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.

And the characters? From left to right, we have Shon, Chelsea, Rorz (Ross?), and Blaze, all young heroes drawn in a style similar to Yoshida’s Bravely Default artwork (and all translated by my quick-and-dirty glance, so don't be surprised if the actual English names are different). They seem entirely too hopeful and childlike for a dour Matsuno game. Shouldn’t there be at least one suave or brooding older character? And where are their surnames? They can't be just Chelsea and Rorz. They should be Chelsea Phaxaerion and Rorz Von Dolgastein!

I’m quick to judge, of course. Some of Matsuno’s best games have teenage heroes. What's important is that they aren’t stuck in teenage worlds. Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre put their youthful protagonists through an industrial potato pulper of betrayals, scheming, dark secrets, and ugly victories, and even Final Fantasy XII had the grace to stick its youngest characters in fittingly passive roles.

Lost Order could find the right path after all. I only hope I’ll have an easy way of finding out. CyGames may deal in smartphone material, but they’re an ambitious company. Granblue Fantasy is successful enough to get a Platinum-made sequel (and an English patch for the original), and CyGames even aims for consoles with the still-very-early Project Awakening.

So I’m not deluded to think that Lost Order might be translated. Yes, I can nab the Japanese version when it arrives, but I’ve played Valkyrie Anatomia that way and understood only a third of the storyline. I’m sure I’d comprehend even less in an unlocalized Matsuno game.


  1. Anonymous8:20 AM

    So Matsuno didn't actually commit to writing the entire story of Unsung Heroes? In that case, I'm REALLY glad I didn't thrown down any money on that project. I was actually VERY close to throwing down triple figures on the sole strength of his involvement. I'm sure glad I didn't considering what mess that production is in now.

    I'll also defend FFXII to the bitter end. Easily my favourite JRPG. Indeed, it's terrible to read what happened behind the scenes and how the game was forced to have two young sidekicks to be the main character for at least the first 30% or so of the game. But when the story really kicks off, it's easy to distinguish which elements are Matsuno's work and what was by the PlayOnline team.

    I can't play Lost Order in any case because, even if it's localised, my phone simply refuses to accept Google's online shop security hoops. All the better then that this doesn't look to be anything special. I can only hope he's withholding his creative storytelling juice for something bigger in the future.

    I really wish he and other ex-employees from the Vagrant Story / Tactics era would come together to form their own indie team and create something without creative restraint. A throwback FF Tactics game would be marvalous (I'm not very fond of Tactics Ogre though, believe it or not)!

    - Terramax

  2. I really think Matsuno is one of the best writers in video game history, and the games he crafts as a director are solid, but I think as a director he does tend to add in little aggravations that make it hard for me to consistently replay his games. Whether it's endless grinding for weapon skill in Vagrant Story, training battles against your own team in Tactics Ogre, or the annoyingly opaque stat interface in Ogre Battle, etc. Final Fantasy Tactics is the only one of his games that doesn't have a little quirk that drives me crazy.