"The world of El Shaddai returns in the most unexpected way."
In 2011, former Capcom character designer Sawaki Takeyasu unleashed El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron upon the world. It was a stylish third-person action game in the vein of Devil May Cry, based on the Biblical character of Enoch. The game was a commercial failure, and all hopes of a sequel were lost. Now, in 2018, Takeyasu has been given another chance to revisit the world he created in The Lost Child.
Unlike its predecessor, The Lost Child is a first-person dungeon crawler that takes its cues from the likes of Shin Megami Tensei. Players will explore massive labyrinths while avoiding traps, solving puzzles and capturing monsters to aid them in battle. While the gameplay is very different from what was offered in El Shaddai, thereís a lot of promise. Unfortunately, that potential is neutered thanks to some ill-advised design decisions and a presumably low budget.
The Lost Child opens in modern-day Tokyo with Hayato, a journalist working for occult magazine LOST. Heís investigating a string of mysterious deaths on the subway when he comes into contact with a mysterious woman who hands him the Gangour, a gun that can capture demons. He soon meets up with an angel who informs Hayato that heís the Chosen One, mandated by God to stop a demon invasion.
Of course, with The Lost Child being a JRPG, not everything is as it seems. Whereas El Shaddai told a pretty straight forward story based on the Book of Enoch, The Lost Child is free to explore more fantastical facets of fantasy while wonderfully mingling them together with Judeo-Christian myth. A great example of this is how the invading demon force is led by a group of Lovecraftian gods, with Cthulhu at the helm. It not only allows for some fun myth mixing, but also compelling creature design thatís not often seen in JRPGs.
As a dungeon crawler, The Lost Child is mostly competent. Its dungeons are complex without ever becoming convoluted or obnoxious. Puzzles are largely simplistic, with players hunting down switches to open doors or turning valves to raise the water level in one area while lowering it in another. The only nitpick I have with the dungeon design is that it can feel pretty dull at times. There are too many dead ends for my liking, and the game hardly ever makes it feel like fully exploring a dungeon is worth your time. Itís still hard to ignore, however, the triumphant feeling of finally solving a multi-step puzzle to open the door at the end of a level.
While dungeon crawling is largely rewarding, The Lost Child less successfully implemented a mechanic on chests that starts off clever and becomes very obnoxious very quickly. Every chest found in the environment or dropped by an enemy has a good and evil meter. As players attempt to unlock the chest, the good or evil meters will rise until one becomes full, either opening the chest or springing a variety of traps. Itís certainly unique, but the rate at which chests are dropped and found means this time consuming mechanic becomes super annoying. Itís especially awful as golden chests that contain rare items which are required when evolving monsters are predisposed to fill up the evil meter more often. Players then are forced to spend MP to lower said meter in hopes of randomly filling up the good meter instead.
Combat and progression are also mostly competent thanks to a turn-based battle system that borrows heavily from Atlus' Shin Megami Tensei series. Every battle begins with Hayato, his angel partner Lua and three monsters that Hayato has captured. From there, battles progress in standard turn-based fashion as the player selects from a variety of attacks and skills to win the fight. The main detractor in combat is the low-budget look of it all. Enemy portraits have no animation to them as they simply bounce or stretch. The fact that the portraits are beautifully detailed to begin with makes the bouncing and stretching seem all the more out of place. It would have been much better to have still portraits if the developers couldnít afford to animate every enemy.
As for the capture mechanic, the Gangour can load bullets that combine either the physical or magical strength of all three demons currently in the party. Doing so renders the demons unable to attack for that turn, but Hayato can unleash a far more powerful attack than usual instead. If the attack kills the demon in question, itís captured and stored until Hayato can purify it to add it to the party. The Gangour's purpose isnít only to capture demons, as it can also simply be used to unleash a powerful attack that is especially useful on bosses.
Character progression is where I feel The Lost Child gains its greatest strength and weakness. While Hayato and Lua level up normally through experience gained in battle, demons must be leveled up in the menu by using karma that is obtained by defeating enemies. Karma comes in three flavors--good, evil and dual--which correspond to the alignment of the demons in your possession. Any karma can be used to level up demons, but using karma thatís not aligned with the demon in question will cost twice as much. It encourages diverse parties, but the problem is that demons can be quickly leveled up regardless of alignment. It makes the game a little too easy. Demons will eventually hit a level cap and evolving them will take them back to level one, but I found myself getting them back up to where they were before in no time.
Speaking of evolution, The Lost Child employs the cringe-worthy ďEVILveĒ system, wherein players can spend money and a specific item to level up demons that have hit their level cap. Players can only evolve enemies at a specific location outside of dungeons, so it can be a little annoying to hit a level cap while still exploring a dungeon. That can mean youíll be a disadvantage as the enemy levels continue to rise while your demons' levels do not.
El Shaddai is still one of my favorite games of all time. Itís gorgeous, weird and, most of all, fun. The Lost Child really only carries on the "weird" aspect from its predecessor, as its presumed low budget and occasionally obnoxious or dull mechanics get in the way of it being a truly stellar dungeon crawler. With that being said, I still largely enjoyed my time with The Lost Child. Itís a great first-timer dungeon crawler for someone looking to get into the genre, but who has been understandably intimidated by games like Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey or Stranger of Sword City. Fans of El Shaddai (all seven of us) will also be glad to at least see more of this strange world we thought weíd never see again.
Freelance review by Zachary Walton (June 24, 2018)
Zach Walton likes JRPGs, visual novels, horror games and anything that gives him an excuse to drink.
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