Lost Dimension on PS Vita
I enjoy a good strategy RPG every once in awhile. So when Atlus announced that they would be bringing Lancarse’s 2014 project, Lost Dimension, to English-speaking territories, they had my full attention. What sets Lost Dimension apart from your run-of-the-mill strategy RPG is that your party is chock full of two-timing, backstabbing, shameless traitors, and it’s your job to weed out the bad eggs before you face the final boss. Good thing you’re armed with psychic powers, right?
Here’s the setup: S.E.A.L.E.D., an organization tasked with putting a stop to the mysterious and allegedly evil man named The End (no, really), has been trapped in a mysterious tower with no recollection of how they got there. In order to fulfill their mission, they have to journey to the top of the tower and defeat The End.
The catch is, there are traitors in the party. At the end of each level you clear, the party will be locked into a judgment room where they will all have to vote on who they want out of the team. Choose wisely, and you’ll reach the end (heh) with a party of friends. Choose poorly, however, and you’ll find yourself surrounded by enemies. And here’s the fun part: the identities of the traitors are randomized each time you start a subsequent playthrough of the game.
Before I start tearing this game apart, let’s talk about the good stuff. Lost Dimension is, without a doubt, one of the more tactically satisfying strategy RPGs I’ve played in awhile. In fact, it’s right up there with Fire Emblem: Awakening. You start out with a party of 13 characters and you get to pick and choose whom you want with you on missions.
In terms of combat abilities, each character is unique and you can shape your team according to how you want to play the game. You’ve got your healer, short-ranged melee bruiser, magic spell-slinger, gunner, stealthy teleporter, and your buffer and saboteur. Every character has a skill that makes them invaluable, and the fun of the game comes partly from deciding what types of fighters you want to bring along.
When you’re on the field, Lost Dimension also introduces a nifty little mechanic called ‘Defer’. See, your characters can only move a certain distance on the battlefield. Sometimes, they might not be able to move far enough to hurt an enemy. This is when you start Deferring. This mechanic allows one of your characters to sacrifice their turn to give another character that has already taken an action in that same turn to make one more move. This can be really handy when you need your bruiser to take just one additional action to deliver that final killing blow to end the battle. Defer allows your characters to travel over greater distances and deal more damage, making it a useful tool to take into account when strategizing.
In addition to that, you’ll also want to watch out for your characters’ sanity meters. Whenever they use a special skill, or if they take damage from their opponents, they kinda lose their minds a little bit. Once that sanity meter drops to zero, they go berserk and you lose control of that character. A berserk character will start attacking anyone, including fellow S.E.A.L.E.D. members, in their range, and their damage output will essentially shoot through the roof as well. Going berserk isn’t necessarily a bad thing if your character’s surrounded by enemies, as that will usually ensure instant death for your foes.
When you’re outside of battle, you’re also given the opportunity to expand a set of some rather comprehensive skill trees for each of your characters. For example, the tsundere spell-slinger Himeno can either focus her points on strengthening her fire attacks, or you can start teaching her some sick frost skills as well. There are so many options presented to the player, allowing you to develop your characters however you want, and it was an absolute joy building and speccing my team any way I saw fit.
To keep you from getting too comfortable with a set team, Lost Dimension also forces you to change things up every once in awhile by introducing voting power. At the end of each tower level, you and your fellow teammates will have to vote for the person they think is the traitorous swine. However, not everyone has equal voting power.
A character’s voting power is determined by the number of kills they’ve scored in battles. So if you figure out that the traitor for a round is a character with really high voting power, you might want to start leaving him out of missions and bring someone else with lower voting power in order to ensure that the voting goes the way you want it. It’s a pretty ingenious method of getting players to switch their party formation around, and I ended up experimenting with plenty of strategies and play styles as I progressed through the game.
So, in a nutshell, the combat system in Lost Dimension is fantastic. Unfortunately, all video games have flaws and boy, does Lost Dimension have some serious flaws. Having different traitors each time you play the game and being able to determine who gets killed at the end of each level sounds really good in theory, but the execution of it all falls woefully short.
The most obvious problem that Lost Dimension fails to address is the lack of depth in character development and plot. By randomizing the traitors’ identities, it’s often difficult to effectively convey a character’s motivations and desires and align it with the overarching plot. Each time I identified the traitor for a particular level, more often than not, the ‘revelation’ felt like it came completely out of nowhere, with no real explanation at all.
In between missions, you’ll also get to talk with your team members and build up a sense of camaraderie. As you might expect, a deeper bond with your teammates means they’ll be more likely to trigger assist attacks during battle, and make your life a little easier. And… that’s really the entire point of trying to build up friendships with them. To put things bluntly, your teammates suffer from a severe lack of depth. Almost every conversation with any of them usually ends with you two sharing your apprehension about The End and the tower, and how everything feels extremely weird and mysterious. Each character falls into an anime stereotype and that’s usually all there is to them.
As for the story in Lost Dimension, well, it had potential. I’ll give it that much. But again, it feels like the game got too caught up in the novel idea of having to weed out a traitor at the end of each level and forgot to tie the various plot elements together to tell a compelling story. In order to unlock the game’s true ending, you have to achieve maximum affinity with all of your teammates before reaching the end. This means you’ll have to play the game at least twice. While the true ending does kind of redeem Lost Dimension from some of its character and story flaws, I’m just not sure if it’s worth playing more than once, unless you’re really into the strategy gameplay.
On a technical level, Lost Dimension isn’t exactly the prettiest game out there. The game’s soundtrack is largely hit-or-miss; the battle music isn’t too bad, mixing in a bit of rock and techno to suit the game’s futuristic setting. The lounge music, however, was extremely bland and never failed to grate at my nerves each time a mission ended. Aesthetically, Lost Dimension looks like it dipped itself into shades of white and grey, making it a rather dull-looking game as well – rather in keeping with that equally dull lounge music.
I applaud Lancarse for daring to try something new with Lost Dimension. The process of diving into my teammate’s minds and trying to determine the traitor’s identity was an engaging process for the first two levels or so. But ultimately, it seems that the game bit off a little more than it could chew and ended up compromising its plot and character development – two elements extremely crucial to any RPG. Ever. Hell, even last year’s disappointingly mediocre JRPG Mind Zero had better characters than this silly little game, despite the abysmal voice acting.
If you’re nuts for strategy RPGs, I wholeheartedly recommend that you get Lost Dimension. While it isn’t exactly groundbreaking, the combat system is really deep, and the variety of character types is wide enough to keep you engaged for at least the length of a single playthrough, which should last around 18 to 20 hours. In fact, the gameplay was pretty much the only reason why I was able to make it all the way to the true ending. But if you’re looking for a good story, oh boy, you’re not going to find it here. Here’s what you’re guaranteed to get with this game: engaging gameplay and an overall soulless story, filled with equally soulless characters.