Battle In The Uncanny Valley

HIGH Inventive and satisfying mechanics.

LOW Running errands at camp.

WTF Lifeless, blank stares.

Let’s get this out of the way — I think Lost Eidolons is kind of ugly.

That’s likely to be a controversial take. Part of its appeal is that it is a sort-of-Westernized turn-based strategy title in the same vein as something like Fire Emblem, but it trades in anime-style, primary-color hairdos for more lifelike 3D renderings, and for me, that aesthetic choice subtracts a substantial amount of charm. Characters look like they’ve just stepped off the Polar Express, dead-eyed but decked out in chainmail. It may come as a surprise, then, that despite its unconventional, unappealing appearance, Lost Eidolons is a true contender in the SRPG genre.

Artemisia is a land of swords and spells. It’s essentially medieval fantasy but missing the usual dwarves, goblins and elves, and instead populated by troublesome humans and fearsome monsters. Players take on the role of Eden, the affable leader of a brotherhood of mercenaries — think Robin Hood and his merry men — who gets caught up in a rebellion against a tyrannical emperor who mercilessly rules the known world.

At nearly 20 hours in, I still feel like I’m in the early stages of the plot, but it’s already won me over. World-building is rather blasé (I have not been motivated to read through pages of supplemental text) and yet Lost Eidolons is still a grand, multi-layered story — sprinkled with some classical tropes — and capable of surprises, particularly in the moments when Eden’s good cheer meets the reality of warfare and the noble ideology of revolution is tarred by hate-driven actors and Machiavellian machinations. 

But that’s all fluff. SRPG fans are often willing to suffer through the most threadbare plots and cardboard characters for satisfying combat crunch, and Lost Eidolons proves its mettle there.

The genre, alongside its close cousin the JRPG, can often be weighed down by complex management mechanics that leave players spending as much time scrolling through menus as commanding units. While Lost Eidolons’ user interface is nothing to write home about, its systems are sophisticated without being overly complex. 

Classes and their requirements are straightforward while inventory is limited in scope and without an accoutrement of modifiers, meaning a player won’t be fumbling around dozens of different swords to find the best min/max. The magic system is also solid, as spellcasters will equip a grimoire (Dark, Elemental, Light) and decide what spells they’ll bring into battle beforehand, offering a slew of strategic possibilities rather than just another Wizard casting variations of a fireball.

Meanwhile, battles on the grid require the usual tactical frame of mind — in some ways, even more so, because attacking units always land hits. That makes decisions less a roll of the dice and more a careful game of chess, putting the right pieces in the right places without relying on lady luck for a save or for a kill. This required strategy is made even more apparent by the fact that units cannot pass through a space adjacent to an enemy, even if it’s unoccupied. This encourages players to move units in formation and stops engagements from devolving into a chaotic flood of backstabs.

Special moves are also constrained. Rather than using MP or some other spendable attribute to be recharged by a handy elixir, each move can only be used a small number of times during a battle. However, that’s not to say it’s all limits and borders.

Non-magic characters can carry both a primary and secondary weapon, giving units the chance to switch up their mode of attack when needed, without making each a one-man-army. Weapon proficiency will also play a part, and players will still need to consider their choices — take along a bow that’s effective in punching through a spellcaster’s tunic, or an axe to chop some poor chap’s leather britches? These are just a few of several clever ideas and flourishes that give Lost Eidolons its own character among an ever-growing horde of indie SRPGs.

There is one major caveat to my adoration for the gameplay, however — the camp. Like Fire Emblem: Three Houses, players must navigate a home base between battles to carry out conversations, set out training plans, and build bonds with their party (no mini-games, though). I understand why this section exists since it offers opportunities for characterization or to access side quests and optional battles, but it just feels like such a grind after all the delights of a good dust-up. Luckily, the developers have tried to make the process as painless as possible with the ability to fast travel from a map menu and using icons indicating which interactions might yield more reward than just another conversation — and there are a lot!

Despite its shortcomings, I ended up liking Lost Eidolons. It’s an indie title that aspires to be a big budget epic, whose worst qualities are more than compensated for by a strong story and inventive — sometimes brilliant — gameplay mechanics. As the old saying goes: don’t judge a game by its characters’ lifeless, blank stares.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

— Stephen Cook

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Ocean Drive Studio. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 18 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: This game is not rated by the ESRB. There is mild violence. Humans wield weapons and magic against each other and monsters with some blood. Language and sexual content are appropriate for younger gamers but there are adult themes around war and death. 

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles can be resized. Sound does not play any key role. The game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls for controller or keyboard and mouse.

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