Lost Sphear Interview — Improving through Imagination and Maintaining Nostalgia
Lost Sphear director Atsushi Hashimoto talks about how Tokyo RPG Factory keeps player imagination alive and how the game will improve on I am Setsuna.
Lost Sphear is the next title that is part of I am Setsuna developer RPG Factory’s spiritual successorship to the glorious JRPGs of old. DualShockers was recently provided the opportunity to sit down with the game’s director, Atsushi Hashimoto, to talk about how the game has come along and what fans of I am Setsuna can expect to see from it.
At the beginning of the interview, Hashimoto-san gave me a quick introduction to some of the themes and gameplay mechanics in Lost Sphear, pointing out a few key elements that the team implemented based on player feedback following I am Setuna‘s release.
This introduction included an overview of the narrative theme of memory, the incorporation of inns, the ATB 2.0 combat system, dungeon-crawling, Vulcosuit abilities, and how memories can be collected and used to reveal new portions of the world to varying effects, one of which being an optional mini-map.
J: You’ve said that Lost Sphear is the spiritual successor to I am Setsuna, which we know is intended as the spiritual successor to Chrono Trigger. What do you feel Lost Sphear has retained from its predecessors?
Atsushi Hashimoto: With each title that Tokyo RPG Factory creates under [the Project Setsuna] banner, we make sure that we’re keeping in mind the 90’s era JRPG, and we make sure that we leave room for imagination.
Forexample, when you play through a game, and you have your characters, we make sure that we aren’t laying everything out clearly so that players can imagine what characters are feeling, sort of supplementing and interpreting emotions in their own mind. I think that’s what’s been carried over to Lost Sphear, and that is something that Tokyo RPG Factory holds dear to our hearts.
J: What do you feel Tokyo RPG Factory has learned from its experience with I am Setsuna?
AH: With Lost Sphear, we did take into consideration all of the feedback that we received from players who have had the chance to play I am Setsuna. There were a couple of major points of feedback that we did focus on, one of which being in the combat system.
During battle, our characters were stationary, and there were some players who said, ‘Had I been able to shift a little bit, my AOE would have covered more enemies.’ That is something that we took to heart, and we improved upon the battle system so that there is less stress and you’re able to strategize where you are able to cover with your AOE and deal damage to your enemies.
The second point was in the environment. With Setsuna, most of our environment involved snow and snow-filled areas. While it was very beautiful, there were comments that it felt lacking in diversity. We wanted to make sure that we expanded on the environments and added variation to the scenery.
J: In I am Setsuna, the environments and the soundtrack drove a melancholic tone. What is the emotional tone Tokyo RPG Factory is trying to establish for Lost Sphear and how will that be accomplished?
AH: With I am Setsuna, the team did want to evoke the Japanese word “setsunai,” which is what you had mentioned as “melancholic,” but with Lost Sphear, the Japanese word that we used was “hakanai,” which loosely translates to something that is very frail or easily lost. How we wanted to evoke that was through the loss of memory.
Thingsare vanishing because the planet’s memory has been lost. The existence of such an item is lost because the memory has faded away.
J: Your games have a very nostalgic visual style. Have you ever considered or are you currently considering for the future a move to more advanced graphics?
AH: If asked at this point if we are planning to shift towards more photo-realistic expression, I would like to say that’s not going to happen, but of course you never know what will happen in the future. However, Tokyo RPG Factory always wants to leave room for the imagination, and photo-realism isn’t everything.
Ofcourse, there are titles that are appropriate to express in that way, but Tokyo RPG Factory feels that there is still another way to give that player experience, let them imagine and provide their own interpretations to our games. I think that’s what our stance is right now: to leave room for imagination.
J: Do you feel that there’s a halfway point between those two things, further utilizing modern technology while retaining the imaginative allowances we expect from Tokyo RPG Factory?
AH: If asked about the possibility of moving towards a halfway point, I think the possibility is there, but it depends on what the game concept is going to be. Then we would consider what would be the best way to depict it.
J: I am Setsuna’s soundtrack was an aspect that fans continue to appreciate. Is Lost Sphear’s soundtrack as important to the team?
AH: With any JRPG, music is a very important part of not only evoking emotion, but just helping to supplement the world being depicted. Of course, that’s a big factor that the team holds dear to its heart.
By utilizing music, it also helps players to imagine and supplement and provide their own interpretations, tying together what I was saying before about imagination. Tokyo RPG Factory definitely does treat music as a very important element of the game.
J: What about the soundtrack in Lost Sphear do you feel will rival or surpass I am Setsuna’s soundtrack?
AH: With I am Setsuna, the piano was the primary instrument utilized in our soundtrack. We wanted to keep that essence, that flavor of sound that we were providing. But with the visual representations of more varied environments, we wanted to enhance the music as well, keeping it consistent with what we had but expanding upon and providing that audio variation in addition to the visual variation.
We tried to keep the piano in all of our tracks, but we would add another instrument to be featured in an area, giving it personality and uniqueness. We hope that we were able to achieve a more enhanced listening experience.
