In its opening moments, The Lost Child doesn’t pull any punches. While investigating a series of bizarre subway suicides wrapped in supernatural rumours, occult reporter Hayato Ibuki suddenly finds himself pushed onto the tracks by an invisible force. He’s saved at the last second by a stranger shouting about how important it is for him to live, before said saviour flees the scene and leaves behind a chained-up old suitcase.
Though it’s not graphic in its depiction, this is an intense, shocking opening. The way the bystanders Hayato’s speaking to casually talk about a suicide epidemic is disturbing enough, but his brush with death—a fully animated anime cutscene, rather than the visual novel style favoured by most of the game—nearly gave me a heart attack. Brief though it was, it left me horrified yet desperate to know more.
Between that opening and Kadokawa Games’ recent endeavours with very personal games like Root Letter and God Wars, I expected something quite different to what The Lost Child turned out to be. I was ready for an intimate, introspective game; one that uses its occult theme to explore what is a very real and very serious problem the world over, but in Japan especially. Instead, this whole subway suicide phenomena turned out to be one small piece of a much larger tapestry of the occult, religion, mythology, and mysticism, amid an epic tale of war between angels and demons. (This won’t come as a surprise to fans of El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron, a similarly religious-themed action game of which The Lost Child is a spin-off.)
After the incident, Hayato meets an angel, Lua, who informs him that he’s God’s “Chosen One”. Together, they set about to hunt demons hiding in the mortal world, while also searching for Lua’s sister—the very same person who saved Hayato and entrusted him with a heavenly demon-hunting weapon, called the Gangour. Between Hayato’s work as an occult journalist and Lua’s angelic duties, the pair find themselves investigating all manner of supernatural incidents in search of demons to capture.
Though I can’t help but wonder what the story those opening moments hinted at could have been like, the one The Lost Child delivers is fascinating in its own right. The curious premise and outlandish cast kept me on the edge of my seat from start to finish, with sharp writing and unexpectedly good voice acting performances helping to drive that home. It’s part murder mystery and part supernatural thriller, with a healthy dose of theological philosophy and set dressing covering everything from Christianity and Shinto to the Cthulu mythos and Ancient Egyptian mythology.
This plays out primarily through a classically-styled dungeon crawler. Think something like Wizardry, Etrian Odyssey, or Stranger of Sword City: a game of intricate, hand-crafted labyrinths for the player to explore and map out, one tile at a time, solving puzzles and fighting monsters along the way. Each of these dungeons—or “Layers”, as they’re called in The Lost Child— is set in a real-world location, be it Mount Fuji or the underground malls of Osaka. At the same time, the supernatural framing gives them an eerie, unfamiliar feeling, growing increasingly more alien the deeper you get.
Each Layer has its own unique quirks and puzzles to deal with, be it avoiding lava and collapsing floors, or raising and lowering water level of a subterranean canal, or navigating a complex network of one-way doors. One Layer adds a stalker boss that’s an almost guaranteed game over until very late in the piece, for that extra level of tension—though this one is mostly optional, thankfully.
During your crawls, you’ll be set upon by all manner of angels, demons, and fallen angels, with battles sticking to a simple turn-based system. Rather than just being enemies in your path, the foes you encounter can also be captured and turned into allies, thanks to Hayato’s Gangour weapon. With each successful attack, the Gangour charges up, increasing the potential power of Hayato’s “Astral Burst” attacks; any foe slain by one of these is captured, ready to join your squad as something called an Astral.
There are a hundred or so Astrals to collect, and this is where The Lost Child‘s many sources of theological, mythological, and folkloric inspirations are most apparent. You might find yourself fighting alongside a Shoggoth, Amaterasu, an Ifrit, Enoch, Cait Sith, Takemikazuchi, Morrigan, or Medusa, to name just a few. Astrals are represented visually only by their portraits—battles are seen from a first-person perspective, with no character models and limited animations for attack effects—but the artworks are detailed, vibrant, and full of personality.
Between the Astral collection and the urge to fully explore every dungeon, there’s plenty in The Lost Child to keep a completionist busy. There are also a fair few side-quests, each of which helps build the supernatural lore and tone of the game (as well as being a great source of items and experience points), and a decent post-game challenge in the form of a 100-floor dungeon.
Between all of that and the enthralling story of burgeoning theological war, The Lost Child has a lot to offer. It may not have the budget or the production values of the games it draws upon, but don’t let that deter you—as far as dungeon crawlers go, The Lost Child is up there with the best of them.
The Lost Child is developed by Crim and Kadokawa Games, and published by NIS America. It’s available now for Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PlayStation 4, and PlayStation Vita.
A copy of the game was supplied by the publisher for this review.