Lost Sphear (Switch) Review

Clono Trigger

Memories are powerful – they allow you to recall details from the past and actively shape your future. In the role-playing game Lost Sphear, Square Enix and Tokyo RPG Factory present a supernatural take on the influence of memories. Using a game design heavily inspired by the 1995 classic Chrono Trigger, Lost Sphear evokes nostalgia for the golden age of Super Nintendo RPGs, but it also introduces mechanics that build upon those fondly remembered games. Most importantly, it improves upon issues that were present in the developer’s previous title, I Am Setsuna.

Remember to check out the spoiler-free Video Review!

Lost Sphear’s tale follows Kanata, a young swordsman whose village mysteriously disappears into a white void. He soon discovers that he has the ability to restore the lost village using recollections of it. Upon realizing that the entire world is in danger of becoming lost, Kanata and his friends set out to restore voided areas with memories and uncover the truth. While an intriguing journey in tone, the story’s pacing is slow, occasionally droning into dull territory. Much of the first half goes through the motions, leading you from one memory-themed subplot to another, which blend together after a while. It’s only in the second half when the story picks up for a satisfying endgame, as long as you’re willing to sit through the middling road to get there. At least the main party members are fleshed out with likable personalities, albeit static. And unlike I Am Setsuna’s melancholy tone, this game adopts a more adventurous atmosphere, which helps the somber moments stand out.

Lost Sphear Village.jpg
“Didn’t a village use to be here?”

You primarily interact with the world by using memories, which take the form of tangible constructs that you find from enemies and treasure spots. You can also collect them during conversation, which provides a more humanistic feel. Memories are used to restore anything from lost treasure chests to entire towns. Gathering and using memories adds some life to the otherwise tiresome labyrinthine dungeons. The best use of the memory mechanic is through artifacts; by placing one on the world map, you not only restore the region, but also activate conditional buffs that apply during battle – like bonuses for evading an attack. Speaking of which, the enemy encounters are the game’s highlights. There are no random battles; you simply approach the enemy to start a fight, then and there.

Lost Sphear Memories.jpg
Restore the world by actively remembering it.

The battle system shares similarities with Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy, most notably Active Time Battle (ATB), in which characters wait to build up a meter before they can attack. Additionally, positioning matters since some attacks have an area of effect, targeting multiple enemies at once. Lost Sphear evolves from its predecessors by letting you move your characters. It sounds like a small change, but it drastically improves battle efficiency and enjoyment. It lends itself to strategies like separating your characters or creating distance with long-range moves. Positioning a character in just the right spot to unleash a multikill is an amazing feeling. This formation-based gameplay is what kept me invested more than anything else. It’s not quite real-time like in the Xenoblade Chronicles or Tales of… series, but it’s a great change of pace from the usual ATB system.

Lost Sphear Battle.jpg
A satisfying evolution of the ATB system.

There are other niceties in battle, but they feel superficial, as if they were taken from other RPGs just to fulfill some game mechanics quota. For example, you can press a button during an attack to increase damage, like in Super Mario RPG. But the game doesn’t actually time you, so you could theoretically spam the button the entire time, which is hardly intuitive. Spritnites, the game’s term for spells and abilities, return. Just like in I Am Setsuna, you can add bonus effects to your Spritnite that may permanently become passive abilities. However, this randomly occurs on an infrequent basis, so it mostly feels like an afterthought.

But the ultimate monkey’s paw are the Vulcosuits, large mech robots that you can pilot. The robots are equipped with much stronger powers, including the beloved dual-tech X-Strike, but they come at a steep cost. Every action takes a bite of your limited Vulcosuit Points. It doesn’t take long to run out, and once you do, your robots become useless. I like the concept, but it feels so limiting that you rarely get to enjoy it. Each of these systems are decent ideas, but feel overly convoluted and yet half-baked when mish-mashed here. It could have done away with most of these elements, and I still would have been impressed that I can move around in battle.

Lost Sphear Boss.jpg
All hail the Hypnotoad!

The game takes about 30-40 hours, depending on how many of the multiple sidequests you complete. The endgame and postgame are fairly meaty and may entice invested players, though I was satiated by the main game and sidequests. There are three difficulty levels, with hard mode significantly raising the tension. The normal difficulty was sufficiently tough for me, though, due to some infuriating bosses.

