3.5 out of 5. Initial impressions will likely suggest that Lost to Time is a broken mess, but if you approach it with an open mind and a lot of patience it can be a true work of art.
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How Metroidvania is it? High Fit. While experimental in nature, I can't really make an argument that this game is not a ''true'' Metroidvania. It has ability upgrades, sequence breaking, and a major focus on exploration and discovery. Just don't go into it expecting Castlevania.
Primary Challenge: Exploration Focus
Time to beat: ~25 hours
Review Info: The Steam review code for Lost to Time was provided by the developer through the Steam Curator Connect program. We played the 1.1.9 version of the game

More Info

Developer: Ephemeral Glades Software
Publisher: Ephemeral Glades Software
Sub-genre:
Features: Map System, Leveling System, 2D Platformer, Auto-Save, Melee Combat, Ranged Combat, Tricky Platforming, Puzzle Platforming, Spatial Reasoning Puzzles, Riddle Solving Puzzles, Fast Travel/Teleporters, Story Rich, Environmental Storytelling, Sequence Breaking, Character/Class Switching/Transformation, Time Stopping/Manipulation, Crafting System
Difficulty: Brutal
Linearity/Openness: Open Low Gating - No Handholding
Platforms: Windows, Steam
Release Date: 2021/02/12
Available Languages: English, Japanese, Spanish

Store Links

    Steam    itch.io    

Buy Lost to Time if you like…

  • Experimental Games
  • Solving Difficult Mysteries
  • Surprising inconsistencies
  • Time Manipulation Mechanics
  • Crows

▼ Review continues below ▼

I’ve never liked a game that I’ve hated so much. Lost to Time has really made me sit down and reevaluate how I rate games. Not that I’ve ever kept a rubric of any sort, but I do have my own ideas of what makes for good game design, and what makes for bad. When it comes to teaching a player how to play a game, Lost to Time breaks most of the rules. You’re going to spend most of your time just trying to figure out what to do, and the game is so inconsistent due to technical issues and poor conveyance that you’ll probably be repeating that pattern all the way until you see the game’s end credits. I could pretentiously argue that this approach is actually an integral part of the intended experience, but the level of commitment required to obtain any sort of lasting enjoyment out of Lost to Time makes it a hard sell. I realize though that I am just one person bringing all of the baggage I normally carry with me into my opinions, and now that I’ve seen one of Lost to Time’s endings and have been informed of so many of its secrets, it would really be a shame to let it slip by unnoticed. There’s a niche out there that deserves Lost to Time, and while its lack of polish really does hold it back, there’s a lot here that’s completely worthwhile. Lost to Time is like its own puzzle box with an emotionally moving prize at its center. Without spoiling too much, it becomes even more compelling once you’ve peeled away enough of it to see what you just barely can’t grasp. In its own way it ascends above its shortcomings into a special work of art, and in that way its “experiment” is a complete success. Sadly what most people will see even 10 hours into it is a complete mess, but if you take the time – and I do mean a lot of time – it could become one of the most beautiful messes you’ve ever played.

I’m going to sprinkle throughout this review some subtle, and not-so-subtle, hints on how to play the game in the hopes that new players will more easily get past Lost to Time’s roughest parts. If there’s any piece of advice that I can offer right from the outset, it’s don’t play this game with a controller. It was clearly designed with keyboard and mouse controls in mind, and some of the game’s later challenges are nearly impossible when you’re trying to snap to the right object using a joystick. Two of the game’s attack forms are ranged, and quick and precise shooting will make the combat so much easier. More important though, you need to hover your mouse over doors before your interact button will open them, which is really awkward with the default controller scheme. As the game progresses you’ll gain the ability to interact with objects at a range, and the analog stick is just too slow for the ticking clock you’ll be fighting against most of the time.

One of Lost to Time’s basic premises is that your protagonist has the ability to manipulate time, beginning with the ability to stop it entirely. Pressing the time stop button freezes absolutely everything for a lengthy thirty seconds. Once time is stopped you must use the entire thirty seconds or you lose them; if you reset again early, you can’t freeze time again until you replenish your clocks with an item or at a checkpoint. You can increase your max number of clocks by increasing your chronos stat, and by the end of the game I eventually gained the ability to stop time for up to five minutes without using items. You do still have to use these clocks in thirty second increments, but you gain the freedom to stop and start time as needed the more you have. Don’t let the time run completely out or you’ll take damage – a mechanic that forces you to keep track of the timer at all times.

