Square-Enix is cozying up to the Nintendo Switch yet again with it’s latest RPG, Lost Sphear. The demo was made available on the eShop earlier today, and provides a pretty cut-and-dry experience for those interested in what developer Tokyo RPG Factory has to offer.
After the critical success of IPs like Bravely Default, Square-Enix seems to have gotten the memo: gamers still crave that old school RPG play style, so long as it comes with some semblance of creativity. And yet, SNES-era simplicity became the most notable pitfall for Tokyo RPG Factory’s previous game, I Am Setsuna. As a callback to titles like Chrono Trigger, it nailed every mark, but many critics seem to agree that it did so a little too well. So does Lost Sphear‘s demo alleviate our fear for more of the same-old stuff?
After being abruptly dumped into a new world with a full party and stocked inventory, players will find almost zero background on who the characters are or what the hell is going on. Everything is immediately accessible, which is great for anyone looking to get a taste of the actual game mechanics, but terrible for those concerned about story and characterization. Unlike Square-Enix’s previous demo for Octopath Traveler, you’re given access to almost every menu and all of the information therein, but nowhere near the same amount of information on the game world itself.
What’s provided is interesting, if not a little overwhelming at first. You can equip weapons and armor, browse your character’s stats, and study up on the variety of techniques available to each party member. From a technical game play stand point, the demo provides everything you need to gird yourself for the adventure ahead. However, as prepared as your characters may be, their personalities seemed to have been lost in the packaging process.
The most we learn is that Kanata, the box-art sword-guy, has some kind of “Special RPG Power” that dictates his role as leader. Everyone else quickly falls to the wayside, though exploring the menus does help delineate their roles on the battlefield. Beyond their powers though, you’re not going to learn much about Lost Sphear‘s cast. Perhaps those sort of details are best left for the main game, but the lack of engaging personalities in the demo left me with nobody to root for. When the genre is literally “role playing”, I want to at least care about that role to some degree.
A press of the R-button allows you to talk with your party while walking around the field, but they mostly provide information on where to walk to next. Any flavor text meant to illustrate the world around them feels somewhat bogged down by terminology and place names, which I get is typical RPG fare, but it’s the way that information is presented that disappoints. After a brief romp through Lost Sphear‘s zoomed-out, cloud-lined world map, you reach the first explorable area with actual battles. Once you’re there, it soon becomes clear that we’re dealing with I Am Setsuna’s spiritual successor, for better and for worse.
However, there is one element that makes this new title stand out from it’s predecessor. Perhaps the most original feature of Lost Sphear is the Vulcosuit system; each character has a mech-like suit of armor that enhances their stats and techniques both in and out of battle. It can be worn while walking around the map, though what the demo shows off is… not very exciting. Vulcosuits are mostly used to smash rocks and walk faster. Beyond that, not much else of their potential is on display here. If you’ve played Wild Arms 5, they operate almost exactly like the golem Asgard, but considering that game came out over a decade ago, I was a little disappointed with what the Vulcosuit actually did.
In terms of actual battle, Lost Sphear is engaging enough, but doesn’t stray very far from it’s inspirations. In lieu of invisible encounters, you run into (and avoid) enemies on the map itself, and subsequently dish out whatever strategy you need to get the job done. There’s physical and magical attacks, healing spells, item management – the usual. One standout is the character Van, who’s original weapon allows for long range strikes that make the active movement feel a little more dynamic than something like Dragon Warrior – Lost Sphear‘s battlefield is more akin to more recent Final Fantasy titles. Perhaps with the full game, we’ll see this systems full potential, but as of the demo things are looking pretty generic.
Everything was going smoothly throughout the very first and very bland dungeon, until I reached the boss. There I encountered the most obnoxious RPG status ailment imaginable, berserk, which ironically helped me see some of Lost Sphear‘s faults with more clarity. With my entire party afflicted, everyone wound up killing themselves and I had to go back to my last save, which meant suffering through a totally uninspired locale with few enemy encounters and bare-bones environmental interactions. There are no secrets to explore, no puzzles to solve, no reward for being adventurous – because there is no adventure. You walk down a few hallways, talk to a few NPCs, and fight the world’s most generic boss. This demo highlights everything that makes old games feel old, but if that’s what you’re looking for, perhaps you won’t be as disappointed as me.
The official art is beautiful of course, but the in-game graphics leave something to be desired. Unlike I Am Setsuna’s snowy world, I can’t even say Lost Sphear is all that aesthetically pleasing. It’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but nothing about what we’re given through the demo stands out as original from a world-building perspective. The user interface is quite nice, though, with easy to read text in both handheld and docked mode. Still, something about this demo feels rushed. Even the website is kind of wonkily designed without a few refreshes, at least as of this first look.
All-in-all, the demo is free. Give it a shot. There isn’t anything inherently bad about Lost Sphear, but keep in mind the full digital release is $60 on Nintendo’s eShop, with physical copies only available for PS4. When the game launches on January 23rd, perhaps we’ll get a better look at some of what this demo couldn’t provide. Until then, it looks like we might have a second I Am Setsuna on the horizon. Whether or not that’s a good thing is up to you.