Lost Sphear World Map.jpg
For once, winter is not coming.

Visually, Lost Sphear addresses the white elephant from its spiritual predecessor by featuring a world that isn’t completely covered in snow. The lands have a warmer color scheme, and each area varies in design, which helps keep the journey fresh. Unfortunately, most landscapes and 3D models look bland. Although the game is going for a retro look, the visuals lack that artistic flair and attention to detail that showered the 16-bit greats. That being said, there are some memorable areas that alter the camera perspective or showcase impressive effects, such as a vast lake that mirrors the sky. The soundtrack, with its stunning piano and string compositions, provides beauty and substance, making the whole presentation greater than the sum of its parts.

Lost Sphear City.jpg
Also, don’t ask me why it’s spelled “Sphear.”

Conclusion

In the end, Lost Sphear functions like a memory in itself. It’s a recollection of ideas and mechanics borrowed from other RPGs. Its traditional design and structure is specifically meant to remind you of golden oldies like Chrono Trigger. But with memories, it’s hard to truly separate one’s strong emotions from previous experiences. In Lost Sphear’s case, it struggles to form its own identity, leaving it more open to comparison to the classics. At the very least, I shall remember Lost Sphear more fondly than I Am Setsuna, but only time can tell if its legacy lives on in memories.

Score: 8/10

Note: A review copy was used for this article. This review was originally written for Miketendo64.

What do you think of Lost Sphear or I Am Setsuna? What are your favorite old-school RPGs? Please share any thoughts or questions in the comments section below! Thank you so much for reading and watching!

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33 thoughts on “Lost Sphear (Switch) Review

  1. Great review of Chrono Sphear–I mean–Lost Sphear! I just recently played the classic Chrono Trigger (loved it!) and am almost done playing through Chrono Cross. I like that Tokyo RPG Factory is paying homage to these RPG classics, but it’s hard to capture the magic of the original. I only played at little of I Am Setsuna; it was very pretty but a little to somber for my tastes. It’s nice that Lost Sphear tries to balance the tone more with lighthearted moments too. And moving around freely during ATB–I mean what?! I like the game aesthetic with that good ol’ top down perspective. I don’t think anything can match the spark of the Chrono Trigger dream team, but sounds like this game is worth checking out. Nice job!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much as always for your constant support and encouragement! I’m so happy you finally played through Chrono Trigger! And to an extent Chrono Cross haha. Nah, it’s pretty fun too. I know that I Am Setsuna lost your interest, but Lost Sphear would be more up your alley. Then you can use your favorite move… X-Strike!!! 😉 Tokyo RPG Factory is doing a good job making classic RPGs, but I’m still hoping Square Enix finally continues the beloved Chrono series!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I do like it whenever a JRPG has no random encounters at all; it really helps keep a good sense of pacing. Bravely Default and its sequel had a good compromise in that you could turn random encounters off, and that’s part of what allowed that game to find success in an era when JRPGs weren’t mainstream anymore.

    Anyway, I kind of wonder exactly how good of an idea it is for these games to evoke nostalgia. I’ve found a lot of the games they took cues from tended to be good in ways that are difficult to recreate. Chrono Trigger was the result of (what was at the time) an unlikely team-up and Square being at the top of their game. One could argue Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey evoked nostalgia, but they succeeded in using it to go in different directions with their canon. Of course, the other problem is that if you’re evoking nostalgia, then people are going to be openly comparing it to the works from which you draw inspiration. In the case of this game, it seems to fall into the other trap in that it has trouble forging its own identity, which is a really big problem for any work in the long run.

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    1. Exactly! That’s actually the point I was trying to make in the end about the power of memories, which fits because it fits into the game’s theme of memories. New experiences will inevitably be painted with a slight bias depending on our memories. If something is too close to the original where nothing feels changed, it perhaps played it too safe. I Am Setsuna made that mistake by aping the Chrono Trigger design but forgetting the storylines and tone that made the game so much fun.

      Lost Sphear is a better take on that, albeit again, trying too hard to be Chrono Trigger. By allowing players to move, I think the game actually does a service to both CT and Setsuna’s positioning on system. It’s a great idea that evolves from its predecessor, and that’s the direction I want to see Tokyo RPG Factory’s games go in. I also hope the developers cut back on clutter in the future. But honestly, Lost Sphear was a much better try that not only held my attention better than Setsuna, but even made me *gasp* like it?!

