from enemies but also line up attacks to do the maximum amount of damage with every turn. Magic and skills have a cooldown that lasts beyond a single turn too, adding a layer of strategic thought to every move you carry out as well. Such a system rewards strategy and is satisfying – perfectly planning out your turns to wipe out the enemy in the quickest way possible will never get old and is incredibly rewarding.
For the most part, the difficulty feels just right, but there is a notable difference between standard enemies and boss battles, where things get harder, faster. Some frustrating moments arise out of the fact that enemies can attack you while you’re filtering through menus to select your next course of action. There is an option to stop enemies from attacking while you select your next move, but enemies will still sneak in attacks literally while one menu closes and another opens. To put it bluntly, it feels cheap – especially as the game loves to throw enemies at you with an instant kill and self-destruct attacks regularly towards the end of the game.
When you’re not in battle, you can customise your abilities for each party member to make them all distinct. Using Spiritnite, returning from Setsuna, you can deck out your character with both active and passive abilities. Some will give you healing buffs or status effects, others will give you brand new attacks, some even let you perform a follow-up straight after an initial attack. Most RPGs don’t necessarily require you to jump into a system like this to succeed, but as Lost Sphear gets further in and more difficult, the need to perfectly attune your Spiritnite abilities is more and more obvious.
Eventually, you’ll be given the option to equip your team with a mechanical armour known as Vulcosuits. This idea is interesting but ultimately doesn’t amount to much. You can’t use melee attacks in them, and they don’t improve the performance of your characters that dramatically. I see the intention was to add another layer of strategy to battles, but I was never using Vulcosuits unless I was forced to.
When you’re not battling, you’ll be exploring, and this is easily the weakest aspect of Lost Sphear. Wearing its budget on its sleeve, Lost Sphear will force you to backtrack to locations you’ve explored and defeat enemies you’ve already conquered across its thirty or so hours. To add insult to the injury, you’ll also be participating in what feels like busywork, fetch quests that don’t feel satisfying to carry out. The game can be vague at times about where you’re meant to go or what you’re meant to do next, though this is something I personally didn’t hate but, something modern players might struggle with.
Some things Lost Sphear does right – though it’s mainly nice little touches. The menus are easy to navigate, and the game is light on tutorials from the get-go. If you miss some important dialogue, you can even rewind to recap any important conversations. You can fast forward too, especially in the first half where the game moves ever so slowly. It’s also nice being able to speak to your party at any time, further developing the characters and their relationships.
From a presentation standpoint, Lost Sphear represents a great step up from I Am Setsuna. Almost ironically, where that game took place in mainly white fields, Lost Sphear has you wiping out the white fog to restore the world to colour. The visuals are great – mimicking an impressionist, pastel ridden look with a simpler art direction that harkens back to the first six Final Fantasy games. As mentioned previously, there’s a nicer variety of locales to explore than in Setsuna, even if you might revisit these locations several times. The soundtrack is sombre too, adding a sense of whimsy to the proceedings.
Lost Sphear is an RPG that’s hard to recommend to everyone, offering a mixed and unbalanced experience. The combat is fast-paced, rewarding and challenging yet sometimes garish. The Spiritnite system is fantastic and yet the Vulcosuits feel undercooked. All in all, Lost Sphear offers an inconsistent experience that is ultimately brought down by an overwhelming sense of tedium and repetition.
Rating: 3 / 5
+ Late Story Revelations
+ Fast Battle System
+ Spiritnite Skills
- Tedious Exploration
- Poor Pacing
- Inane Difficulty Spikes