For Switch owners, the wait for Shin Megami Tensei V might seem intolerable, with the Setagaya-based team providing scant information on developmental progress. Fortunately, there’s a viable, albeit derivative alternative, with Kadokawa Games’ The Lost Child. Sure, the effort might lack some of the polish, depth, and sense of daring regularly exhibited by Atlus’ efforts. But the title does an admirable job of aping the fundamental components of the MegaTen title. From first-person dungeon crawling, a modern context where Shinto, Buddhist, Christianity, and the occult intermingle, as well as recruitable roster of demons, Child’s inspiration is obvious.
Although the game’s prologue attempts to induce a bit of uncertainty, encouraging players to find out that’s exactly is going on, the set-up soon shifts to a more lucid tone. You’ll assume the role of Hayato Ibuki, a journalist who writes for a pulpy tabloid that investigates the supernatural, occult, and even the occasional urban legend. On assignment to research a rash of suicides around the Tokyo metropolitan region, Hayato is inexplicably pushed off the platform at the Shinjuku subway station and nearly killed. Oddly, the rescuer who pulls the reporter to safety quickly flees the rail station, leaving behind a mysterious, chained suitcase.
Sporadically, The Lost Child flirts with some stimulating storytelling, surveying the type of situations and settings that invigorated television series like Kolchak: The Night Stalker and The X-Files. Unsurprisingly, The Lost Child’s ambitions grow larger, and the title moves away from its modest exploration of the paranormal to tackle a showdown of epic proportions. Opinions might differ, but I would have preferred if the game remained focused on the more restrained issues, rather than pursue divine conflict- a topic that the MegaTen games competently tackle. Some of that inclination is rooted in The Lost Child’s exploration of tangible places across Japan. While there’s the occasional detachment from authenticity, reconnoitering these areas is absorbing, even if the dungeon-crawling is rather conventional.
Periodically, you’ll be called on to inspect dungeons, referred to a “Layers” by the game. While these zones meet all the requisites for a good exploratory crawl, with elements like multiple levels and the occasional puzzle that need to be solved before forward progress can be made, they don’t quite live up to the expositional set-ups. Sure, exploring the ruins of the phantom rail station at Manseibashi or an underground city in Umeda seems like a thrilling concept, but the rudimentary textures don’t endow the location with much personality. Luckily, that changes somewhat, with the crystalline walls below Fuji-san extending peculiarity. That said, there’s merit found in rooting The Lost Child is actual places. Although obviously dramatized, interest is fostered by avoiding completely fictionalized locales.
Naturally, you won’t be combing these sectors in solitude. Early on, you’ll be joined by Lua, a curvy angel who brings an obligatory amount of fan-service to the proceedings. By using a device called The Gangour, Hayato is able to expand the roster even further, adding up to three creatures called Astral to the battle party. Initially oppositional, any Angels, Demons, and Fallen Angels that you encounter can be captured and cultivated, turning them into invaluable companions and you plumb the recesses of each region.
Refreshingly, The Lost Child’s battles with subordinate enemies aren’t too difficult. Like any respectable dungeon crawl, success is bolstered by selecting an ideal battle party. Given the elemental strengths and weaknesses of foes, that means nurturing a diverse roster of Astral, occasionally swapping in the ones best suited to tackle the resident baddies. With up to six secondaries permitted into each region in addition to the three in your main party, it’s unlikely to find situations that you’re completely ill-prepared for.
As with most creature cultivation components, the more you use your Astral, the stronger they’ll become. Head into the menus and you can pour three different types of karma, the games’ currency into augmentation, offering archetypal stat growth. Max your Astral out, and Lost Child extends the ability to EVILve, or evolve your creature. Usage also means they’ll sporadically acquire new skills, which prove invaluable during the more challenging boss battles. Of course, if you’re really committing to mix/maxing you can reset your Astral after reaching a high level, forgoing any acquired skills but starting over with a formidable stat boost.
Like the MegaTen games, it’s these undertakings that form the strongest hook. While Layers are occasionally nondescript and the storyline occasionally ebbs into predictable territory, assembling and augmenting your paranormal adventure party is consistently compelling. At least some of the enjoyment stems from the creativity demonstrated by the range of creatures. Sure, there’s plenty of hybridity on display, where bipedal beings have features huge, butterfly-like wings, and coiled antennae. Constrained to portrait renders, we don’t see a lot of the Astral, but that gives The Lost Child a literary-like quality, as imagination paints many of the particulars.
If imitation is indeed a form of flattery, then The Lost Child is unadulterated fawning for the MegaTen franchise. From the auto-mapped dungeon crawls, the assemblage of otherworldly assistants, and quirky NPC’s that help sell the experience, all of the characteristic attributes are on display. As such, it’s easy to occasionally forget this isn’t an Atlus effort. Until Shin Megami Tensei V arrives, this is the next-best-alternative for Switch owners, and worthy of consideration by owners of other platforms.
The Lost Child was played on Switch
with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: Switch, PlayStation 4, PC
Developer: Kadokawa Games
Publisher: NIS America
Release date: June 19th, 2018
Price: $49.99 (Switch, PlayStation 4), $39.99 (Vita)