Stopping time for thirty second increments seems incredibly powerful, but there are some caveats. Attacking while time is frozen forces the clock’s timer to drop a few seconds depending on how much stamina you spend, so you can’t just kill every enemy while time is frozen. The best places to freeze time are thus when you come across an obstacle course or something like a fast spinning blade that’s basically impossible to pass in real time. Thirty seconds allows you to complete these obstacle courses with impunity at first, but later on you’d better be raising your chronos stat or you’ll be speedrunning to get to the end of them before your time runs out. Beware also that anything you touch is pulled into the same “time zone” that you are – which for most things means they start moving normally again. It takes about half a second before an object starts back to its normal speed, but what this means is that you can’t just stand on the tip of a spike without taking damage for too long. One of the most useful tools you gain is the ability to tether yourself to objects at a range, which lets you force objects back into normal time for long enough to put them in a more favorable position. Most of your “ability upgrades” in this game are centered around making it so you can manipulate specific aspects of stopped time more easily. I know that this is a lot of detail on this one mechanic, but hopefully explaining this unique aspect of this game has piqued your interest. But also, Lost to Time doesn’t adequately explain any of this.

It may seem a bit ironic that I’m essentially spoiling how these time mechanics work since I danced around core mechanics quite a bit in my review of Rain World, a game that similarly throws you into the fray with little to no instruction. While it could be argued that Lost to Time is similarly about learning the rules of its world, unlike Rain World those rules are often arbitrary; being less about systems based-physics and more about whims. The most stark example of this that I can cite is how staircases and platforms work. There’s one section of the world where several stairs weave back and forth on top of each other, but some stairs are just plain walls and other stairs you can pass through like they aren’t even there. Follow one specific set of these stairs downward and suddenly you’ve walked off an invisible cliff to your death. This stairs area is relatively safe besides the aforementioned cliff, but it demonstrates how trial and error memorization is often more important than learning rules, and inconsistent wall collision is a running theme throughout the game. It doesn’t help that the game’s physics are practically broken. Sometimes if you jump up a wall you’ll fall like in a normal game, but other times you’ll be launched upward, sometimes into the stratosphere if you’re not careful. As weird as it sounds though, the way the walls can launch you into places is actually somewhat consistent, it’s just completely wonky. Even though I learned through desperation how to exploit this bizarre “mechanic”, I did so by literally throwing myself against the wall until it worked the way I wanted, and less through mastery of the game’s systems. The biggest issue with all of these… we’ll call them “technical quirks”… is that about five hours into the game I had zero faith that the game was even properly finished. Clearly all of this weirdness was due to a lack of testing more than anything else – is what I thought. This is why I ended up dropping the game for a couple of months before picking it back up again after some help from a more diligent player. I had reached an area that I thought was impossible. As it turns out the game is very playable, you just have to think less about logical connections and focus more on an intuitive approach to things. If video games were paintings, and most games strive for structure, Lost to Time is like abstract art. And like abstract art, sometimes it takes an enthusiast to explain what’s great about it before you’re able to see past the mess of shapes and colors.

Now that I’ve established that Lost to Time doesn’t care much for consistency, it’s probably a good time to bring up how Lost to Time is also a souls-like game. This includes a currency system you use to level up your stats, and every time you die, you drop all of the souls you’re carrying. If you don’t pick up your souls before you die again, you lose them permanently. There are a couple of twists on this system, but basically every time you die to some kaizo crow flying straight into your face like the trees have guns or something, you risk losing all of your precious souls. So in an already obtuse game, Lost to Time has adopted a popular system that punishes you for not learning how to play. To make matters worse, the combat is as wonky as everything else.

Enemies do telegraph their attacks, but they have a tendency to teleport around in unpredictable ways. Since the terrain often lacks any consistent structure, sometimes hilariously resulting in stairs that cause you to fall as you move between obviously pasted objects, enemies also often find themselves getting caught in weird ways when they try to path themselves toward your position. This makes every encounter a frightening affair, especially as you’ve amassed too many souls to lose. It’s also often hard to tell when the enemy is in a rolling animation, or when they otherwise gain frames in general. Thus sometimes you’ll attack enemies and deal no damage at all, leaving yourself vulnerable as you sit helplessly in your own recovery frames. Your main attacks are tied to different characters that you can transform yourself into, and I quickly became addicted to one of the first forms you might find. This attack form is a priestess that shoots lemons from a bell at a range. Taking advantage of this range, I found it was easiest to try and trap enemies on the terrain and snipe them from afar rather than try to learn their abstract patterns. Unfortunately without a significant investment in holy damage, this priestess also doesn’t take off very many enemy HP per hit, so a lot of my combat experience was spending two or three minutes just spamming attacks until my stamina ran out and then repeating the onslaught until the thing was dead. Not exactly the most riveting gameplay. If you’re bold enough to try the other attack forms though (and you drop using the controller from the outset like I’ve recommended so you can more easily control them) you’ll find that melee attacks do have the ability to stun many enemies, which grants you some extra control over the situation at the same time as not taking an eternity to kill things. Like so many other aspects of this game, if the technical polish was there, combat could be a selling point, especially in conjunction with the surprisingly deep stat system that supports it. As-is you’ll probably have to start the game over from the beginning again after experimenting before you really get the hang of its nuances. This of course has some appeal to it all on its own, but it adds to the already high investment required to enjoy Lost to Time.

If enemies don’t kill you with their unpredictable patterns, you may die from the game’s platforming challenges. Right at the beginning you’re often asked to land on platforms that are only pixels wide, and most of your attack forms are floaty and awkward to control. These floaty physics are especially egregious when combined with traps. If you’re not investing in chronos, you’ll probably be forced to weave between fast moving traps any time a tricky platforming section comes up. If you get hit by anything while platforming, there’s almost no telling where you’re going to be sent. If you’re lucky you’ll come out barely okay. Generally speaking though, you don’t want to feel like you’re rolling dice when you’re betting all the souls you’ve been carrying every time you do it – which is exactly how the platforming can sometimes feels. Anyone who plays souls-like games eventually learns to let go of their souls in the same way a Buddhist monk lets go of worldly attachments; it’s really the only way to cope with the losses you’ll inevitably be incurring. In Lost to Time however, you need to learn to let go of those souls like a drug dealer who has the fuzz hot on their trail. There will always be more ways to earn souls down the line, and the sooner you dump them in the name of experimenting with your environment, the sooner you’ll master that same environment. If you don’t adjust your attitude with this mentality, this game is going to be incredibly frustrating. It’ll probably be frustrating regardless; I think I’ve developed a reputation for having patience, and even I dropped this game for a while.

In spite of Lost to Time’s almost broken systems and inconsistency though, it’s surprisingly compelling anyway. I’m going to say something a bit weird, but Lost to Time is consistently inconsistent. The more you play it the easier it gets. For as many ways as the game can mess you up, there are ways you can mess with the game. Every rule I’ve explained can be broken using the right mechanic. You can subvert item limits, fly around the map with the right attack form, and basically ignore anything the game tries to make you do, if you want. The more you understand the leveling system, the better combat gets in spite of its flaws. The game also contains a plethora of hidden secrets that alter story points by discovering them, so you’re actually rewarded for breaking everything you can. There’s something just a bit more satisfying about cracking open Lost to Time’s horribly structured nonsense and actually managing to conquer it that simply can’t be duplicated by a game that manages to follow all of game design’s “best practices.”

Furthermore, the game’s puzzles are actually quite clever in spite of the poor conveyance. There’s one area in particular with a gimmick I won’t spoil that really twists your brain. The only problem with solving that area is that some of the hidden switches are hard to spot – a problem that could easily be resolved with better sound design conveying what you’re supposed to do. Once you figure it out though it creates the kind of “aha” moment that I’ve only experienced in the best designed puzzle games. The use of the game’s time stopping mechanics escalate into some gripping mind challenges. These designs do of course include all of the jank physics I’ve previously described, but Lost to Time’s ambitions shine forth regardless. Ironically what I initially called the weakest part of the game when describing my experience to other people actually ends up being one of Lost to Time’s strengths by the time you get to the end of it. Every area includes a new gimmick to play with that builds on what you’ve learned previously, which actually happens to be one of those generally accepted game design best practices. For all of Lost to Time’s faults, tedious repetition of samey challenges isn’t one of them.

The story might also be a selling point for some, especially if you’re able to view ludonarrative as metaphor. There’s a catharsis to the whole experience, and I personally saw an allegory about hope and depression told from a meaningful angle. Lost to Time indirectly asks questions of what you might do if you could rewind time, which is often a fantasy of those that have feelings of helplessness and inadequacy. Most likely the ending you’ll first see will be completely unsatisfying, but that’s exactly what makes it compelling. Being a video game, you have the opportunity to make things turn out differently. In order to see everything Lost to Time has to offer, you’re most likely going to be forced to play it multiple times. You can either do this through the game’s new game plus feature, or you can start over from scratch, and you can watch in wonder how the things you’ve learned will completely re-contextualize the entire experience. A word of warning though, if you’re shooting for all of Lost to Time’s achievements, there are some missable accomplishments that can only be done once per new game. One of these challenges only gives you one shot to succeed, or you have to start over completely from the beginning. The implementation of this challenge is so bizarre that it almost feels like a mistake, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s patched later on. However, one of the other limited chance challenges is obviously intentional, and it might take a few entire playthroughs before you can get it right. It personally took me 20 hours to beat the game once, so I don’t blame anyone reading this for deciding that it’s not worth the investment to even start. I myself didn’t even get through this game alone, and I can’t claim otherwise. I have to give a special thanks to Salmase, another Metroidvania enthusiast, for helping me keep an open mind and guiding me through some of the most obtuse parts of the game (not the least of which was letting go of my stubborn attachment to playing with a controller.) I don’t think there’s anything wrong with tackling a game like this as a community, and as far as community games go, Lost to Time is basically exemplary.

I’ve recommended with high praise a few games that I completely understand are niche affairs, namely Rain World, which I gave a 4.5 out of 5, and La-Mulana which I gave a perfect score. There are many players out there that will scoff at these titles for valid reasons; it’s kind of unreasonable to insist that these games will connect with everyone since you’re essentially asking a person to invest their limited free time in frustration long before the effort pays dividends. I fell in love with La-Mulana right away, and with Rain World I could at least see the value right from the start. That didn’t happen for me with Lost to Time; I was pretty sure that this game was just a broken beta and I was ready to double down that it wasn’t worth recommending. For this game I was one of those players that couldn’t give it a chance. While I don’t think my initial feelings were necessarily invalid, my rule that I have to beat a game before I can review it has paid off once again. Not only do I recommend Lost to Time, I think it’s something truly special. As I mulled over my thoughts and reflected on my awful initial experiences with it, it almost felt wrong to put it in the same tier as so many more polished, more immediately gratifying titles. At the same time though, I could totally see myself putting another 20 hours into this game without a second thought, and the temptation is strong enough that I most likely will make the time to do just that. It’s easy to write off Lost to Time as some kind of mistake, or yet another indie project that was too ambitious for its means. Maybe it still is, but there’s an audience out there that will appreciate it – flaws and all – regardless of any other valid opinions about it. Lost to Time might break the rules of many people’s concept of good game design, but when it comes to art sometimes you have to break the rules before you can break new ground.

Thanks again to Salmase for helping me through this game. You can check out Salmase’s Twitch and YouTube Channel via the links below:
https://www.twitch.tv/salmase
https://www.youtube.com/user/salmaseelgrande


Final Score

3.5/5

Scoring system overview


Metroidvania Breakdown

Combat
– 3

Enemies are jank and hard to predict, and your attacks are often inconsistent for both hitbox and timing. The AI is also very easy to exploit except when it isn't. However once you get used to it there's a lot of ambition to enjoy.

Platforming
– 3

Your movement is floaty and inconsistent, with physics that can send you flying sometimes but stop you dead in the air other times. This can be used to your advantage or disadvantage, and it's fun when you master it

Exploration
– 4

While it could be argued that secrets aren't telegraphed well enough, the rewards for exploring this game's world are phenomenal

Puzzle
– 3.5

Much like the other aspects of this game the puzzles are unpolished and often difficult in execution thanks to that, however there are some extremely clever puzzles you won't find in any other game

Story
– 4

The narrative is very abstract and metaphorical, you can only get out of it what you put into it, but there's a lot of depth if you're able to read into possible symbolism

Graphics
– 3

The artstyle is gorgeous at times, but often animations poorly convey what's happening and some assets stick out as being of slightly poorer quality.

Music
– 3.5

The game is mostly silent like the From Software Souls-like games that Lost to Time shares traits with. The music that the game does have are mostly familiar classic orchestra pieces, with only a few original tracks

Replayability
– 4.5

Not only does this game have an immense amount of sequence breaking and build options, you will likely have to replay the game dozens of times to see everything


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