The Lost Child
Publisher: NIS America (NA), Kadokawa Games (JP)
Available on: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PS4, Vita
Price: $49.99 USD
In a world unknowingly inhabited by gods, angels, and demons, you’re Hayato Ibuki; journalist of the occult magazine LOST. During a routine investigation at the Shinjuku Station, a black shadow pushes him in front of a speeding train before being saved by a mysterious girl holding an even more mysterious locked suitcase. Knowing more than she’s letting on, this girl, Balucia, gives the case to Hayato before disappearing. What’s inside is about to change his life forever.
The Lost Child is a dungeon crawler RPG that’s equal parts Shin Megami Tensei, visual novel, and Pokemon. As Hayato, you’ll investigate local legends, befriend an angel named Lua, and take deep dives into dungeons (called Layers) where you’ll be met with fearsome demons that can be captured and used as party members.
Let me (kind of) start off by saying that I’m not the biggest fan of dungeon crawlers and have steered clear of the genre since Stranger of Sword City tested my patience well beyond its boiling point. The repetition, heavy emphasis on grinding and their punishing difficulty just isn’t my thing. I immediately went into The Lost Child expecting more of that, but what I found was a solid entry-level DRPG that’s light on the genre’s annoying bullshit and a perfect fit for the hybrid portable Nintendo Switch. The Lost Child has some obvious flaws and probably lacks the depth hardcore fans are looking for, but as someone who isn’t the target market, I was pleasantly surprised.
As I mentioned above, you play as the occult journalist Hayato. He’s a pretty level-headed guy that’s always referred to at work as “newbie,” despite having been there for three years. While investigating a lead in Shinjuku, Hayato is given a locked case that contains a magical demon-hunting gun known as the Gangour, which should only ever be wielded by someone chosen by God. Lua, an angel, descends from heaven to declare Hayato their “Chosen One,” which entails a lot of demon capturing, puzzle solving, and saving humanity from the likes of Cthulhu and his cronies. Yes, that Cthulhu.
The story starts off with a bang, as Lua discovers Layers all over Japan and, as an angel, struggles with the whole concept of God’s will and the fallen angels that defied him to live within the mortal world. Her struggles are exacerbated by the disappearance of her sister, Balucia, and whether or not she made the right choice putting the human Hayato in such a dangerous role. It’s good stuff. I was genuinely intrigued by the narrative, despite the vocal deliveries being inconsistent in quality, and always looked forward to the next story beat. The bond that formed between Hayato and Lua over the course of my 25-hour playthrough was admirable, if not a little cliche, and I found the ending itself to be quite satisfying.
The villains, though, are a different story. The primary antagonist(s) either fall into the cliche of seeking power or the will to eradicate mankind, but I’d be lying if I said their end goals weren’t terrifying. I just didn’t grow attached to any of them and rarely looked forward to their next appearance.
The Lost Child’s Layers are multi-floor dungeons full of demons, angels, and fallen angels (all of which are categorized in-game as Astrals) that can be captured using the Gangour and placed into Hayato’s fighting party. Your battle party always consists of Hayato, who can only fight with weapons and the Gangour, and Lua, who mostly uses healing and damaging magic spells. Eight Astrals can then be placed in the party, with three fighting alongside you on the front line and five serving as backups that can be swapped in during battle.
Only Hayato and Lua receive XP during battle, where leveling up rewards them with skill points that can be allocated into expected boosts to damage, magic, evasions, and defenses. Since Astrals are broken down into three categories — demons, angels, and fallen angels — killing them awards that Astral family’s “karma” that can then be given to your captured friends in order to level them up. Similar to Pokemon, once an Astral reaches a certain level they can evolve into a more powerful version (and eventually an ultimate version that’s given a new character model instead of a basic color swap). Evolving (stylized in-game as “EVILving”) does reset the Astral’s level back to 1, but it’s incredibly easy to bank Karma while exploring Layers and getting them caught up in a timely manner. You can even give an Astral the wrong Karma at half its value, which helps a little.
Astrals fall into five different elemental categories, being fire, wood, water, thunder, and wind, but they don’t learn new abilities while leveling up. Instead, The Lost Child takes an interesting approach by teaching Astrals random abilities during combat. To be more specific, Astrals can attack and use skills, but during their attack, there is a chance that they’ll learn a new move instead. That move will then become a permanent addition to their repertoire. Interesting doesn’t always mean good, though. This idea is neat on paper, but it’s highly unpredictable and can even lead to a game-changing bug (which, of course, I experienced).
During my playthrough, one of my Astrals (Enoch) learned a new skill during his first battle. At this point, Lua hadn’t learned anything new yet. Little did I know until a dozen hours later that, if this should happen, that Lua will never, EVER learn a new skill. Good times. I ended up Google’ing the issue and it turns out that it’s been around since the game launched in Japan and has never been fixed. It’s a shame, really, since Lua is *always* in your party and is mostly useless without learning new magic spells. I ended up having to allocate all of her skill points into physical damage just to get something out of her in the long run. My choice was either to start over completely, losing 12 hours of progress, or roll with the punches and make up for her shortcomings with powerful Astrals. I chose the latter, of course. It wasn’t that simple, though.
