Every so often a game comes around that doesn’t look all that great, doesn’t have a large budget, doesn’t implement a lot of innovative mechanics and subsequently doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Atlus and FuRyu’s latest strategy roleplaying game Lost Dimension is indeed that very game. An unsuspecting title that channels a good deal Valkyria Chronicles in terms of gameplay and practically any anime in terms of narrative, Lost Dimension is a strong game that will undoubtedly fly under a lot of folks’ radars, but it shouldn’t.
Lost Dimension‘s story starts off without pulling any punches. It doesn’t dawdle with setting up the tale through an exhausting narrative devoid of any excitement for the first 15 hours of the experience, however it hits the ground running by introducing the antagonist, heroes and main story hook within the first minutes of powering it on. The tale goes like this: a mysterious tower has appeared and launched nuclear missiles against various nations of the world. A maniac who refers to himself as “The End” unveils himself as the perpetrator of said attacks and consequently sends a challenge to the world: he will launch a second attack, unless someone climbs the aforesaid tower to stop him.
Naturally, the world’s leaders assemble a special strike force, dubbed S.E.A.L.E.D, comprised of agents with psychic powers and send them to the tower to stop the trigger-happy, nuke-wielding madman. However, upon the team’s arrival to the so-called “pillar,” they stumble a game of death and betrayal awaiting them, where they must “erase” their comrades one by one in order to climb to the top of the tower. This is framed as being necessary to snuff out a traitor amongst the team who is working with The End, leaving players on their toes trying to figure out if they have “erased” the traitor or an innocent teammate. More on this later, though.
Lost Dimension‘s story is compelling. Its premise is great, but it’s actually how that premise is built upon and thereby delivered that will keep folks hooked. The central cast here is unique and flawed in human ways, giving us a wealth of characters that feel every bit as interesting as they do realistic. Seeing as each possesses a substantial amount of background history that is doled out over the course of the game’s 20-30 hour adventure, it’s easy to get attached to Lost Dimension‘s characters. What makes this particularly special is the previously stated story setup: these characters die. That’s not a spoiler either, as you’ll find this out after playing the first mission of the game. Therefore, having them so well fleshed out only to have some die really evokes a special experience not seen in many games, especially JRPGs. Connecting with the characters is helped significantly by a decent localization by Atlus. Aside from some inconsistent stylistic issues, the translation and editing work has been handled with care, which further helps give life to the roster of personalities.
Unfortunately, not every bit of the story is quality stuff. In fact, while the characters seemed to have gotten much of the writers’ attentions, sometimes the overall tale takes a back seat as a result. There were times when central story segments were foregone entirely to hone in on individual character interactions. The premise of Lost Dimension is indeed fantastic, but it never reaches its full potential, often leaving ideas, plot arcs and core themes forgotten or loosely explained, likely due to the overall length. While Dimension could be stretched to the aforementioned 30-hour mark, a first playthrough is going to clock folks in at just around 20. In a genre where game length matters, they’ll be plenty disappointed by the run-time.
But even so, that can be overlooked by just how satisfying the gameplay is. It all adheres to a formula, but it’s a solid formula just the same. Players start off in a room in the tower that acts as their base of operations. Here, the player can outfit characters, interact with each one, and then take story missions or side quests. Depending on how often you chat with each character will either raise or lower the relationship with that character, which impacts combat bonuses and the like. The kicker here is: while players can talk to every character during these down times between missions, the first three they talk to are the only ones who will have their relationship status to the player changed.
So, it becomes a game of who you want to court and who you may not particularly pay attention to. This is important, not just because it could impact battlefield tactics, but it could mean getting really close to a character, and learning about their past, only to then have them killed off when progressing to the next floor of the tower. A very neat mechanic that, although basic, isn’t seen in a lot of JRPGs.
But once chatting has been completed, it’s on to combat–the meat and potatoes of the experience. If players have ever touched Valkyria Chronicles, well first off, shame on you, and secondly, they will be right at home with Lost Dimension‘s combat setup. It borrows heavily from Sega’s tactical masterpiece, and players out using some of the same variables. Players navigate a 3D battlefield with movement points, action points, and a bevvy of skills to unleash on their foe. While it’s not as shooter-y as Valkyria was, positioning and making use of automatically-triggered team-attacks based on spacing and positioning are key to making it through the encounters.
