One of the first things you see in Lost Sphear, a new role-playing game from the aptly named Tokyo RPG Factory, is an inn. For most RPGs this would be par for the course, but in Lost Sphear it’s a symbol. “Hey look,” the game is saying. “We have inns this time.”
Lost Sphear, like Tokyo RPG Factory’s previous game I Am Setsuna, is a turn-based RPG inspired by the Super Nintendo days. There’s a lot of Chrono Trigger in here, with a large dose of Final Fantasy and even some Xenogears. But Lost Sphear takes the most inspiration from I Am Setsuna, which is perhaps what makes it feel so mundane. Sure, there are inns this time. And world maps. And combat that actually lets you move characters to different positions around the battlefield. But those mechanical improvements fail to infuse Lost Sphear with a personality, and while I Am Setsuna’s somber tone and melancholy soundtrack made it stand out two years ago, Lost Sphear just feels like more of the same.
I’ve spent about six hours playing through Lost Sphear’s story, which is set in a world in which people, places, and objects are all disappearing. It’s a great premise—you, as the hero, are the only person with the power to restore these entities. You do this by collecting memories of them—for example, talking to an engineer’s colleagues about how she behaved—and turning them into crystals that you can then use to bring “lost” objects back to reality.
Lost Sphear plays with this concept in some interesting ways. When you’re on the world map, for example, you can find “lost points” and restore them, transforming each one into a special “artifact” that enhances your skills. One might make you move faster on the map; another might boost your damage using “momentum” attacks in combat. You’ll find random memories all throughout the world, and you can combine them to create magical “spritnite” (think: materia) or use them to restore these lost points.
The problem is that nothing else stands out. The writing is uneven, the music is generic, and the combat, even with a few new flourishes, just feels like I Am Setsuna redux. The characters are flat and boring, best described with archetypes like “heroic guy who lost his mother” and “spunky, irritating kid with a heart of gold.” (Setsuna’s protagonists were far more appealing.) What was novel in 2016—a retro JRPG made by a team that loves the classics—today just seems like more of the same. Even the enemies are reskinned.
Back in 2016, I wrote that I Am Setsuna felt unique and handcrafted, the type of game that could have never been made on an assembly line. With Setsuna’s successor, however, Tokyo RPG Factory has done far more to live up to its name. Lost Sphear might ditch the snow and piano—and add inns!—but from what I’ve played so far, it’s lacking in personality.