PAX West 2017: Lost Sphear is a Return to Classic JRPGs

A little over a year ago Tokyo RPG Factory released I Am Setsuna, a throwback to the JRPGs of the ’90s that tried to recreate some of the magic from the classics such as Chrono Trigger. I Am Setsuna didn’t quite live up to its hype or potential, but despite its issues, it was also not without its merits. It was a title I personally found enjoyable despite agreeing with almost every criticism I read about it. That being said, Lost Sphear was something I became cautiously excited about when I learned of its existence and got to spend some time playing it. The hope is Tokyo RPG Factory listened to the criticisms of their previous effort and tried to address those concerns while keeping the nostalgia factor along with giving it a unique charm like its predecessor.

The first thing I noticed about Lost Sphear is it could be called I Am Setsuna II, in the same way classic Final Fantasy titles had a distinct look and sound to them despite taking place in different worlds with unrelated characters. There are some noticeable differences as well, the soundtrack is now mostly piano opposed to entirely piano, which despite thinking the melancholy piano score of I Am Setsuna was a highlight the additional orchestration does fill it out a lot more. The visual style remains pretty much the same, with the noticeable absence of snow everywhere and the more subtle addition of giving the characters feet.

Lost Sphear begins in a remote village where the player takes control of Kanata who is waking from a bizarre dream. In classic JRPG style, Kanata wanders around town for a bit meeting up with his friends, talking to the villagers and doing some heroic dispatching of some minor monsters before venturing out in the world outside of town. Somewhere in this sequence of events Kanata’s hometown and other areas on the map start fading out of existence, replaced by some white ethereal matter that is definitely not snow but begs to the comparison nonetheless. To prevent the world from being lost forever, Kanata and his cronies need to use the power of Memory to manifest thoughts into matter. Surely there is a mind over matter pun that can manifest its way into this paragraph.

The odd world vanishing plot seems like it would fit in a classic JRPG, which the same can be said of the game play. Lost Sphear uses a turn based combat in an active time battle (ATB) system where the characters can move about the battlefield so strategy can be adjusted on the fly, as some techniques may be dependent on character placement relative to the enemy or other characters. There is also something called the Setsuna System, where players can deal extra damage with well timed button pressing. Something unexpected is the use of the mechanized Vulcosuits, which give the characters additional powers in and out of battle while they are in use and may have been inspired by Magitek armor.

Lost Sphear is a throwback to old school JRPGs and those who appreciated I Am Setsuna’s visual aesthetic and music will be pleased to see the similarities in this title. In the short time I was able to play Lost Sphear, it shows promise to be an enjoyable title, but it’s difficult to gauge an RPG’s quality in a session that is barely long enough to get past the intro. The potential is there but only time will reveal if it gets realized or not. Lost Sphear is currently scheduled for a January 23 release next year for PC, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch.