The Lost Child review impressions
I would've hoped the early 2010's cult hit El Shaddai would've spawned at least one sequel before the release of its first spin-off. But The Lost Child -- now available on PlayStation 4, PS Vita, and Nintendo Switch -- is a spin-off in the truest sense: it stars a new protagonist and features gameplay that is far different from the original installment.
Whereas El Shaddai married combo-driven combat with intense platforming, The Lost Child combines first-person dungeon exploration with dialogue-intensive character interactions on the level of visual novels. The last time I tried to get into this hybrid genre was during my brief session with Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters. I'm more curious about visual novels than I am a fan, but the metaphysical and character connections with El Shaddai has helped hold my attention on The Lost Child five hours in, even if the dungeon sections are disappointingly bland. And while there's less Bible-inspired apocryphal charm this time around, The Lost Child is still chock full of spiritual references.
Playing as Hayato, a newbie staff writer for a publication dedicated to the supernatural, I spent the initial hours of The Lost Child following leads on subway suicides and mysterious spas. Much like a good murder mystery, I had a better time enjoying The Lost Child's exposition when I wasn't trying to anticipate plot twists or potential story development, and instead just absorbed the narrative beats as they unfolded. Along the way, I was introduced to key characters at a swift pace, including Hayato's editor-in-chief, a mysterious woman who gives the player a suitcase, an angel who's an awfully supportive party member, and El Shaddai's Lucifel.
The brisk rate of exposition complemented the liberal amount of combat tutorials The Lost Child threw at me, which primarily consists of instructions on how to capture, recruit, and strengthen the occult creatures I defeated in battle. The Shin Megami Tensei and Pokemon inspirations were obvious, and while it's hard to deny the sense of accomplishment in winning battles with your creatures, these squadmates are hardly memorable. The one party member exception is, unsurprisingly, Enoch, the protagonist from El Shaddai. And it's unfortunate that there's an aesthetic disconnect between Enoch and Lucifel's original character designs and the more generic looking art style of the cast of The Lost Child.
Accompanying its theological tone, The Lost Child factors in fate-driven karma as a its primary currency. I was intrigued by how my dialogue choices would yield types of karma, from good to neutral to evil. This currency is used on converting enemies, character growth, and respawns, so there's a mildly compelling strategic element to planning out how to accrue karma.
While The Lost Child isn't what I had in mind as an El Shaddai follow-up, its intricate battle system and pervasive sense of ghost-hunting mystery keeps me curious on where these investigations are leading to. Moreover, it continues the time-honored tradition of many games set in contemporary Tokyo (eg. Persona 5, Akiba's Beat, etc.) by featuring many recognizable areas in its backgrounds. So even if its uninspired dungeons and battles ultimately dissuade me from seeing The Lost Child to its end this summer, there's a modicum of pleasure in pointing at the screen and saying, "I've been there!"