It’s a beautiful day outside. The sun is gleaming high in the sky, Tesco has run out of burgers and somewhere there are some ducks bobbing gently over a sparkling pond. It’s a perfect day for lounging in the garden, building sandcastles in the sand, or crawling for hours around the darkest dungeons in search of unholy demons hell bent on destroying the Earth and spitting in God’s face. Yay!
The game begins with investigative occult writer Hayato Ibuki being unceremoniously shoved in front of a train by a black shadow on his back. He is saved at the last moment by an angel, given a mysterious locked case and told he has to live. He is The Chosen, the only one who can carry out God’s will and fight the evil deities determined to wreak havoc on the mortal world. Welcome to The Lost Child, a turn-based dungeon crawler from Kadokawa Games and NIS.
The Lost Child gets right into the action. The basics are explained well and the opening hours are gone in a heavenly flash. This isn’t a game that lingers. The visual novel sections are crisp and concise as they introduce your main characters. You are given a good understanding of Hayato and your angel helper Lua and what their roles are going to be. Your base of operations is your office where you pick up investigations you’ll need for your magazine articles and coincidently are also the source of some pretty dastardly demonic skulduggery. You’re going to need your Gangour.
What’s a Gangour? Well remember that mysterious case you were given? It’s contains a very special gun. Fire it at a demon and you have a chance to capture it. If you then have enough karma you can purify the demon’s Astral and force it to fight in your party. Collect them all!! It’s like Pokemon if Pikachu was a disgusting puss-filled minion of Cthulhu. There are 250 different Astrals to collect and it adds a little something extra to a long grind down a dark corridor.
The world of The Lost Child has invisible Layers. It’s inside these layers that the demons are hiding. During your investigations you’ll have to venture into the layers and explore. These are your dungeons and oh boy they run deep. Each dungeon is a maze. Most doors are unlocked, but some are locked and require you to do a little leg work to open them. This is where The Lost Child really shines. You’ll be faced with hidden levers and crystals, water drenched areas that block your path and riddles that need to be solved. You’re not just trudging around in the dark like a lost rat in a sewer. Every dungeon itself is a conundrum waiting to be solved and as the game progresses they get trickier and trickier.
A little map will track your progress and you can easily see which doors you’ve been through and where you potentially have a section you’ve missed or is now newly accessible. A really simple but clever little auto function allows you to plot a previously taken route and trundle back there while you slurp your tea, making the pain of backtracking a lot less agonising. While you hunt whatever creature you’re investigating you’ll also need to look out for save points (god bless them) and stairs leading to the next level. Thanks to a first person perspective and some nifty movement mechanics, exploration is easy and efficient. There are options to speed up your movement which is really handy for the autopilot around the bigger levels. The dungeons are the backbone of the game so expect to spend most of your time happily skipping around them.
While you’re hunting and exploring and going around in a circle because you’ve mixed up which stairs go where, you’ll also be subjected to attacks. These random encounters can occur any time and will pit you against some pretty nasty characters. Your angel friend Lua will sometimes tell you if it’s a new creature for your collection so you can whip out your demon bazooka, otherwise just get ready to fight.
Fights are turn-based. You have five slots in your party, two of which are filled by Hayato and Lua. The other three slots are for your captured Astrals. You’ll have a whole bunch of baddies in your arsenal so choose wisely. You can substitute Astrals for others with different elements and skills while you’re in the layers but this will cost you a bar of your Gangour’s battery, which forces you to really think about which ones to use. You can do a physical attack, or use an Astral Burst which combines your Astral attacks into a handy bullet of destruction. Your party members can alternatively use their specific skills, use an item or defend. And if you’re really out of your depth you can try to escape.
If you’re looking for a less tactical fight, there’s a handy auto attack option that can speed things up. This is particularly handy once your characters are beefed up and you’re looking to speed through the fights and concentrate on dungeon exploration. The random encounters (like most random encounters in such games) can get annoyingly frequent. That’s fine while you’re levelling up, but if you’re content at your level, playing on Easy Mode or walking in a circle struggling to find a solution to the level you’re on, auto attack is a little stroke of genius.
The Lost Child does everything it can to streamline its gameplay. Alongside the autopilot and auto attack is a very simple menu system that allows you to upgrade, level up, take care of your Astrals and equip items very easily. There’s lots to do while in and out of the layers but everything is very straightforward which allows you to just get on. While you and Lua automatically level up with your earned XP, your Astrals need a bit more attention. In addition to XP, battles and decisions outside the layers also earn you karma – good karma, evil, and neutral. You need this not only to purify the Astrals, as we discussed earlier, but also to level them up. The more you grind and the more karma you get, the more you have to spend on your beloved slimy Deep One *snuggles*. As you progress you will also be able to increase your Astrals’ strength further by changing their form and then levelling them up even further. You can potentially concentrate much of your efforts into creating one hell of a tank character. Enoch was my tank and I challenge anyone to take him down in a scrap.
Now I’ve mentioned angels, Deep Ones and Cthulhu, and I’m not joking. The Lost Child has a highly original and very inventive mix of Christian influence, Cthulhu mythos and a few other surprises. It’s an interesting blend, especially for all us Lovecraft fans. I don’t mind admitting that I’m tickled to see angels go up against the likes of Dagon and Hastur. It’s often while you’re outside the layers that you’ll meet some of the characters. From your office you’ll gain access to city maps and a world map. There are lots of areas to open up as you progress and a few will require some repeat visits. The story itself has some good twists and turns and just as the lion’s share of the game goes to the dungeons, the visual novel sections are relatively short. To be blunt, the story is adequate and perfectly enjoyable but it doesn’t go deep. It’s a grand plot but not grounded with enough relatable characterisation. I would have liked to see a little more chat and adventure as the concise narrative leaves most of the characters feeling a little flat. The main character Hayato comes across more like a player avatar than a meaningful character with a heart, soul and mind of his own. It’s quite hard to connect with him. Lua is a little more fleshed out, but even then it can be quite hard to empathise with her. While The Lost Child’s gameplay is awesome, the characters are really rather forgettable. Apart from Cthulhu of course, because I am a loyal follower and I would never insult my master. Cthulhu fhtagn! (Translation: Cthulhu rulz and is gonna cut ya when he wakes!)
After the credits roll, the game continues into an open-ended affair. There is plenty of post-game fun to be had with more investigations and a brand new challenge. You’ll need a minimum of thirty five hours to complete the game but that can easily stretch into another 100+ hours, and when you complete The Lost Child you’ll find out why.
An engaging and entertaining dungeon crawler. Great combat and a good story concept notwithstanding, it’s the dungeons where The Lost Child really shines. Puzzle your way through ingenious dungeons of increasing difficulty and never get bored. Good old fashioned Lovecraftian fun with the best boss battle music you’ll ever experience
S J Hollis Rating – 8/10
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