Review: Lost Sea
Ever since first seeing Lost Sea, I was taken by its visual style: cartoony, light-hearted, fun. I’ve had a chance to sink my teeth into the game over the last week and what I’ve discovered is a solid action-adventure experience that’s a blend of old and new gaming conventions.
The story goes that you’re marooned on an island in the Bermuda Triangle and have to find a portal that will hopefully take you home. From the start screen, you can pick your playable avatar from a small cast of generic, white characters that look like the cast from Gilligan’s Island. Lost Sea is a played from an isometric view, with the left stick controlling movement and the right stick rotating the camera. The square button is a basic slash attack, and a couple of other buttons get put to use through upgrades over time. The overall point of the game is to land on an island, find at least one ancient tablet, then set sails once more to another island. Along the way, you’ll encounter destructible objects, enemies, traps, chests, and other interactables that make up the procedurally generated islands. One of the main selling points of this game is that each island you traverse is, generally speaking, unique. Procedural generation and Roguelikes have been all the rage over the past few years, and this game does not shy away from those genre-defining aspects. eastasiasoft have posted a great overview of the procedural process used if you’re interested in it. From what I have played, it works. I have only noticed a few set piece areas reused across different islands (check the following video to see some).
What Lost Sea does best is remain basic. In some cases, that descriptor – basic – would read as being derogatory. I found it to be opposite in this case. There aren’t enemies constantly attacking you, there’s no crafting system, and the two currencies are neatly embedding into the gameplay so as to not cause too much monotonous grinding. Killing enemies grants you green experience orbs that can be used to purchase player upgrades while smashing barrels and chests nets you gold to buy ship upgrades. Your character only starts with its basic attack, a health bar, and a stamina bar, and the stamina bar isn’t even used until you spec into a skill that requires it (sprint, for example). The simplicity of the gameplay leads to an experience that borders between enthralling and lulling. A large part of what keeps me moving forward during long runs is the music, which is part whimsical, part grand, and all excellent. Does it feel repetitive at times? Sure. But how it gets away with being repetitive is the lingering threat of perma-death.
If you die in Lost Sea, you get kicked back to the start screen. If you happened to have made it to the next set of islands (Desert, Swamp, etc.), the game gives you the option to warp to one of those and start off there. The consolation prize to dying is that all of the tablets you have received in your previous run are converted into bonus exp/gold for you next run. The gold was ample, I thought, but I could do next to nothing with the experience and consistently felt underpowered if I decided to warp. In short, this game is best played from the start. There are stranded crew members who can be recruited and who lend their skills. A crew member with Survivalist, for example, will boost your exp gain, while a crew member with Locksmith can open big chests to find items. You can upgrade the number of crew members you can carry in tow (you should) as well as the number of items you can hold. I enjoyed finding the crew mates and hiring/dismissing them based on my current run. Sometimes it made much more sense to keep a Revive member with me while at other times I needed a lot of Strength in Numbers members boosting my attack power. On the crew note, I wish ending a run with a crew member on hand would unlock that skin on the player select screen. There’s such a wide variety of interesting crew character models and such a basic selection of player models. Depending on my mood, a skull-mask wearing native might be more enjoyable to play as than a yellow jacket-toting skipper.
A few other hangups I have with the game concern its perma-death system and the endless pursuit of exp and gold. Perma-death is fine, and it makes a run way more exciting when you’re under half health, but warping after dying doesn’t seem like a fair choice towards overall progression. Your run is so much better if you start from the beginning of the game. At this time, there is no way to quicksave your run besides for suspending the application using the PS4. That may not be a problem if you have the time (2-4 hours for a good run) to play only Lost Sea. For me, I tend to bounce around games over the span of a few days. Last night, for example, a few friends popped in and we all wanted to play Jamestown+. I had to abandon my strong run (which was about an hour and a half of game time) in Lost Sea or else miss the opportunity to bask in the golden age of local multiplayer. I think eastasiasoft have implemented a save feature on the PC version of the game, so hopefully we’ll see that arrive on consoles at some point. Any capacity of multiplayer would be great. I’m envisioning a couch player being able to control a crew member and the screen splitting apart Renegade Ops-style. I know such an addition would probably be a major undertaking for the devs, but it’s worth noting that I did feel the lack of multiplayer. Only crate/barrel smashing will get you gold. I wish there were a way to gain it otherwise. Perhaps you could sell an extra tablet instead of using it to reveal another island? Or maybe the treasures, besides for being meta-collectibles, could act as a form of gold gain?
Overall, Lost Sea is a good amount of fun. It would likely be great for players who don’t take kindly to constant barrages of enemies, branching skill trees, and other relatively complex gameplay hurdles. I myself have enjoyed my time with it, and whenever I can either safely save or safely block off 4+ hours, I’ll keep it in mind as a viable challenge.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here.
What I Like:
- Spot on island exploration music.
- Focus required to keep a good run going.
- Crew member management.
What I Dislike:
- The tablet conversion rate between runs seemed off.
- Crew members sometimes get stuck.