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Disclosure: the author was given a European review code for the game by NIS America
Publisher: NIS America (EU), Atlus (NA)
Platforms: PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 3 (review platform)
The End. Not my closing words, no. That’s the name of the mysterious villain who threatens the world in Lost Dimension. The game opens with an anime cutscene that sets up the premise with pacing and voice acting that charmingly harkens back to the PlayStation 1 days of game openings. The plot is rushed through in a couple of minutes; explaining that The End is a strange terrorist who has decimated the world in a number of attacks. The white-haired swordsman is residing in a bizarre tower and has threatened to bring about the apocalypse in 13 days. In a last act of desperation, the U.N. sends a team of 11 psychics into the tower to hunt down The End. It’s a lot to take in, but the game then has player character Sho Kasugai awaken in the middle of a battle, and the gameplay gets started. Honestly, I appreciate playing an RPG that doesn’t take 2 hours of wandering a village for the story to begin.
After a tutorial, Sho gets to meet the team. Again. Yes, they’ve all got amnesia and can’t remember the events of actually entering the tower (or “The Pillar” as it’s called). They’re a fun cast of characters. Notable team members include Mana Kawai – who proudly uses a fake English accent because she thinks it’s cute, and George Jackman – an American obsessed with his country and with JUSTICE. The 11 party members are an eccentric set of leads, rather like the casts you’d find in a Danganronpa or Zero Escape game. But don’t get too attached. It doesn’t take long for The End to send out a message to Sho and the team that somebody among them is a traitor that’s working for him. Will confronting The End at the top of the tower be achievable when your own teammates might try to sabotage the last hope for the world?
Progressing through The Pillar requires the completion of missions. Lost Dimension is a Tactical RPG, with a battle system in the same vein as Valkyria Chronicles. Combat is 3D and turn-based, with each character getting a limited distance to travel each turn. Every mission has the player assemble a squad of 6 characters (Sho is always one of them), and head into conflict in a small area of the tower against a group of up to a dozen mechanical enemies. There’s plenty of strategic options to play with in battle. Some characters are close-quarters fighters while others rely on handguns to fight from a distance. The former are stronger but susceptible to counterattacks, while the latter are weaker, but safer and allow more opportunities for assists. Every time a character attacks someone, any nearby allies within attacking range will follow-up with a standard attack of their own. Taking down large enemies can be achieved much easier when the foe is surrounded by three allies. Just keep in mind that the enemy side can also do this, so it’s best to be aware of the distance an enemy can travel, and to avoid gathered groups of hostiles.
Each character possesses a “Gift” which is their own special psychic power. For instance, Sho has Premonition, which allows him to interrupt enemy attacks he can see coming. Agito Yuuki in particular is extremely useful, as his Teleportation ability allows him to zip across the battlefield, move past locked doors, and even gather the whole party to his side. Of course, this is an RPG so these Gift abilities will have to be acquired through leveling up, and completing a path to open up more skills. Each character has 3 categories to the Gift powers they learn, and acquiring everything in a category will grant them a special, powerful skill (Yoko Tachibana’s Brain Hacker boosts every stat of every ally on the field, so it’s a very useful reward for developing her powers).
However, these moves are to be used sparingly. Aside from consuming Gift Points (GP), each skill used will also burn away at a character’s Sanity (SAN). Use too many skills, or take too many hits without recovering, and the character’s SAN will deplete to 0%, and they’ll be afflicted with Berserk: a status ailment which massively boosts their attack power, but leaves them out of control, and unable to tell friend from foe. It can be healed, but it ends after 2 turns. A good course of action is to have any nearby party members fall back, because Berserk characters can often kill anybody they attack with a single move. It’s a hindrance, but it can also be put to use strategically. Send a character with low SAN towards a pesky enemy, use a costly Gift ability, and see them explode in a wave of fury at the foe. Another key thing to consider is that once a party member has completed their actions for their turn, another character can approach and give up a small amount of their own SAN to use Defer, allowing the ally to move again. This makes prioritising one or two characters in a certain situation an entirely viable tactic, and means a strategic player can consistently make the most out of each turn.
After completing several key missions (and a few side missions if the player chooses to do so), the team will have completed a floor of the tower. But to climb up further to the next section they have to participate in a Judgement. The team gathers around a terminal and has to choose a member to “Erase.” Whoever receives the most votes is killed with a laser beam, leaving behind nothing but a stone, but more on that little item later. Each party member gets at least one vote, but can also get an extra vote if they’re among the top three team members in the Battle Rankings (raised by scoring kills and assists during missions). Anybody can be killed off during the Judgement, and Sho has to earn the trust of his teammates by talking with them during the downtime between missions. Other party members will also approach Sho asking who he suspects might be the traitor. This is where Sho’s ability to see the future really comes into play.