J: You’ve previously revealed information about characters Kanata, Lumina, Locke, and Van. The characters of Sherra and Obara were recently revealed as well. What can you tell me about the story behind these two new characters?
AH: [Laughs] What’s the best way of answering without spoiling the story…?
J: Of course! No spoilers! But then does that mean you consider Sherra and Obara to be so central to the plot that you could not provide any more information on them without spoiling it?
AH: Yes, if we went into detail about these two characters, it would potentially risk the story, especially with Sherra.
She’sa very key character who helps provide the twist. If we described what her role is, you might be able to see what the whole story is about. So, we’re not able to disclose that much information.
As for Obara, he’s very knowledgeable and sort of is positioned as an advisor to the protagonists.
J: Will there be additional characters who can join the party?
AH: There are, but that’s as much as we can say at this point.
J: We recently learned of the game’s Vulcosuits, and you showed me a bit of them today. Will each character have their own?
AH: That’s correct. Each character will have their own Vulcosuit. It’s not like there’s a generic Vulcosuit that characters board. They are very unique to each character.
J: Will there be multiple Vulcosuits for each character?
AH: There is one unique Vulcosuit for each character.
J: How large is the traversable world of Lost Sphear compared to I am Setsuna?
AH: The world map should be larger than the map in I am Setsuna. We have not specifically measured it… [laughs]
J: Of course! Well, with what you showed me today, there was a mini-map. That’s something that was notably not in I am Setsuna. I understand it likely won’t be present the entire time, but what prompted this change?
AH: So, the mini-map is only available when you are out on the world map. So, you won’t see it when you’re in a town or dungeon. But, it is something that was not in I am Setsuna and that is something that was actually deliberate, because we didn’t want a mini-map being the center of attention when people are playing I am Setsuna.
Wewanted people to just go into a dungeon and enjoy the experience without having to depend on a mini-map.
That being said, when you are on the world map, and after you obtain the airship, it was very hard to determine where you were on the map exactly and that was something even the development team was thinking, ‘Yeah that might be a good idea. we should put it in there.’ So, we did incorporate it.
Wemade sure that it was an option so that players would deliberately choose whether or not they would have the mini-map functionality.
J: What you showed me today revealed regions of the map being unlocked by these structures, one being the tower that allowed for the mini-map to be active. You also showed me how other structures would provide other beneficial effects. Will these effects be active across the entire world or just in those regions?
AH: The mini-map is effective for the entire overworld. That is not limited to a local area.
However, depending on what you build based on your memory inventory, there are certain items that will only affect a local area. There are two different types: some that do affect the entire world and some that are more local.
J: We’ve also recently learned of some ancient mechanisms designed to keep trespassers out of certain dungeons. How do these puzzles operate? Do they come in multiple forms?
AH: With the puzzle mechanic in our dungeons, we have tried to add more variety to what we had done in I am Setsuna, so you will be seeing different ancient mechanisms within the dungeons. There will be some areas that will not have that sort of technology, so you may not see it in some dungeons, but you will see a variation in different dungeons.
That being said, in some of the dungeons, there may be multiple in an area where the civilization was reigning over a wider area of the land. There, you will see similar things being incorporated in different dungeons.
J: In the past, you said that you didn’t want to make I am Setsuna an overly difficult game. How would you describe Lost Sphear’s difficulty? Will there be options to select from multiple difficulties?
AH: According to the feedback that we received from those who played I am Setsuna, some players did feel it may have been a bit easy to play through. So, that is something that the team considered, but we didn’t want to simply raise the enemy HP and just adjust the difficulty balance that way. We wanted to make the challenge for our players more about strategizing.
So, we have made the game so that it is a bit more difficult than I am Setsuna. As for whether or not you can choose from difficulty levels, we do not intend on having an explicit easy or normal mode, but through the Active Time Battle system, you can always set the wait time to “Wait” or “Active” (whether you want your enemies to wait as you’re selecting your command vs. having them attack even though you’re still selecting your command). I think difficulty can be adjusted in that regard if you like.
Another way [of adjusting difficulty] is that in rebuilding the world using your memory elements, there are some elements that you can build that enhance your combat abilities. You might go the other route and not set up some of those enhancement items so that you become more restricted and have higher challenge.
J: Lost Sphear has been announced for PlayStation 4, PC, and Nintendo Switch. Are any other platforms a possibility? Maybe PlayStation Vita?
AH: [Laughs] We do not have any plans currently. However, I do want to mention that it is Remote Play compatible for the PlayStation Vita. So, if you own the PlayStation 4 version and also have a Vita, you can take your game on the go with Remote Play.
J: Okay. Well, thank you for that. Unfortunately, I don’t think that will be consolation for Vita owners…
AH: [Laughs] Yeah, that’s what we expected.
Lost Sphear is expected to launch in North America for PlayStation 4, PC, and Nintendo Switch on January 23, 2018. A number of trailers have launched for the game, including one detailing its world and characters, as well as its Vulcosuit combat.
For more information on Lost Sphear, you are encouraged to visit Tokyo RPG Factory’s website.