Lost Sphear, the second game from the compelling new game developer Tokyo RPG Factory, recently dropped and it’s equal parts addictive and frustrating. There are a lot of interesting ideas at work, but they aren’t always executed well and don’t quite come together as a whole. Tokyo RPG Factory’s debut game, I Am Setsuna, has the exact opposite problem. Setsuna is such a unique and specific experience that personal taste determines how much players enjoy the game more than anything else.
It’s almost uncanny how different Lost Sphear feels from I Am Setsuna. Despite the games looking and playing so similarly, comparing these titles offers great insight into what makes a quality JRPG.
The battle systems in Lost Sphear and I am Setsuna are pretty similar. Both titles have fights and mechanics similar to the battles from Chrono Trigger and a weapon and ability system close to the materia system from Final Fantasy VII. Even the frustrating difficulty spikes between sections of the game appear in both titles. The big differences between the two, though, is that Lost Sphear lets you move characters across a battlefield and equip characters with mech suites before and during combat.
The ability to move characters is a great new feature in Lost Sphear that makes battles quite a bit more engaging than in Setsuna. However, the mech system is more of a miss than anything else. The mechs give players stat buffs and allow for special combination moves that are dependent on other players in the active party. While this is a cool idea on paper, Setsuna utilized combination attacks in a much simpler, streamlined, and more enjoyable fashion than Lost Sphear.
Tone and Style
I Am Setsuna is a unique game that commits wholeheartedly to its ideas. Setsuna’s combat is almost identical to Chrono Trigger’s, the snowy environments and inn-less towns make the world feel harsh and desolate, and the piano-only soundtrack reinforces the somber and melancholic story.
Although these features make the game feel unique and the product of a very personal creative process, it also guarantees that almost any given player will find something they dislike about the game. Tokyo RPG Factory made I Am Setsuna with such a specific focus that unless a player’s tastes align specifically with it, they’ll have a more tepid reaction to the game.
Lost Sphear, on the other hand, seems specifically designed to appeal to a wider audience at the expense of a good deal of character. The game uses a lot of stereotypical JRPG elements, like civilizations that utilize a hybrid of magic and machinery, a protagonist with special powers unique to him, and dungeon crawling that just barely rewards exploration.
While each element of Lost Sphear is at least interesting, the game as a whole feels a bit generic. This is such a stark contrast from I Am Setsuna that, if not for the similar character models and gameplay, you wouldn’t think that these games come from the same developer.
Story and Characters
Both Lost Sphear and I Am Setsuna borrow elements and ideas from other JRPGs to varying successes. The main plot of I Am Setsuna is similar to Final Fantasy X and contains characters whose designs or circumstances are reminiscent of Final Fantasy characters, like Kir and Vivi’s limited lifespan. Lost Sphear is similar in its use of classic JRPG elements but doesn’t quite bring everything together as well.
Lost Sphear has some really interesting ideas that seem like they could work well, but don’t always mesh with other elements of the game. I Am Setsuna, however, takes a lot of familiar concepts and brings them together in a way that feels interesting and fun. Lost Sphear leans more toward utilizing innovative ideas while I Am Setsuna focuses more on blending and refining JRPG elements concerning the character and story direction.
While it may not have as much going on as Lost Sphear, between the two, I Am Setsuna is the better game. It’s not a flawless video game, but I Am Setsuna uses familiar ideas and implements them in interesting ways to create a one-of-a-kind experience. By comparison, Lost Sphear’s attempts to change things up feels a bit shallow in both style and execution. Lost Sphear never quite pushes its ideas far enough, and the result is a run-of-the-mill JRPG that feels similar to a lot of other games in the genre.
While Lost Sphear is still an enjoyable experience in its own right, here’s hoping that the next game from Tokyo RPG Factory is as distinctive and artistically driven as I Am Setsuna.