Variety, it has been said, is the spice of life. Nothing’s ever fun if it’s monotonous, and throwing something unexpected into the mix can spice up a meal, a chore or even a family occasion. The same attitude applies, of course, to video games. Nobody wants to play a game that’s just turn-based combat for twelve hours, and nobody wants to read oodles of text with nothing to break it up.
That’s where NIS America’s The Lost Child comes in. The Lost Child is a strange hybrid of dungeon crawler, visual novel and RPG which is, appropriately enough for its subject matter, currently shrouded in mystery. Nevertheless, the game’s on its way to our shores in a mere matter of weeks, so we thought we’d have a look at it and see how the game is shaping up. Note that this is not a review, but more of a “what you can expect” deep dive.
The Lost Child follows Hayato Ibuki, who the trailer describes as an “occult journalist”. Ibuki has been assigned to investigate a series of mysterious suicides happening across Tokyo for his publication. During the course of his investigation, Ibuki falls foul of supernatural forces far beyond his ken. What follows is an otherworldly tale of outer gods, mortals attempting to understand them and the monsters said gods leave in their wake.
If all this is sounding a bit Bloodborne, well, The Lost Child wears its Lovecraft influences on its sleeve. Early on in the trailer, some of Ibuki’s scribblings make reference to the “Deep Ones”, which is a term straight out of Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth. Some of the monster designs and other terminology The Lost Child uses is very Lovecraftian, too, all flailing tentacles and unknowable sea creatures.
Other than this, not much is currently known about The Lost Child’s narrative, but that’s probably for the best. If the game is dealing with Lovecraftian themes of cosmic indifference and battles between outer beings, the less we know going into it the better. Suffice it to say that horror aficionados, especially those enamoured with J-horror titles like Ringu and Dark Water, will likely have a field day with The Lost Child.
Over on the gameplay side of things, The Lost Child blends visual novel-style exploration and investigation with a traditional dungeon crawler that’s reminiscent of something like The Legend of Grimrock or the Might & Magic series. In the visual novel segments, Ibuki follows up on leads he gets from his boss, gathers clues from characters he meets in and around Tokyo, and generally advances the plot of the game. Leads frequently take the form of rumours, which will lead players to supernatural goings-on and sometimes even Astrals (more on which below).
Traversal is fairly straightforward: players pick from a list of locations they’d like to go to, and there they are, in the grand visual novel tradition. While in his office, Ibuki can access his desk, which contains the clues he’s currently gathered. This makes it easier for players to remind themselves where they are if it’s been a while since they played, or just refresh themselves on the narrative if they’ve lost their way a little.
The Lost Child looks to have the customary diverse visual novel cast; something like this lives and dies on its characterisation, after all, since it’s a huge amount of what players will be seeing. So far, the trailer promises smug otaku tourists, eager-to-please waitresses and easy-going salarymen, among other things, so it’s a true slice of inner-city Japanese life. Through conversations with these characters, Ibuki will get to know his surroundings and hopefully piece together some of the mystery behind the spate of suicides.
The dungeon crawler segments, too, are fairly traditional for their genre. Players will enter “the Layer”, which marks the boundary between “our reality and theirs”. The Layer takes the form of a first-person grid-based dungeon exploration mode, complete with Grimrock-style switches to open doors and puzzles to solve. The game’s teaser page promises “up to 99 levels” of dungeons to get stuck into, so it looks like dungeon crawler aficionados will have a good time with this one.
There’s also a combat system, of course, which is quite strongly reminiscent of the Persona series. Ibuki’s gun, Gangour, can capture enemies (called Astrals) which he faces in battle, turning them into team members. This turns combat into a delicate balancing act, ensuring that the player has the right Astrals for each situation and that their skills complement one another. Skills can include buffs, heals and elemental attacks which exploit specific enemy weaknesses, so it’s all about making sure you’re doing as much damage to your enemy as possible. Sounds obvious, but the systems are surprisingly complex and will take some time to get used to.
All in all, The Lost Child is shaping up to be a real success for anyone interested in the three (!) genres it’s decided to take on. There’s a chance it’ll be a jack of all trades and master of none, but we’re pretty excited about this one.