In addition to Layers that appear for story and side-quests, The Lost Child has an equally challenging and profitable, optional 99-floor Layer called R’yleh Road. By comparison, all but one of the story-related Layers are 4 floors deep and take 3-5 hours to complete. It’s safe to say then that R’yleh Road is bound to suck up a lot of your time and seems like an ideal thing to undertake during daily commutes or whenever you have short bursts of free time. I just wish I could have experienced it. Unfortunately, since Lua wasn’t learning any new spells (one of which is required to progress beyond a certain floor) I only spent about an hour exploring before finding it pointless to press on.
The Lost Child is relatively easy on the default setting and incredibly accessible on Easy Mode, so even without Lua’s help I still found it simple enough to progress. Most enemies pose little challenge, even when battles throw out multiple rows of them. You can take them out in one or two turns as long as you’re using Astrals with abilities that hit everything at once. This became my go-to tactic, as there’s no way to regenerate mana (used for special attacks) within Layers without using precious consumables. You can leave them and head back to the city, which is an option I used quite a bit in the early goings, but it’s not always fun working your way back to where you left off. Thankfully, The Lost Child has an autopilot mode that will automatically walk you to an area you’ve visited before — and it’s as easy as opening the map, selecting the tile you want to arrive at, and battling the random encounters that appear along the way.
However, with encounters being easier to plow through using multi-target attacks, the experience eventually devolved (DEVILved?) into me using as many multi-hit Astrals as I could find instead of the ones that targetted specific elemental weakness, offering helpful buffs and healing spells, or looked the most rad. I put those in the back row where they collected dust.
It was still fun, don’t get me wrong, but my desire to collect every Astral faded near The Lost Child’s final act. I did really appreciate how the final Layer felt like the last area in the game, in terms of boss battles, extra floors, tougher puzzles, and forcing me to be even more frugal with my Astrals and their precious mana pools. By the time I reached The Lost Child’s final big baddie, I barely had any mana left, had spent the last 6 hours wrapping my head around puzzle solutions, and felt like I had just climbed Everest before the fight of a lifetime. It was something I haven’t experienced in a long while and I loved it.
On the visual front, though, all of the Layers are unremarkable and feel uninspired. They’re graphically dated, though they do contain interesting puzzles that always made sure I had my thinking cap on. One, in particular, had me altering the flow of sand in specific ways in order to fill a gap leading to the next floor, while another tasked me with exploring a large chunk of the map without looking in the direction of magical paintings that’d send me back to the start. Solving these puzzles always felt like I accomplished something, which I rarely experienced stepping on annoying trap tiles and other frustrating nonsense often found in other DRPGs.
Character models and Astrals all have a pretty good look, with a few odds and ends that felt out of place or inconsistent with their quality. Astral evolutions were always something that I looked forward to, but I was pretty disappointed in that fact that their 2nd forms were just colored reskins and only their 3rd and final forms were entirely different. Final forms look rad, though.
The music is as forgettable as the environmental aesthetic, with none of the tracks being noteworthy or memorable. Even after spending 25 hours with The Lost Child, I’d still be hard-pressed to hum you a single tune. Music can go a long way in assisting with a game’s narrative and setting the emotional stage, so I’d love to see more effort put into this aspect if the game ever receives a sequel in the future.
Overall, The Lost Child was a mostly fun way to spend 25 hours even with the game-changing bug I experienced and how incongruous the sum of its parts are. It’s a good foundation to build upon in a sequel, as long as more emphasis is put on the use of different Astrals, the consistency of its art style, and more TLC put into its musical offerings. I enjoyed the overall narrative and most of its cast of characters but found the antagonists to be a bit weak in terms of emotional connection or unique motives. The game is a great fit for the Switch (and the Vita, I’d imagine) thanks to its dungeon crawling core and a plethora of content by way of R’yleh Road’s 99 floors, particularly for those who love to collect everything or just want to spend a daily commute grinding out Karma.
In terms of Switch specifics, the game runs great in handheld mode and supports the Pro Controller.
The Lost Child isn’t the greatest RPG on the Nintendo Switch, PS4, or Vita, but it’s an ideal starting point for those new to the genre and a worthy option for anyone looking for a new RPG experience. It made me appreciate the dungeon crawler genre more by easing my into its mechanics and not overly punishing me for my mistakes, and that in itself is a good win for NIS America and Crim. After finishing it up last night, I think I’m ready to give another, deeper dungeon crawler a shot and see how things go from there.
We don’t use review scores here at Cheap Boss Attack, so hopefully you find the above text far more informative than an arbitrary number or a sequence of shaded-in star shapes. Have any questions about the game that weren’t answered in the review? Sound off down in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them without spoilers.
Full disclaimer: A copy of The Lost Child was provided by the game’s publisher, NIS America, for the purpose of this review.