STAFF REVIEW of Lost Sea (Xbox One)

Monday, July 4, 2016.
by Adam Dileva

Lost Sea Box art I’ve always been fascinated with the Bermuda Triangle and the mysteries it holds after all these years, so any game that uses it as a backdrop has my attention from the get-go. Developer Eastasiasoft brings us Lost Sea, a simple game with an even simpler premise; you’ve crash landed in the Bermuda Triangle and need to find your way home. Normally this is where I would go into more depth about the narrative, but there is no more to add. So while it has a very basic story, it tries to rely on its simple gameplay and exploration elements to keep you hooked. Is that enough though to motivate you to try and escape the Lost Sea? Let’s find out.

Once you begin you’ll have a choice from a handful of different characters, each with a different look and style, but it’s simply cosmetic as they all control the same way and don’t have any inherent special abilities or passives. Lost Sea begins as by putting you on a tutorial island that teaches you the basics, giving you a machete to cut your way through boxes, bushes, and enemies. Utilizing a top-down camera, you’ll move your character with the Left Stick and the camera with the Right Stick, and as per usual ‘X’ is used to slash and ‘A’ to interact. That’s basically it for the controls as it’s simple to jump in and play.

Your goal is to navigate your way out from the Lost Sea, but this is the Bermuda Triangle, so obviously it’s not as simple as that. You’ll need to use your ship to sail from island to island progressing through each one, with multiple themes around each set, looking for a way home. Nothing is as easy as it should be, and to sail from one island to another you need to find a magical tablet that dictates how many islands you can sail to before having to go to another island to find another tablet, starting the process over once again.

To keep things fresh the islands are procedurally generated, so every time you play each island will be slightly different from the previous one. I say slightly for a reason; the island’s layouts are randomly laid out, almost in a Catan-like style with map tiles linking together in specific ways. You learn early on though that although pieces of the islands are linked together in a random manner there’s clearly only a handful of ‘map pieces’, so you’ll eventually see the same tiles numerous times. There was even one instance where I had the same tile beside each other.

As you explore your main goal is to find the tablet on the island that will allow you to set sail a set number of spaces, inching closer to the island that houses the boss for that stage. Each stage consists of usually a dozen or so islands. While you can search for the tablet and leave right away once you do, consistently doing so will hinder you in the long run as you should also hack down enemies for experience and smash boxes for coins, both of which are used for upgrades that will be critical the further you progress. It’s a simple mechanic but it works, though only in short bursts. There’s an achievement for even beating the game in under two hours, but that’s quite difficult to do if you haven't completed a super thorough playthrough before, which I’ll explain later. There’s more to do though, as you’ll come across treasure chests that you can’t open, bridges that you can’t build, and more. This is where your followers come in.

As you explore the islands you’ll come across other survivors who are simply waiting to be rescued. You can recruit then and once you do they will constantly follow you, allowing you to make use of their preset skills such as lock picking, mining, carpentry, and more. While it’s completely possible to complete Lost Sea without any followers, you’ll have a much more difficult time, especially in the more difficult islands, as some followers can revive you (which is an absolute must later on), grant you damage bonuses, and even net you bonus experience when you defeat enemies.

Be prepared though to lose track of your allies from time to time. Given that the game revolves around you constantly having followers, you would think that they wouldn't lag behind when they get caught on a corner or rock without you noticing, sadly that’s not the case here. Many times I would come across a chest and one of my followers had the ability to open, but they would be nowhere to be found because they got caught on a staircase or corner somewhere way back. Not a deal breaker by any means, just frustrating and disappointing.

One of the best uses for your followers is the ability to make them carry your tablets back to the ship dock for you, leaving you free to swipe your machete at boxes and enemies while they do the heavy lifting. You’ll eventually find more survivors than you can allow to follow you, as you can only have up to a maximum of four (once the skill is upgraded) at a time. Since each ally has different skill sets, you’ll want to make sure that you have one with every type of possible skill covered.

As you play you’ll constantly have to reference your map which requires you to go into a separate menu. Having a rotating map on the main screen would have been welcome so you don't have to constantly pause the game to catch your bearings. Having some dialogue between you and the survivors would be welcome too, as there’s no real dialogue after the game’s opening scene, leaving for a slightly shallow experience.

Your machete is your main weapon, allowing you to break boxes, cut down bushes, and attack the wildlife that attacks you on sight. You never get to upgrade your weapon in any way aside from recruiting followers that damage enemies when close by, making it a necessity as you fight the harder monsters. Once you make it to the boss island of each stage and take on the "big kahuna" so to speak, you’ll need to figure out its pattern and the small window of opportunity when you can attack. It’s a welcome change that breaks up the monotony of the island exploration, but once you face the same boss again in later stages, albeit with a broader move set and slightly more difficulty, it’s a little disappointing.

When you defeat enemies and collect coins, these currencies are used to upgrade your abilities, some of which will be absolutely necessary if you want any chance to beat Lost Sea in a single sitting. Why do I bring up beating it in a single sitting you ask? Well, because you need to if you want to complete it. On my first playthrough I was having no problems, barely getting hit until about the third set of islands where the animals that attacked me started dealing much more damage, killing my allies, and eventually myself. No big deal I thought, I’ll continue on from here. Boy, was I wrong.

Given Lost Sea’s charming cel-shaded artistic style and cute visuals, I guess I got lured into thinking that it would be a simple game. Quite the opposite though, as it’s unforgiving, something you learn real quick once you die for the first time. Lost Sea wants you to play the entire game in a single sitting because if you do die you begin again from the first stage, regardless of how far you made it previously.

When you die you are given a small amount of bonus experience and gold coins to begin with, based on how many tablets you found in your previous session. You begin your new playthrough with this bonus, but surprise, absolutely none of your previously bought upgrades are available. Sure, it’s nice to begin again with a small bonus, but if you’ve simply been tablet searching and progressing without finding the extra ones on the islands, you don’t get nearly the same starting bonus.

There’s another major issue with this mechanic as well, and that’s related to saving, or lack thereof, your progress. For example, say you need to quit your game, the game crashes, or whatever the case, you will lose all progress you’ve made, even if it’s your new playthrough with the starting bonus, forcing you to start over from scratch. Granted, you can begin on the furthest stage that you’ve reached, but doing so will be even more frustrating as you’re starting out on a harder set of islands without any of the previous upgrades, essentially forcing you to play from the beginning again if you really want a shot at completing it.

Once you realize this is the way Lost Sea forces you to play, it’s difficult to get motivated to play it unless you know that you’re going to have a few hours to sit and do so in one go. It’s designed to be played slowly and methodically, but not everyone has that amount of time. Once I lost 3+ hours of progress twice, I was pretty much done with the game because of this nonsensical design flaw.

For all the frustration I had with Lost Sea, it is charming in such that it is simple and basic at its core. If there was a way to save one's progress I would have dumped quite a few more hours into it exploring an island or two here and there and looking to beat more bosses, but because of the forceful time commitment required, and losing hours of progress numerous times, it looks like I’ll sadly forever be stuck in the Bermuda Triangle’s Lost Sea. It's really hard to recommend this game for everyone, but if have the time to play this game in one sitting, and you are looking for a bit of a challenge with some interesting gameplay mechanics, Lost Sea may just be for you.

Save my progression. Don't force me to commit to sit and play for hours at a time.

Overall: 6.3 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 5.0 / 10


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