Lost Sphear, the next game from Square Enix's Tokyo RPG Factory, looks to improve upon its predecessor in several ways. The combat system is more complicated. The enemies are more challenging. And -- hope you're sitting down for this one -- there are inns.
This is the second role-playing game in a series that Square is calling "Project Setsuna", following last year's successful I Am Setsuna. The people behind Lost Sphear say they're aiming for an early 2018 release on PS4, PC and Switch. And they say there's a legitimate reason the name is spelled that way -- it's just a big spoiler, so they can't talk about it yet.
Earlier this month at E3 in Los Angeles, I watched a brief demo of Lost Sphear alongside the game's director, Atsushi Hashimoto (who also directed the last game). Lost Sphear resembles I Am Setsuna, if the soundtrack added more instruments and all of the snow melted. The premise of the game is that every object in the game's world has its own set of memories. Someone or something in Lost Sphear is removing those memories, causing those objects to disappear. These objects can be as small as rocks or as big as the hero's hometown, which vanishes at the beginning of the game, sending him on his adventure.
"The story focuses around the protagonist and his friends," said Hashimoto, speaking through a translator. "They awaken a power within themselves to fight against this phenomena."
Like its predecessor, Lost Sphear is a turn-based role-playing game that uses the Active Time Battle (ATB) combat system popularised in the 16-bit era. There will be towns, dungeons, items, and all of the other accoutrements you'd expect from a traditional JRPG. It isn't a direct sequel to I Am Setsuna, but it is part of the same series, Hashimoto says. "What we're trying to do is basically use the base of the Japanese RPGs from the '90s, the Golden Age of RPGs," he said, "and use modern game technology and development methodology to enhance new JRPGs with that core."
Some other notes I jotted down from our chat:
One key difference from I Am Setsuna is that in Lost Sphear, your characters can move around the battlefield during combat, which makes it far easier to use area-of-effect skills in a smart, strategic way. "We got a lot of feedback from people who played I Am Setsuna, and they said they were feeling a little limited by the fact [that they couldn't move around]," Hashimoto said. "We did a number of experiments, and then we decided to be able to move characters freely was the best approach."
I pointed out to Hashimoto that I Am Setsuna got a little bit too easy if you used some of the game-breaking combos, and he said they were taking that into account on Lost Sphear. "If you found a certain way of defeating enemies [in I Am Setsuna] you could keep repeating that one winning formula, and it could maybe get a little stale," he said. "This time around, we give the enemies more depth to make them something you can really sink your teeth into. Rather than making them harder, give them more damage, we decided to make sure that you have to really think about how to beat each one separately." They have also added more complexity to monster AI and put a cap on the number of items you can hold in this game, he said. "By adding a limit on that, it makes the player have to think a lot more about which ones to use."
All the snow is gone. "For Lost Sphear, what you'll see is a world that's made up of different cultures," Hashimoto said. "There's a machine-based culture; there's a magic-based culture. You'll see how these cultures mix and track with each other, and that's led to a much more varied world -- there's a lot more variation this time."
I Am Setsuna's resemblance to Final Fantasy 10 was unintentional. "We didn't set out with the idea that we'd take inspiration from Final Fantasy 10 and make a similar story," Hashimoto said. "We set out to make a story we felt was interesting and what we wanted to do. In the end, after we made it, we said, 'Hang on, yeah, we have made a similar tale in some ways.' So this time we're not setting out to make a game based on a particular preexisting Final Fantasy story, but there is very much that chance that when we've finished it, it will be a bit similar to something else." In fact, one of the characters is named Locke, but Hashimoto says there's no connection between him and his Final Fantasy 6 cousin.
Lost Sphear is a bit longer than its predecessor. "Originally we were aiming to make it the same length [as I Am Setsuna]," Hashimoto said. "Ultimately it's worked out to be a slightly longer game. It probably will take you about 30 hours."
It's on the same graphical engine but does things differently. "We did a lot of experimentation to find out what would work well for this game and make it different than Setsuna," Hashimoto said. "For Setsuna, we pretty much concentrated on those depictions of snow scenes... This time we got to branch out a lot more, work out how to best depict other things, give the right feel and impact. We really had to think very hard about how to do those other things as well, that maybe Setsuna couldn't so much."
This one's coming to Switch at launch. "One big reason we wanted to put the game on Switch is that we like that it can fit into different gamers' lifestyles and patterns, and they can find the best way of playing for them," Hashimoto said. "The other thing is that the technical capabilities and specs of the Switch fit very well with the type of games we're trying to make at Tokyo RPG Factory."
They're keeping a few things secret. "I really want to talk to you about all the details, but I can't mention so much," Hashimoto said. "There's a lot of little things we've added. Even within different dungeons, there's gonna be a lot of little changes."