Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Lost Child (Switch) Review

The Lost Child is NIS America's latest offering for the Switch, and is, I think, the first dungeon RPG on the system.   It sticks to several staples of the genre, but doesn't offer created characters.  Sorry, David!  It also boasts some good artwork, a nicely animated intro, and very unique monster designs.

The game flows much like other dungeon RPGs.  You find a new dungeon, explore it, beat the boss, and move on to the next.   There is a bit more to finding the dungeons, since you are a reporter.  Basically, you just have to talk to some people, so it still isn't super involved.  Moving to the dungeons is a bit strange to me.  You first have to leave your office (or shop), go to the world map, enter the place that has the layer, then the layer (dungeon) itself.   I eventually saw you can hit the R button to go to directly to the layer from the world map.  That's better, but still felt a little more cumbersome than I'd like

Dungeons are in first person.   As you move around, the map fills in automatically.  Thankfully there are shortcuts that open up, which allow you to move past explored floors quickly.  It would be nice if there was a quicker way, since there's only about one save point per floor, but it's at least helpful to have these shortcuts.  I would also like save points closer to the bosses.  Dungeons contain a fair amount of locked doors, which you need to find the switches for, and of course the occasional puzzle to solve.  There's not a whole lot in the way of gimmick tiles, which is a plus.

Combat is pretty simple, but has a unique mechanic that I'll explain in a bit.  Your party of five will face off against the enemies.  I'm not sure what the limit of opponents is in one fight, since I've seen it go as high as 15 or so.  While in most dungeon RPGs fighting more than five can be a pain, it wasn't too much of an issue in The Lost Child.  Most enemies cannot attack from the back rows, but you cannot hit them either.  Each member of the battle party gets one action per turn, and you can attack, use a skill, defend, or use an item.  Pretty standard stuff.

As mentioned early, the astral designs are very unique.  Some are outright creepy.  While the main character cannot use skills, if you kill an astral using the Gangour (his special gun), you will capture it.  Once I got the hang of the burst gauge and the gun’s damage, it was pretty easy to capture the astrals.  You can only have one of each though.  Once captured, you will need to spend a little karma to purify them, and they can then be used in battle.  Sometimes, special or rare astrals also require specific items before they can be purified, but you can still capture them beforehand.  Astrals can be freely switched between main and sub parties, but changing one from the stock will require a bit of energy from your tablet.  While the energy is limited, I haven't needed it much, and it fully refills when you leave a layer.

Your main characters will level up in the traditional way, by gaining experience from battles.  To level up an astral, you spend karma.  I really like this, since you can boost a new acquisition, or pump up your strongest party members.   They do have a max level.  When at that limit, you can go to the temple and have the astral's rank increased.  This resets their level back to one, gives them a tiny stat increase, and raises the max level.  Their appearance also changes, for better or worse.  Just make sure to save some karma after ranking them up, so you can boost them toward the level they were at before the change.  Ideally, I'd want a bigger stat boost, but I think the higher level cap is the main attraction to increasing an astral's rank.

Stat points are automatic (and set) for astrals, but you will have to choose which stats to increase for your main characters. Astrals also gain skills at certain levels. An interesting idea in The Lost Child is the”spirit scale”. This allows you to trade skills between astrals.  I like the idea, since you can theoretically move some good skills to the astrals you use most often, but I didn't do much with the system.  It's a scale, so the skills have to balance out in order to be traded.  It would take a lot of time to figure out what to trade to who so you could end up with a few killer sets, and I didn't feel much need to.  It would have made a few astrals better if I had invested the time necessary for working it all out, so it is something I would look in to when I have the time.

Your non-astral characters can equip different armor and weapons.   Most of these are found in dungeons, or unidentified enemy drops.  Selling excess equipment and items is the only way to make money, as killing the enemies doesn't give it directly.  At least they give out a fair amount of selling items.  I only really used the money to identify items, and didn't run out.  You can also get items from treasure chests, either on the field, or that enemies drop.  However, each chest is booby-trapped.  To open it, there are two meters.  The left is the danger meter, which fills as you are triggering the trap.  The right is opening the chest.  Attempting to open it, or using a skill, will increase one or both meters.  If you fill up the left one first, the trap is sprung and you suffer its effects.  If you fill up the right one, the chest is opened.  At first I liked this system, but after several hours, I grew tired of it.  It would be much better if you didn't have to do it for every chest, as it just wears out its welcome.

There game's difficulty spans from easy to hard. Most fights aren't that hard, but the enemy damage can be high at seemingly random times. Boss fights are more difficult. The first boss trashed me soundly. I did some grinding, came back, and was victorious. The subsequent bosses didn't feel quite as hard, so maybe I just got better at the game, or was diligent about leveling up my good astrals. When an astral dies, you have to re-purify it after the battle (it’s slightly different in R’lyeh Road). Game overs can be reversed by spending karma or money, but I usually stuck to reloading my last save.  I'm just that cheap.

Dungeon RPGs are a genre that have grown on me over the years. I enjoyed playing The Lost Child. The capture mechanic added something new to the formula, and I really liked the karma system for leveling up your monster party members.  Dungeon RPG players should give it a shot, unless you turn up your nose at not creating characters.  It's a fun game that might be of interest to RPG players looking to break into the dungeon RPG sub-genre.

The Good:
Easy to add new monsters to use in battle.  Leveling them up is also easy, ensuring new blood isn't the weak link.

The Bad:
I'd like more save points, or even quicker short cuts.  Those dungeons get long.  The treasure chest mini-game gets old after awhile.

The SaHD:
Some of those monster designs are a bit too creepy for my tastes.  At least they stand out!

(Review code for The Lost Child was received from the publisher)

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