After each mission Sho will have a Vision, where he can hear the distant thoughts of the comrades he just fought alongside. Suspicious voices can appear in the group, but there’s no easy way of knowing who they belong to, or if they’re being spoken by the actual traitor in the group. The situation is that there’s a lone member of the group who is working for The End. There can also be a couple of other suspicious voices in the group. Arranging squads of different characters for each mission can eventually reveal sets of characters that have nobody suspicious, and a set that has all 3 possible voices show up in the Vision, meaning that the traitor is in that group. From here, the player can investigate each individual character with the “Deep Vision” power. This sees Sho dive into the thoughts of a party member and discover definitively whether or not they’re the traitor who should be erased. This can’t be overused though as they require rare points that are gained infrequently upon completing key missions. The player will usually have 2 or 3 when it comes time to focus on using the Deep Vision. Seeing as how the group consists of 10 other members at the start, these rare Vision Points will need to be used wisely.
The game of Judgement doesn’t stop there I’m afraid. Yes, the traitor may have been confirmed to Sho, but the other party members will all have their own suspicions. They’ll often make the assumption that whoever’s at the bottom of the Battle Rankings isn’t their ally, and will vote for them. You can see the predicted Judgement results after each mission, and can talk to 2 other characters about who you believe is the traitor. Though it’s a bad idea to tell a person that they’re the suspect since that’ll almost immediately result in a vote for Sho. The reason you’ll want to eliminate the traitor and avoid the death of an innocent ally is that if a character who is on The End’s side escapes justice for the entire game, they will turn on the player in the final mission. The key thing is: Judgement happens multiple times throughout the game. Everyone is amnesiac and with each floor The End will awaken the memories of another of his allies. There’s more than one traitor; meaning more than one Judgement. As the team climbs The Pillar, their numbers dwindle, and it can’t be good for the player if the few teammates they have left are going to betray them at the finish line.
One more little fact to note: the traitors are randomised on each playthrough. It really could be any of the squad members on each floor. The first Judgement of a player’s first playthrough does feature a scripted traitor, but the rest are all going to be chosen at random each time. So don’t get attached. However, players won’t have to worry too much about losing a valuable part of the team each floor. The stones left behind by an erased party member are special “Materia” than can be equipped to anybody else, granting them the powers of the deceased fighter. These can’t be upgraded past what was already learned, but each Materia (based on one of the erased’s three categories of skills) can unlock a unique new move for certain other party members. These moves can be used after Defer as well, but it’s far more useful to have them properly equipped to a character’s moveset.
It’s features like the random traitors and the Materia that give Lost Dimension a great amount of replay value. Unfortunately, the way the game is designed means New Game Plus isn’t really a bonus, but instead essential to completing the game. Players will be stuck with a brief fake out ending if they haven’t completed each character’s social link-styled relationship path. It just requires talking with them for 3 or 4 floors of the game, and completing a special mission for each of them. Problem is it can’t be done on the first playthrough, considering the player will likely have erased 3 characters by the time these relationships start finishing. I was happy to play through the game again, but I don’t like how it just refuses to give the story a conclusion unless I start over again and focus on fixing things that were kind of out of my control. But it also introduces an interesting twist. Say one of the three characters that was missed is discovered to be a traitor. Rather than convince everybody to erase this person and destroy the chance at finishing their friendship line, the player can instead be deceptive, make a scapegoat of somebody else by excluding them from missions and lying to others by calling them the traitor. This will lock the player out of a trophy, but it’s very compelling to see this aspect of the story and campaign become something to strategise in its own right.
New Game Plus adds an extra mission to each floor, but not much else. Not that it entirely needs to considering how much the random traitors will shake things up each time. Much like Lost Dimension itself, the story is interesting and quite enjoyable, with quite a few flaws that just hold it back from greatness. Gameplay becomes rather routine with the loop consisting of Mission, Vision, Talk, repeat. The missions themselves don’t really offer much variety and will rely on a pool of about 3 areas for each floor. Environments themselves are pretty bland, ranging from a ruined city, to a robot factory, and a tomb. As I progressed I also felt more and more that the game isn’t particularly challenging. It only offers Easy and Normal difficulties, and some tactics such as Berserk, or Sho’s late game ability Daydream (which, while costly, essentially grants the party another turn before the enemy) can be abused easily enough to give players an unfair advantage and achieve S Ranks across missions with little effort. Furthermore, enemy AI can be very stupid at times, as they can’t seem to move past each other or the body of a knocked out party member. The game’s challenge can leave a lot to be desired, as does its voice cast. There’s no option for dual audio, so the only voiceover offered here is the English dub, which is passable at best. Not bad, but just a range of rather unimpressive performances.
Lost Dimension nonetheless is a gripping JRPG that offers fun combat and mechanics alongside some amusing characters, and an attention-grabbing traitor system that adds some compelling drama to the proceedings. Players who are willing to invest the time into playing through twice will find a good amount of content that makes this a rewarding enough title. The package is somewhat let down by a lack of variety and a story with some faulty execution, this is an experience that can manage to stand out as an interesting new series, and one where I would definitely vote for a follow-up in the future.