Lost Dimension PS3 Review
The line between JRPGs and Visual Novels have been blurred a bit recently, most likely the result of the two genres having most of their newest releases land on portable systems. The Playstation Vita may struggle to stand up to the stiff competition of the 3DS and Apple’s app-crazy mobile devices, but it continues to be a reservoir filled with notable RPGs not made by Square Enix (who didn’t even bother to release Final Fantasy: Type-0 HD on Sony’s platform, despite making its original debut on the PSP).
Lost Dimension is yet another JRPG/Visual Novel hybrid from a developer you probably never heard of prior to Atlus’ Western releases. Developer Lancarse is mostly notable for the Etrian Odyssey series, but Lost Dimension skews more heavily into the direction of mystery-driven titles like Danganronpa and Zero Escape. In Lost Dimension, an enigmatic terrorist known as The End (not to be confused with the elderly sniper from Metal Gear Solid 3) has unleashed worldwide devastation, instantly turning the human race into an endangered species. With threats about launching nukes in order to finish the job, a covert group known as SEALED (not to be confused with Marvel’s SHIELD, or the Navy SEALS for that matter) has dispatched a team of psychic soldiers to infiltrate The End’s headquarters, a massive spire with multiple floors reaching high into the heavens, where the big bad sits at the top. Though the SEALED members each come from different branches and have only just met at the start of their mission, they join together in their common goal of taking out The End before humanity reaches its end.
Unfortunately, their foe immediately has the upper hand, and has constructed a seemingly endless maze consisting of killer robots, deadly traps and worst of all, suspicions of betrayal; according to The End, there is a traitor among the SEALED group, and in order to proceed upward, they must identify and eliminate the spy hiding among them. Only problem is, the traitor has blended perfectly among the group, making it impossible for anyone to flush them out through suspicious actions.
The only hint the game offers in weeding out the traitor is through the psychic ability (referred to as “Gifts”) possessed by main protagonist Sho. Sho’s Gift allows him to briefly read the minds of those around him, which are presented as visions upon the completion of each mission. It is the player’s role to keep track of their party lineup during each mission and tally up the number of times a distorted voice appears, which signals the presence of the traitor. When judgment comes in the form of the Judgment room, the person who receives the most votes will be eliminated permanently, whether they were the actual traitor or not. Tragically, this includes party members that are certain to not be the traitor, meaning that players must build up the trust meters between Sho and his teammates in order to manipulate the votes to punish the real spy.
Lost Dimensions offers an interesting death game, where the innocent party members are capable of being mistakenly executed in place of the traitor. Even if the traitor is found out, another one will appear in the next floor, and the next after that, and so on. Eliminating a trusted ally only means having two traitors to deal with in the next floor, as well as losing the chance to experience the game’s true ending.
As interesting as the premise is, the game’s characters fail to be as engaging. Many of their interactions come off as indifferent or self-serving, with each individual possessing a certain personality trait and offering little narrative stake to have players sympathize with them should they be wrongfully judged. The majority of interactions happen between the cast and Sho, who has the option of building up comradery with two characters per mission. Raising the comradery meter opens up additional dialogs that dive a little into each character’s backstory, but more importantly builds up their trust with Sho. A high amount of trust offers two advantages: the chance to sway their votes for the next judgment, and the chance of following up attacks during battle.
Speaking of which, the game’s battle system takes place on a 3D plane, where players and enemies take turns positioning each other on the field and attacking through a variety of actions. During each character’s turn, players can choose the usual options of Attacking, defending, or performing a character’s specific ability, which costs Gift Points (GP). One of the more notable mechanics is the ability to Defer, which lets a character give up their turn in order to let a previous character take an additional turn. This can come in handy in various ways, such as letting a party member finish off an enemy, or letting one of the healer-based teammates perform a much-needed recovery spell more than once, or just to let someone take some additional steps toward or away from the enemy, depending on the situation. The aforementioned follow-up attacks also play a major role, and can mean the difference from victory and defeat (watch out, though, as the enemies are also able to follow-up each other’s attacks). Another mechanic to take note of is the Sanity meter (SAN); every action uses up a character’s SAN, whether casting Gifts or taking damage. When a character’s SAN runs out in a mission, they temporarily go Berserk, which completely restores their HP and also raises their attack power to extreme levels. The tradeoff is that they cannot be controlled by players and will also attack their own allies, making it a very risky status change, whether deliberate or not.
The concept of strategic positioning and team-up assists are similar to the Valkyria Chronicles series, offering a similarly enjoyable Strategy RPG experience. The game also features a tree of abilities for each character, allowing for customizing your own ability path by spending Gift Points, which are earned through leveling up. Even erased teammates can still prove useful, as remaining teammates can equip their abilities through the use of Materia (not unlike Final Fantasy VII’s own classic Materia system).
Presentation-wise, Lost Dimension is serviceable on PS3, but also suffers from a few oddities; during the start of each mission, the framerate turns into a slideshow for a few seconds, as if needing some additional time to load in everything. Similarly, there is a brief loading screen when a character or enemy uses an ability. Most irritating of all is that characters cannot move through one another; in a Strategy RPG where the position of a party member can make all the difference, having one’s teammates turn into a literal brick wall that hampers movement can be very annoying. On the flipside, enemies are also affected by this rule, which can lead to some hilarious-yet-beneficial situations where the AI wastes a turn while trapped.
The biggest knock against the game is the affinity system, which is slow and cumbersome. Select the character you want to speak to, and then slowly mash through pointless banter in order to raise those comradery points. What would normally constitute an enjoyable social experience as seen in the Persona series instead becomes a necessary and dull chore in order to grind out affinity points. The autosave feature is also meant to illustrate your helplessness in undoing a crucial choice, but for a JRPG-length game it also means having to start the whole thing over if the voting does not go as planned.
Had Lost Dimension worked harder in building a cast of likeable characters, its Wild West premise of losing any party member for good would have been more impactful. That aside, the combat is fun despite its small frustrations, and the usual array of customizable skills and plentiful missions should prove to be another satisfying budget RPG experience, though with so many of those pouring in by the month, this game does run the risk of being buried underneath the rubble.