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.