If you find the setting for most modern JRPGs to be rather too much like the old JRPGs, The Lost Child might be of some interest. Set in present-day Tokyo, it casts you as Hayato, a junior reporter for an occult magazine who soon falls into the old journalistic trap of becoming part of the story.
Early in the game you're saved from a spooky subway death by a mysterious woman, who hands you a freaky-looking suitcase before fleeing the scene. Around the same time you're introduced to an altogether less evasive (though no less mysterious) woman in Lua, who claims to be an angel. She proceeds to inform you of your destiny as The Chosen One in a battle between Heaven and Hell.
This might seem like a clunky TLDR summary of The Lost Child's premise, but that's precisely how the game's opening 30 minutes or so makes you feel. It's a whirlwind of improbable events, clashing theologies, confusing perspective shifts and nonsensical exposition. The thrust of this story is actually quite interesting, but the actual telling of it leaves something to be desired. It might be a translation issue, or just the fact that many of the people you meet in this adventure aren't actually people at all, but there's something off-kilter and strangely inhuman about The Lost Child's characterisation. We're all for quirky story-telling and dark humour, but the detached way in which the game's characters react to its crazy events makes it difficult to warm to them.
Unfortunately, the gameplay doesn't do quite enough to rescue the situation. In between its bizarre narrative sections - which have the feeling of a narrative adventure thanks to the addition of occasional response choices - and some light Professor Layton-style sleuthing, there are lots and lots of old fashioned dungeon crawling to be done. These dungeons (or 'Layers' in the game's terminology) share much in common with the Etrian Odyssey series. They're brutally basic first-person environments that need to be moved through and mapped out one tile at a time.
There are doors to be unlocked, chests to be discovered and opened, and, of course, lots of turn-based battles to be fought. There's nothing particularly fresh about those battles either. Every now and then your progress through the blocky, repetitive Layers is halted, and you're presented with a line of assorted abominations to tackle in order. For each of your five party members you have the opportunity of attacking, defending, or utilising one of their special skills.
Hayato himself has the most interesting ability of all - a device that combines the attributes of a Ghostbusters proton pack and a Pokémon Poké Ball. Once the device's meter fills up through sustained attacks, you'll be able to capture any of the spirits, demons and monsters that you face. The key part to this - and undoubtedly the best part of The Lost Child in general - is that you can then turn these captured 'Astrals' to your side. These spectral turncoats fill out the middle three slots of your party, adding their own elemental attributes, special attacks and passive abilities to the mix. Throw in a Pokémon-style evolution and levelling mechanic, and you might find yourself caring more about your otherworldly minions than you do the shallow characters of the story.
Visually, The Lost Child is a curious and disjointed mix. There's something of a disconnect between the aforementioned drab 3D maze-like dungeon environments and the finely detailed (if overly lascivious) character art. Both the story and battle sections suffer from a distinct lack of animation, too, which only adds to the stilted lifelessness of it all. Overall, the game simply lacks the sparkle, wit and variety to match its outlandish premise. It might come with a modern setting and interesting monster-catching angle, but mechanically The Lost Child is still stuck in the JRPG dark ages.
The Lost Child is a JRPG with a number of quirky and interesting elements, not least of which is its Pokémon-like monster capture system. However, its dungeon crawling underpinnings are just too dull and repetitive, and its narrative approach too stilted to draw in anyone but die-hard fans of the genre. Even then, you'll need to come prepared to grit your teeth and grind.