If you’re an avid reader of video game reviews, as I am, then you’ve no doubt heard this before: It’s easy to review games that are really bad, and it’s easy to review games that are really good. At that point, the words just flow out of you because you have such a personal response to the game. The hardest reviews to write are the ones that fall in the middle. Lost Sea is NOT a bad game, but it is NOT a great game either. It achieves the goal it sets out to do and can definitely offer a good time but, in the era of games we live in now, Lost Sea will probably not breach the surface.
Lost Sea is the newest outing from EastAsiaSoft, the team behind Rainbow Moon and Soldner-X. In this game, you wander around procedurally generated islands searching for tablets that allow you to travel to other islands, each time moving closer to a Boss island. Fundamentally, the core concept is a sound one, and boasting procedurally generated islands can mean interesting discoveries for those who take the time to explore.
You choose your main character and you’re quickly off. Players will always begin on a dock near your large boat — something strangely convenient for all of the islands in the Bermuda Triangle to have, but suspension of disbelief is par for the course here. Machete in hand, you’ll begin to wander through the island following paths, attacking enemies, searching for NPCs to join your crew, and keeping a lookout for tablets to take back to your ship and spots that might offer special items.
In that last sentence, I just explained the entire game.
Which doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing, but it is after a bit. There is some depth to the game, including a fairly robust skill purchasing system and some interesting locales, but it all gets stale after a while. The game lacks a bit of purpose, and it isn’t quite “arcade-y” enough to get away with such an absence. Everything here sounds like the makings of a great game, but this slew of great ideas is undermined by purposeless repetition and a lack of follow through on concepts.
This also is evident in the production elements of the game. The NPCs you meet lack variety and individuality. After the first couple of islands in an area, it all begins to feel the same. The camera stays locked at a 45 degree angle. The animation and visuals are cutesy and colorful, but not overly robust or impressive. Even the addition of a jump button would’ve made playing the game a bit more engaging.
Boss fights are interesting at first, but don’t necessarily offer anything new and become extremely repetitive. The boss, for example, is a pirate who shoots cannonballs at you while strange octopi with pirate hats shoot fish at you. Watch the shadows to avoid the cannonballs and the pirate when he jumps into the ring. Hit him when he’s dazed. It’s a boss fight we’ve seen in numerous Mario games, Crash Bandicoot games, and many of the like. And every boss fight is only a variation on these exact same mechanics. Plus, silly and zany can be fun, but it’s difficult to enjoy the wildness of it all when you aren’t necessarily engaged in the game already.
That’s not to say the game isn’t fun or doesn’t have something to offer. Most players, during their first playthrough, will likely explore the first few islands in depth, taking in the procedurally generated areas and gathering experience. Your first time unlocking a gate or wandering into a camp full of angry boars is exciting and enjoyable. But this feeling doesn’t last long, and the majority of gamers will likely begin to rush through islands, skipping to the tablets and pushing towards the bosses. This is a shame, because suddenly huge potential in the procedural generation is lost.
On a hunch, I sat a 6 year old boy down and gave him a shot at the game. The cute art style, accessible controls, and interesting islands instantly brought him into the game. At his age, he doesn’t care that the game lacks purpose or that it’s repetitive. In fact, that’s how he learns to succeed in the game. Every time he discovered something new he got excited, and he had no previous experiences to taint his time with the boss battles.
The only part where he struggled (and where many will struggle in the beginning) is that this isn’t only an action-adventure game: it’s a survival game. Lost Sea is a game that features permadeath, so when your character dies, your game is over and you begin back at zero. Once you unlock a “zone,” you’ll have the ability to warp to it once you start a game, but you won’t have any of your things or upgrades, and there are no game saves. EastAsiaSoft have commented that this game is best played in one sitting, but it definitely take a good few hours to make a serious dent in the game. If you want to take a break, you’ll need to keep your console on standby mode, which is annoying.
Permadeath is fun in that it raises the stakes of the game, certainly, but it also is incredibly annoying that the first couple major zones of the game are boringly easy. It appears as though EastAsiaSoft wanted to make a game with a balanced increase in difficulty, but missed the mark. Difficulty in Lost Sea is easy for a long time, and then jumps to quite difficult fairly quickly. The increase in difficulty helps to make the game more engaging at first, but it also becomes repetitive, and it comes a bit too late in the game to be effective.
As I mentioned, Lost Sea is not a bad game, but it isn’t a great game either. It sits somewhere in the middle, which is arguably the most disappointing place to be. It’s the place where good ideas are wasted because they weren’t fleshed out or implemented the best way possible. Lost Sea is full of those good ideas and promise, and those who try it will find a fun game in here for a time. It can even be a fun game for younger kids as they move to deeper and more difficult games. But Lost Sea ends up getting lost in a sea of repetition and a lack of depth.
A PS4 review code for Lost Sea was provided by EastAsiaSoft for the purpose of this review