Ever since playing the first Pokémon as a young child, I’ve always enjoyed monster-capture games. The thrill of finding something missing from your collection, the tactics of switching out members of your team for advantage in battle, even the long grinding sessions that follow a new capture. While the release of The Lost Child by developer Crim was not on my radar, having never played the last game set in this universe called “El Shaddai,” I was delighted to have an opportunity to have such a game running on my Switch.
The story you’re placed into is extremely straightforward. Based in Japan, you’re a journalist working for a local occult magazine who stumbles into a grand war between angels and demons, and while there’s a few twists and turns, things don’t really progress much beyond this. In fact, the few times the plot does take leaps forward, I found myself increasingly confused by the motivations of many of the cast, all the way up to and including the final cutscene. This left me somewhat dissatisfied with the overall tale, especially considering the hints at Lovecraftian themes that would generally intrigue me.
Many of Lovecraft’s creations make up the enemy’s roster, including the infamous Cthulu, although they feel like they’ve been forced into the plot; they look the part, but don’t bring the tone that should naturally accompany these beings. Lovecraft centred his stories around insanity, mystery and the incomprehensibility of his creations (perfect for a story about an occult journalist, I might add.) These themes are either minimal or entirely absent, so fans of this long-standing genre will ultimately find nothing for them here.
The unclear motivations aren’t helped by a mixed result from the cast of characters. Every aspect varies in performance, and it’s hard to give an overall rank here. Some characters are interesting and held my curiosity, while others turn out to be little more than a nuisance. Some of the voice actors pull off an acceptable performance, while some are painfully forced. Translation efforts were generally passable, but too many lines come across as awkward. While I couldn’t say it was terrible across the board, there wasn’t a single element of these characters that I felt was worthy of any praise.
The dungeons are the only place that the game offers up an experience worth having. We’ve got the classic dungeon-delving system: explore the map, do the random encounters, which consist of turn-based combat, and get to the boss on the last floor. The most substantial and unique element of the battle system is the presence of an indicator to track the level of “threat,” a measurement of the likelihood of being attacked by the enemy. I found using this feature to my advantage to be satisfying, especially in boss battles, and you gain access to many different abilities that assist in this.
Unfortunately, these encounters are marred by significant under-tuning. While the first dungeon kept my interest with difficult challenges and an intimidatingly hard first boss fight, some very brief grinding quickly had me over-levelled for the remainder of the game. This eliminated any need to change out my party, monitor my health or ever consider battle tactics. By the second dungeon, all random encounters turned into a simple matter of spamming area-based attacks, and all boss encounters were resolved by a barrage of my strongest moves with a little bit of healing on the side.
Dungeon-navigation is refreshingly swift, helping to hold my interest through the repetitive slog of combat. Moving around, going through doors, entering battles, even the fights themselves – it all keeps a rapid pace, which is an element that many games of this genre fail at (some of my favourites indulge in their “open a door” animations.) Yet even this was not perfect: floor transitions are slow in the extreme, taking an excessive amount of time to load. I was nearly done in by one segment that had me switch between floors twelve times in quick succession to make progress in the dungeon, followed by traps that would send me back to the start to the tune of my anguished screams.
This sluggish loading also bleeds into the overworld. Moving in and out of the many shops in Shinjuku, the hub of the story, grew exhausting and eventually had me opt to visit less of the shops each time I returned. Coupled with some awkward interface options, my visits to the town dwindled to the bare minimum. When unneeded buffs and useless items are the only rewards for manually selecting and confirming each thing to sell, each piece of equipment to appraise, and each demon to improve, I could rarely justify putting in the necessary time to complete this labour.
Menuing is also afflicted with an odd amount of inefficiency and mess. Merely trying to swap around the members in your active party forces you to switch screens from a simple party view to a full list view of all your collected Astrals, the monsters you gather for your team, which requires you need to know the name of the Astrals you want to switch to complete the action. Astral information is often difficult to find, arbitrarily placed around different parts of the screen, depending on whether in list view, party view or the individual’s status page. These menu design troubles are a particular problem for any game featuring monster-capture, as managing an ever-growing roster only intensifies the frustration.
But perhaps my biggest disappointment of the game was the Astral-collection system itself. The Astrals are recruited by simply executing a specific powerful attack, the strength of which builds passively over time. For me, it almost never failed to take out the enemy, even while in its weaker stages, and thus made building my collection of Astrals utterly simple. Additionally, thanks to how over-powered I was, I never felt the need to change out my party and thus never felt the thrill of contemplating how this new creature would compliment my team. Elemental advantage or disadvantage feels minimal, and their respective strengths never differ enough to warrant careful consideration.
While I’m usually a fan of the monster-catching genre and greatly enjoy anything Lovecraftian, The Lost Child fails to hit a lot of the key points that makes both of these genres fun. Add to this a standard storyline, repetitive combat and a pointless overworld, and you’ve got a game that’s ultimately very hard to recommend spending time on. With many exciting RPGs coming up in the near future, only those in desperate need of some monster catching or dungeon delving should look here.