It can’t be denied that the genre of Japanese role-playing games have produced a rather cult status and following amongst gamers. Their quirky styles and out-there plots and themes have long captivated the imagination of the Western world since the introduction of home console systems. The latest of such titles to land upon our shores now comes in the guise of The Lost Child, as it is released on the Playstation 4, Playstation Vita and the Nintendo Switch.
Developed by Kadokawa Games and published through NIS America, this latest title from El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron’s director, Sawaki Takeyasu, follows the events surrounding Hayato Ibuki, a journalist who works for an occult magazine. Whilst investigating a series of strange suicides that have taken place at the Shinjuku station, he comes across Balucia, a beautiful and mysterious girl who saves him after a black shadow pushes him onto the rails in front of an oncoming train. Before disappearing into the crowds, the young girl tells our hero to ‘stay alive’ before presenting him with a locked suitcase; thus beginning a journey that will take him through the world of his darkest nightmares.
Back at the office, Hayato meets Lua, an angel from God who informs him that he has been selected as the chosen one and the two of them must work together to unravel a series of mysteries that are happening within the city; as well as search for Lua’s missing sister, Balucia. Presented with the Gangour, a mystical gun that can capture the souls of demons, the two of them travel all over the country on a journey that finds Hayoto caught between the evil ambitions of dark rulers and the expectations of goodness from God’s angels.
The Lost Child plays very differently from the normal expectations of a role-playing game. There’s no free-roaming as per say, mystical lands to discover or messages of morality. It’s merely a story of good versus evil that plays on a two-tiered system within the game’s mechanics. The first of these two elements involves selecting certain locales within a city map and interacting with various characters on static backgrounds. Each of the settings are nicely drawn and contain a plethora of wacky and interesting personas as you investigate the stories that surround the mysterious events that are taking place around you. It’s here where you can learn of new assignments, visit locations to buff your capabilities and meet new characters.
The main component of the game’s mechanics lies in the second element of its gameplay though, with alternate plains that house the demons, or astrals as they are referred to, through a series of varied dungeons and locales. Viewed from a first-person perspective, you explore these regions of the netherworld with Lua in a style that is very reminiscent of classic dungeon-crawling games such as Dungeon Master and Eye of the Beholder. Armed with the Gangour, you can capture any of the astrals that you encounter with a technique called the Astral Burst; thus capturing their forms. Once acquired, you can then purify them using collected karma which, in turn, allows them to join your party and help in combatting the other variants of astrals within the dungeon plains. Delve deep enough within their twisting labyrinths and you may uncover the secrets that are housed within.
The combat of The Lost Child is of a turn-based mechanic, but with extra components that add a touch of variety to this already tried-and-tested element of gameplay. With a party of up to five, consisting of three astrals and yourself and Lua, as well as substitute party of a further five astrals, you each take turns in combat against any astrals encountered within the alternate plains. However, each party member has a number of options at their disposal which include the normal attack, defend and item use. What makes this different though, is the ability for Hayoto to use the Gangour, attack sequences and levelling up.
Beside each character within your party, a level of hostility is signified by the image of an eye. Should the eye be closed, the chance of attack to that character is minimalised, allowing them to attack the astrals. However, should the eye be open, then that character will more likely be targeted, bringing the need to defend rather than attack. This brings an element of strategy to the combat that changes within each of the bouts and brings an element for the need to pay attention to the battle situations you may find yourself in. It’s a clever mechanic that helps keep things fresh during these battle stages.
As you capture or defeat astrals, then experience points are rewarded and karma gained. However, only Hayoko and Lua level up automatically. In order to strengthen your party of astrals, you must strengthen them yourself by using your collected karma. This in turn increases their stats and the more you use astrals in combat the more techniques that they learn and have in their arsenal of capabilities. As well as these mechanics in the combat gameplay, each astral also possesses an elemental value that can be used to determine strengths and weaknesses; both within your party and enemy encounters. With a main party and sub-party at your disposal, you can swap and change characters on the fly using Lua’s divine tablet that also acts as a menu for utilising the best out of your party of astrals.
All of these elements add together to produce a very unique style to the JRPG formula. With so many levels of gameplay and mechanics to tinker with, The Lost Child is a game that provides endless hours of entertainment; especially when you factor in the components of over one hundred different varieties of astrals that come in three unique forms, some of which derive from myths and legends, over two hundred and fifty skills that can be learnt and dungeons that contain over one hundred different floors, or levels, to their construct. Each of the real-world locations can also offer variety with some locales, such as the Maka Spa, offering buffs to your character that can be utilised within the spectral worlds. With a variety of concurrently running stories and investigations, as well as that endless exploration of dungeons and astral captures or battle, this is a title that runs deep with so many layers of depth that it’s simply irresistible to resist. Despite this level of depth, The Lost Child isn’t the most technical game you’ll find, especially in its aesthetics which has a distinct PS2-era feel to them, especially within the dungeoning segments. However, what it lacks in finesse it makes up for in pure gameplay; it also contains both the Japanese and English versions of the voice-over work, giving gamers a choice of the presentational feel. All in all, this is a title that offers a neat package with a unique take on the JRPG and an abundance of mechanics to produce a game that is a worthy addition to the Switch’s library. In terms of gameplay, then this is a unique example of Japanese Role-Playing in one of its finest forms.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.