What we liked here was not only the reliance on maneuvers that require forethought so as to setup huge, damage-dealing team assists, but we liked the pacing of the battles overall. It strikes a balance of being strategic, but not to the point of eating up an hour of the player’s time for a single fight. While something like Natural Doctrine felt like a war of attrition, this SRPG introduces small maps, an appropriate amount of enemies per encounter (players are never unfairly outnumbered like in Natural Doctrine), and a combat flow that makes it so that folks are in the thick of the action for almost every turn outside of the first. The level of challenge is also spot-on; never once did we feel overpowered or underpowered, ensuring that each fight was a pretty good back-and-forth showdown. And with a diverse grouping of characters, some ranged and others melee, it’s great to tinker around with each’s pretty expansive skill tree so as to see how they dish out the punishment in the next fight.
Obviously, combat makes up a large percentage of the experience, but after all the story missions have been cleared, a story segment will trigger and enact the big selling point of Lost Dimension: the judgment system. It goes like this: there are three suspects on each floor of the tower who could be the traitor aligned The End. During these story segments, the player and the other AI characters all cast a vote about who they think the traitor is. Once they do this, their votes are tallied and, whoever has the most votes, gets erased.
This is such a unique addition to the standard SRPG formula that we wouldn’t be surprised to see variations of it show up in future games. It’s hard to decide who could be the traitor, and as the game goes on, players begin to really forge solid bonds with each character. Having to consider them as a potential threat can be a little heartbreaking at times; having them erased can be all the more heartbreaking, especially if players have invested a lot of time in getting to know that character on and off the battlefield. Thankfully, there are ways to better identify the traitor before it gets to the point of accidentally killing off one of your favorite heroes or heroines. Players have the ability to “dive” into an ally’s future after earning the opportunity through certain battles.
There’s also the chance to find the suspects by outfitting each combat scenario with different characters. See, at the end of a battle, a short scene will take place with all the characters that fought in the last battle. If there’s a potential traitor in a player’s team composition, they will hear a a suspicious voice during the scene. By using different characters in combat, folks can ascertain a pretty good idea of who plans to betray them. By then having solid evidence, players can hopefully choose the right person to be erased when the time comes, which enhances the trust between them and their party members. This trust is what decides who will assist whom in battle. Gain perfect, 100-percent trust with all members? Get the real ending of the game. Hint: this won’t happen the first time you play; thus effectively turning a 20-hour game into a much longer one to get the “true” ending.
These systems that Lost Dimension employs are excellent. Unfortunately, its graphics are as excellent. This is a Vita and PS3 title, so technical limitations are obviously in place, which in turn presents us with a game that isn’t offensively awful visually-speaking, but looks like a game from four years ago. Colors are muted, texture work is passable at best and on the screen where one chooses if they will interact with party members, customize their characters, or take on the next mission, the UI is sluggish. We noticed a few instances of pop-in and framerate dips, though it was nothing game-breaking. This is frustrating, though, seeing as the art style is incredibly strong, resembling something akin to Shin Megami Tensei, with characters that are especially thin and elongated. Each has a distinct visual style, which matches their personalities well. It’s a shame, then, that enemy designs feel lifted right out of a “Monster Manual for Video Game” book, mostly fitting into the categories of “mechanical thing that shoots” or “sci-fi soldier with gun” and not many others. Fortunately, the soundtrack is quite a bit better than the visuals with tunes that range from pretty pulse-pounding to more pop-inspired tracks. The opening song is especially catchy.
Lost Dimension is a sound SRPG that should be played by anyone who loved Valkyria Chronicles or adores Japanese roleplaying experiences. Its combat is incredibly solid, its judgment system is unique and its characters are worth investing time into getting to know, even if it means heartache down the road if or when one of them gets the axe. On the flipside, the story here doesn’t capitalize on all it could or should and its visuals are dated at best, with some performance dips hitting the game at those more aesthetically intensive times. It also can feel a bit uninspired at times, which is best seen in the enemy and environment designs. Even with those qualms, Lost Dimension is a quality title that some may feel is greater than the sum of its parts.