      I also completely agree that Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey evoked nostalgia, but by either approaching the series’ roots in a completely different way or perfecting a formula. For Setsuna and Lost Sphear, they don’t quite do that. Instead, they mishmash mechanics that worked for other RPGs. I loved Bravely Default because its system was so different. It had its own identity yet somehow felt like a classic Final Fantasy game. I get the idea of trying to make people remember old classics, but it so opens them up for comparison, especially if you miss the point of what made the old projects classics in the first place.

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      1. Judging by what you’re saying, its sounds like this is another case of a team noticing that an idea worked without ever really questioning why it worked. It’s not good to blindly copy, as something tends to get lost in the process. Indeed, I’ve found some of the worst trends in gaming tend to result from good games rather than bad ones. It’s one reason why I think the medium needs a stronger critical circle; when they’re too controlled by publishers, they tend to overlook glaring flaws. Meanwhile, with the overly negative nature of independent critics, it’s of little wonder they’ve failed to effect any positive changes; if they complain about everything, how can one distinguish a legitimate issue from a minor slight the critic is exaggerating for comedic effect?

        In the case of Bravely Default, I would go as far as saying that it’s better than any Final Fantasy game I’ve played with the exception of the fifth one. It succeeded in using that Final Fantasy spirit as a springboard to explore new ideas, and though it too made a few missteps, it wasn’t due to the gameplay being unpolished. Hopefully Tokyo RPG Factory ends up following suit and creating something that has its own identity.

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      2. I Am Setsuna was definitely a case of copy and paste but miss the point. Lost Sphear is more throwing darts at a wall of RPG mechanics. To its credit, Tokyo RPG Factory not only improved the storytelling with this game, but also handled the moving around in battle concept very well. It’s everything else that came up short. But this is a good sign for the company – that they realize it’s not enough to ride on the laurels of a Chrono Trigger battle system. If they can gather that energy and create something original that still manages to evoke nostalgia for the golden ages, then it could potentially be a new classic. They just need to develop the ideas they have and make them fit together. I love Bravely Default. It took some directions that I wasn’t fond of, but I overall loved the gameplay and the endgame. I still need to play Bravely Second, though.

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    1. Thank you so much for your support friend! I truly appreciate it! I love classic SNES RPGs like Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger. I think Tokyo RPG Factory has a bit to go before it can break out of its shell and create a classic, but they’re certainly on the right track. A new Secret of Mana throwback might be nice considering the 3D remake quickly approaching!

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  3. Besides the clear inspiration from Chrono Trigger, the game still looks like the DS remakes of Final Fantasy III and IV to me, but maybe that’s just me. What’s got me sold on the game is the battle system, which is 90% of the enjoyment of an RPG to me. It needs to *feel* like you’re battling, and turn-based never hits me right. This game though, this sounds like battling is actually fun, something that so many JRPGs tend to forget is a requirement for most to want to play.

    Great review Mr. Panda! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Geddy! 😀 I totally agree with you that these look like the DS RPGs. It’s not a bad thing as I liked the style of those Final Fantasy remakes. But Lost Sphear’s style looks pretty bland on an HD console.

      Yes, the battle system is far and away is the best part about this game. It’s like a step above Chrono Trigger (dare I say it) in that it actually lets you strategize the positioning. In CT, you had no control over where characters were, yet it mattered. I Am Setsuna made the same mistake when it blatantly copied CT, but Lost Sphear finally gets it right. And as a turn-based fan, I appreciate that it didn’t go all-out in action, but instead found a balance.

      I’m with you there that the battle system is one of the most important parts of an RPG, which is why despite its faults, I enjoyed Lost Sphear. I also find battle music to be important to a lesser extent. If I’m going to be listening to the same song over and over again, it had better be good haha!

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  4. Sounds cool, I might have to check it out. Finding time for it might be difficult though, what with trying to find time for Monster Hunter World, getting back to Xenoblade 2, and the Switch version of Dragon Quest Builders coming out tomorrow. Was not expecting to have this big a backlog in February, hahaha.

    Great review as always!

