Dungeon crawling experiences are getting to be few and far between. There have been a few more notable ones recently, even if they differ in experience, like Dragon’s Crown Pro and Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux. The Lost Child from NIS enters the arena and feels like Shin Megami-lite. The experience isn’t inherently bad as much as it is bland and uninspired.
The story behind The Lost Child is the string holding the entire experience together. An investigative journalist named Hayato is looking into a mystery behind a series of unexplained suicides. Hayato works for a company that investigates supernatural mysteries, and at all of these suicides people reported seeing a presence behind all of the victims. Investigating the scene of the latest suicide, Hayato is almost killed himself when he is approached by a young woman with a strange briefcase. This briefcase gives Hayato some special abilities like capturing demons, being able to cast strong abilities, and setting demons into his party. As with most mechanics these are introduced at a steady pace and do take some time to get used to.
The story sets up a pretty good tale of the supernatural, and does occasionally lose steam. Still, this is the reason most players will probably stick around. Core exploration feels similar to the Shin Megami series. Players spend a lot of time transporting to different areas and talking to NPC’s in order to gain insight to the machinations of the story. As players talk to characters in different areas are where you start to see some of the key differences between the Shin Megami franchise and The Lost Child. Most of the story is told through visual novel elements, and most of these are also pretty good. Characters are really well drawn, but there is a ton of dialogue, and a lot of it isn’t very interesting.
Dungeons, yet again, play out like a lot of Shin Megami titles. First person exploration as players discover new routes and battle demons. In each new area though, almost every room looks like another room that came before it. None of the dungeons are inspired, and all of them look really ugly. Poor textures plague each hallway, while a poor controller design was implemented. Turning directly around requires two button presses. Which could have easily been fixed by just making the character spin around by pressing down on the D-pad.
Combat in dungeons is standard turn based fare. Combat is also in first person, and players choose an action for each character and then all moves play out. Each enemy has certain weaknesses that can be exploited by various attacks that either Hayato or his Astrals (think demons from Shin Megami) posess. The briefcase that Hayato possesses serves a purpose with these Astrals as well. This briefcase has a battery charge. As players explore dungeons and equip new Astrals or swap one out for another, the battery gets used up. Once depleted, it cannot be used anymore until Hayato leaves the dungeon. It requires a little bit of thought before needlessly swapping or equipping Astrals.
Unfortunately, none of the enemies are all that difficult. Most demons are easily beaten, and the only ones that felt tough were the boss encounters. Making sure Hayato and his party members are levelled up enough is key to getting through these fights is important, and so is the way players go about levelling them. As Hayato makes decisions and defeats enemies he earns good, evil, and mixed karma points. These points are banked and available to use to level up the Astrals that players find worthy of their party. Similar to the characters in The Lost Child, enemies are similarly well drawn. Most of them feel straight out of Persona, which isn’t a bad thing, though I’ve never seen so many parallels to another game buried in a title.
While the story is solid, the characters propelling the plot are incredibly boring. It’s honestly really frustrating, because the religious undertones in the story-telling are well done, and having uninteresting characters navigating the mystery doesn’t help anyone. Complement those elements with dull dungeons and combat and Astral capturing that feels like a direct mirror of other titles and most players won’t find a lot to love. The few redeeming factors there are in The Lost Child are outweighed by other poor mechanics intertwined within that will have players struggling to enjoy a long slog.
The Lost Child is available now for PS4, Vita, and Nintendo Switch. This review is based on a PS4 copy of the game provided by the publisher. Purchases are available here.