Lost Order Finds Lost Director

CyGames announced several titles at their recent showing, and Lost Order is the most intriguing. That’s Lost Order, not to be confused with Last Order as in the Final Fantasy VII OVA that’s now forgotten or the Battle Angel Alita sequel that squandered itself on a directionless tournament story arc. Lost Order is a smartphone strategy-RPG directed by the long-absent Yasumi Matsuno.

It’s rare for game creators to do well at both writing and directing, but I’ll always praise Matsuno as a success on those counts. His Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Tactics Ogre are superb in both design and story, and I will defend Final Fantasy XII, which he helmed about halfway through, no matter the slights and barbs you might toss its way. Go ahead. Toss 'em.

Yet Matsuno went missing for a good while. He dropped out of sight after leaving Final Fantasy XII mid-production, and he only emerged for brief supportive stints. He scripted Platinum's MadWorld, though you wouldn't guess it from a plot with irony as its sole defense, and he served as an advisor for the PSP remake of Tactics Ogre.

Matsuno then joined Level-5 just long enough to make Crimson Shroud, a small-scale tabletop RPG simulation for the 3DS, and he left the company before they could put him on an Inazuma Eleven game. His most recent work came with Playdek and a Kickstarter-fed strategy game called Unsung Story, but he wasn’t involved far beyond the basic world-building. The whole project is now troubled and lurching through funding issues, but I’m sure it’ll emerge by the end of the decade.

Lost Order is the biggest project granted Matsuno since his Square Enix days, and it shows promise. Platinum Games is aboard as developer, illustrator Akihiko Yoshida (himself a frequent Matsuno collaborator) provides art director and character designs, and the story takes place in the demolished Gold Heaven capital, an ornate, smog-encrusted city that narrowly evaded obliteration.

That stage suits a Matsuno game well enough, but Lost Order’s earliest screenshots fall in line with the usual smartphone strategy diversion. Characters walk around a loosely mapped battlefield with a network of colored rings, and nothing looks that different from the usual pastel anime-echoing RPG unleashed on smartphones and handhelds these days.

The same goes for what little we see of the world in the first screens; it’s altogether too bright for a city of shadowy backgrounds and apocalyptic grime. Matsuno's older games have brilliantly rendered and subtly detailed environments, and the first glimpses of Lost Order gameplay leave me wondering if someone mixed up the screenshots in the press releases.

Cute Kills

My mother often complained about the video games I played as a kid. Sometimes she engaged in the usual parental griping about my dodging homework or wasting an afternoon on Power Blade instead of going outdoors, but most of her objections took on a rarer subject. When my mother spied me wrapped up in some NES or Super NES diversion, she’d accuse me of murdering cute little creatures.

I understood why. Old video games use simplified and cartoonish foes, and some look wide-eyed and precious even when they're deadly. I could see how my mother might sympathize with the little Boos in Super Mario World or the capering viruses in Dr. Mario.

Yet her mercies went far beyond conventional cuteness. She felt sorry for the giant-octopus boss in StarTropics, the ferocious lizards in Final Fantasy, and even some Castlevania horrors. One evening I showed her how easily I could defeat Mega Man 3's Hard Man, a robot master who repeatedly rams his head into the ground.

"The poor thing," she said after Hard Man exploded into light particles. "It didn't look very smart."

This was nothing new for my mother, who often made my sister and I feel bad for villains across movies, books, and television. She’d point out that the bully humiliated at the end of an Arthur story was clearly friendless and poor, or perhaps she’d wonder aloud what the mothers of all the German soldiers in a World War II movie would say when they learned that Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood had killed their sons. Video games were just another sharpening block for her cilice spikes of pure Catholic guilt.