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    1. Thank you for the kind words man! Totally feeling you on the backlog. There are a lot of games I need to get back to, and more that I want to pick up! I haven’t yet started Persona 5 or Horizon, and yet I want to pick up games like Dragon Ball FighterZ. I especially want Monster Hunter World and hope to get it soon. I’d love to play with you whenever I get it! And Dragon Quest Builders, I actually have it on PS4 but have barely touched it. I bet the Switch version would motivate me haha.

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      1. I didn’t have a PS4 when Builders came out originally, so it wasn’t on my radar at all. But, I downloaded the demo of the Switch version and really enjoyed it.

        As for Dragon Ball FighterZ, that’s where the majority of my play time has been spent recently. You should totally check it out.

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  5. I’m starving for a turn-based RPG for my Switch and Lost Sphear’s lukewarm reception elsewhere had me veering away from its $50 USD price tag. If Radiant Historia’s remaster wasn’t coming out this coming Friday on 3DS, though, I’d probably cave. I enjoyed I am Setsuna for the most part, though its constant somberness definitely overstayed its welcome. Glad to hear Lost Sphear has a more adventurous feel instead.

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    1. Lost Sphear is a fun game and I enjoyed its tone and story much more than I Am Setsuna, but I don’t think it’s worth picking up at $50 USD. I’d wait for a sale, which could happen as Setsuna had sales less than a year into its life. Radiant Historia, on the other hand, is one of my favorite games from the DS era. I don’t remember, but have you played it before? It’s so amazing, and I would love to pick up the remaster sometime. I don’t normally 100% RPGs, but I’m pretty sure I did or came close to doing so for RH. Funny enough, I think Radiant Historia made me more nostalgic for Chrono Trigger than either of Tokyo RPG Factory’s games. Excellent use of time in a story, very old-school, while still very original. So good!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I missed out on the entire DS era until the 3DS had already released. I was just heavily into WoW at the time and didn’t play much of anything else, particularly handhelds. So I’ve been playing catch-up ever since lol. I’ve heard so much about Radiant Historia and a well-written JRPG is exactly what I’m looking for right now.

        I wishlisted Lost Sphear in hopes of a sale, but even $25 at 50% off seems a bit steep for a middle-of-the-road JRPG. It may be a while before I ever get around to it.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think if you enjoyed I Am Setsuna, which I thought was pretty middling, then you might enjoy Lost Sphear much more. For me, it’s the battle system that nailed it, but it really depends on what you look for in an RPG. And yeah, there’s a bunch of other games that are more worth it at the same price or lower (plus a few that are double the length for only $10 more haha).

        I had thought about getting into WoW after seeing so many people around me play it, but I’m sure I’d get addicted haha. I was all over the DS, and its library introduced me to some of my favorite series like Ace Attorney. I hope you have as much fun or more with Radiant Historia than I had!

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      3. Yeah, Mercenaries Saga’s trilogy is only $15 right now and I do love me some SRPGs. There’s plenty on Switch I’d rather play than gamble $50 on Lost Sphear, I suppose.

        WoW was a fun time with friends and I met some great people online, but I stopped playing extensively about 4 years ago. I still go back for a few weeks here and there, but my hardcore WoW days are long gone.

        Ace Attorney and Phoenix Wright are two DS series I never got around to. Also looking forward to finally playing The World Ends With You when it releases on Switch.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Oh man yes, The World Ends With You! Also happens to be one of my favorite DS games, and I’m glad it’s coming to Switch, though I really hope it doesn’t carry a full $60 price tag since the DS version was obviously never as pricey.

        I still have friends who play WoW and have LAN parties. If anything, I would be in it for that kind of social element were I to start. I see the appeal and potential for addiction for sure.

        I actually haven’t heard of Mercernaries Saga, but that sounds like a good price for a trilogy. And tying it back to Radiant Historia, that game has clever SRPG elements despite not really being one, so another point for that game appealing to you! I like it more when traditional RPGs incorporate strategy elements compared to full strategy RPGs. Stuff like Riviera: The Promised Land, which is another game I randomly remembered just now. I mean, I like Fire Emblem and Ogre Battle, but they don’t hold a candle to my favorite JRPGs.

        I love the Phoenix Wright series so much. Hands-down my favorite mystery adventure visual novel type game!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much for your kind words! Lost Sphear certainly has a fun old-school turn-based battle system. If you like the old SNES classic RPGs or ever wanted to see what they’re like, this is a good one to try out.

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