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15 minutes with Lost Sphear: It’s a pretty but generic throwback RPG

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Though Final Fantasy XV is replete with modern sensibilities and road trips, Square Enix still has a soft spot for nostalgic Japanese role-playing games. Take Lost Sphear, for instance, the second title from the publisher’s Tokyo RPG Factory studio. It will hit Steam, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch in early 2018.

Square Enix established Tokyo RPG Factory to create JRPGs, like its first game, 2016’s I Am Setsuna. Lost Sphear similarly has all the trappings of classic RPGs, such as a party-based system, an overworld map, healing potions with names like Phoenix Tears, and familiar character archetypes. Though it’s not a sequel to I Am Setsuna, it does utilize a similar battle system and includes the Setsuna System, which adds extra effects and damage during combat.

In a short 15-minute demo, Lost Sphear hit all the tropes. I woke up in the idyllic town of Elgarthe as Kanata, the dutiful protagonist who’s apparently been having ominous dreams. I met my friends: Lumina, a spirited girl with pigtails and snappy comebacks; and Locke, the joker-type with an endless appetite for food.

After running around and collecting valuable items like “Cracked Dish” and “Broken Eggshells,” I eventually ended up fishing and fighting monsters on the top of a mountain somewhere. When I emerged onto the overworld map, Elgarthe and other surrounding areas had mysteriously vanished, replaced by sparkly white nothingness.

My first impression is that the characters are unremarkable as is the world, which seems to have that usual pseudo-European fantasy setting. That said, it was only 15 minutes, and I’m sure we’ll learn more about the characters when the full game comes out. After all, JRPGs are notoriously slow-paced, taking their time to get the momentum going.

I only fought two battles in the demo, but it was by far the most compelling part. The combat uses a kind of modified ATB (Active Time Battle) system, which means that each of the characters has a timer that runs down before they can again attack or use an ability. Your characters actually move to the enemies in order to execute their attacks. The enemies also freely move around in order to retaliate, breaking formation. I could see this being interesting down the line, lending complexity and forcing players to come up with new strategies.

The artwork in the game is fairly pretty, with 2D fantasy sprites and soft colorful backgrounds that sometimes look like they’ve been drawn with acrylic paint. I actually thought the overworld map looked pretty cool, with farther landmarks being rendered in soft focus.

Not much of the story is known. Why is the world disappearing? What do memories have to do with it? Why is it spelled “Sphear”? To learn these secrets, we’ll have to wait for the game to come out.

The PC Gaming channel is presented by Intel®‘s Game Dev program.

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