Lost Dimension Review
Lost Dimension is one of those JRPGs that might have flown under the radar of many people. While the genre has some well known titles such as Final Fantasy and the Tales series, there is a lot of niche games that never make it to western shores, and those that do are not marketed or written a lot about. On the surface, Lost Dimension looks like a run-of-the-mill RPG. The anime box art with protagonists that look like teenagers makes the game look like the average game you’d expect. But looking past the box art and standard plot there are some twists that makes this game stand out. In your party of protagonists there are traitors that are plotting against you. These traitors are selected randomly at the start of each new game, so you will never be able to predict how things will play out. Put that together with a strategic combat system, and you are looking at a game that is trying some new things while still feeling familiar. But is Lost Dimension overreaching in its ambitions, or does it succeed?
Climb A Tower, Save The World
In terms of writing, very little effort has been made to create a detailed setting and fleshed out characters. If you expect the high level of writing from Atlus’ acclaimed Persona series, you will be very disappointed. This game is developed by a different developer, Lancarse, and is only published by Atlus. This is especially disappointing as the story writer, Jun Kumagai, has previously worked on the scripts for the Persona 3 movies and the Persona 4 Animation. The story does take some cues from Persona 3, but feels very watered down and shallow in comparison.
The setting for the game is fairly basic: A mysterious tower appears somewhere on earth. The tower is the base of operations of an evil terrorist named The End (yeah…) who has destroyed half the world. The UN creates a new secret service group called S.E.A.L.E.D. and tasks them with assaulting the tower and stop The End’s nefarious plans of destroying what is left of the world. That all sounds very straight forward, but things get complicated when only 11 members of the assault team make it to the tower only to realize that their memories have been tampered with. Not knowing how they got there or how to escape, they decide to push forward into the tower. They discover that each of them have special abilities, or ‘Gifts’, that give them an edge in battle. Shortly after, The End appears and informs them that if they have 13 days to make to the top of the tower and kill him. If they fail, he will detonate nuclear warheads and destroy the world. To make things harder, he also informs them that some of the members in the group is are traitors that can betray the team at any time.
You play as Sho Kasugai, an 18-year old with the power of ‘Vision’, a form of precognition. This power allows him to sense some of the thoughts of his allies, an ability that is the key to learning who the traitor might be. Throughout the game you can talk to your team members to learn more about them and enhance your bonds with them. You can opt to ignore these conversations all together, but boosting your friendships can be helpful in battle. If characters have a good relationship it is more likely that they will assist each other in battle, and it is more likely that they will listen to you when you tell them who the traitor is. Getting to know the characters also makes it a lot more personal when a traitor is revealed. While I didn’t mind losing characters that I didn’t care much for, it was pretty rough to have to kill a character that I liked and/or used a lot in battle. This is the type of game where you get out of it what you put into it, so while you can choose to ignore character conversations your game experience will be poorer for it.
That said, the writing for the characters is pretty plain. Each character has a distinct personality, but these personalities are not very developed. In fact, they feel more like the Japanese anime cliches we get so many of. Don’t get me wrong, I do love Japanese RPGs and they are usually filled with the exact same personalities. But the trick is to make these cliches just developed enough to keep them interesting, and Lost Dimension does nothing to push things in new directions. You have the cold and emotionless girl, the girl who believes in the best in everyone, the super-friendly guy who wants everyone to get along, the calm and logical doctor… The list goes on. While the characters are initially not very keen on talking much with you (they are wary of the traitors after all), they are still pretty easy to figure out. As you build up your friendships the characters will have more personal conversations with you. These conversations would have been the perfect time to show new or unexpected sides to the cast, but they stay well within the borders of their stereotype. You don’t get much information about their backgrounds either. While one character reveals that he is from an upper class family and has spent his life feeling superior to most people, you don’t get any details of his life or examples of events that have shaped him into who he is. You get some very broad strokes that illustrates a very general background on your allies, but there are no specifics that define them. The complete lack of motives in the writing is especially obvious when you reveal a traitor. Most will simply confirm your suspicions and accept their fate. However, they never explain why they chose to betray their allies or what they were trying to accomplish. Were they allied with The End? Were they doing it only for themselves? Why do they want the world destroyed? None of this is addressed. While the hunt for the traitors is very interesting in terms of gameplay, the writing falls completely flat when it could have been used to make the reveals a lot more emotional and interesting.
The game is made to be played through several times, which is something that holds the storytelling back. This is especially true for the ending. A lot of information is held back in the initial play-through, so the ending is short and makes little to no sense. That way the game strongly encourages you to play a NG+ in order to find more hidden information and unlock the ‘True Ending’. While I don’t have anything against special endings and such, I think that there could at least have been a more satisfying ending for the initial play-through.
A Game of Thoughts
Most of the gameplay revolves around trying to identify the traitors. The team learns that in order to precede the new floors of the tower, they will be forced to sacrifice one team member each time. This makes it crucial to identify the right person as a traitor so that you can avoid killing an innocent person only to get stabbed in the back by the actual culprit later.
You will spend the game in one of two places: Out on a mission or in the mission hub. The hub acts like a resting place for the characters between the missions. In this room you can craft new equipment, level up, and select which mission you want to do next. This room also allows you to talk with your allies and develop friendships, and use your Vision power to learn who the traitor is.
The Vision power is in play at all times, but it not without its limits. Each floor has 3 suspects, and one of these suspects is the true traitor. After each mission, Sho can hear snippets of the inner thoughts of the people he brought with him on that specific mission. The thoughts are huddled together and hard to make out, but if one character is a suspect his or her voice will be replaced with a static sound. Once you are back in the hub you can review the results of each reading. You will be presented with a list of your last 10 missions, who you had in your party, and how many distorted voices you heard. Playing a game of elimination and changing the members of your party frequently will help you with pinpointing who the suspects are. Once you feel certain about your choice, you can use your Deep Vision power to probe into your suspect’s mind and reveal whether they are the traitor or not. The Deep Vision is very restricted and can only be used a few times on each floor, so you will not be able to simply scan everyone to find the traitor fast.
Sho’s Vision power also keeps the combat fresh and fun. Since you depend on changing your party members often in order to find the traitor, you will have to adapt new strategies to each party you bring with you. Each character has their own skills, stats, and weapons. Some will complement each other, while others don’t. Being strategic with who you bring with you at the same time as looking for the suspects brings a very interesting and fun twist to the gameplay. I am one of those people that usually find one party set-up that I like, and stick with that for the whole game. Lost Dimension, however, is designed to have you make use of every character and learn them well enough so that you can face any challenge with any party. That doesn’t mean that you won’t feel more attached to certain characters. You certainly will, and if that character turns out to be a traitor it can be frustrating and heartbreaking at the same time.
The missions in the game are really fun. Each mission is basically an encounter with a number of enemies in one room. The combat is turn based and strategic, but adds a few new twists to the standard formula. Instead of a grid that determines how far a character can move during each round there is a circle. You can move freely within this circle, but you can only walk as far as the radius. By moving from the center and in a straight line to the edge will let you get further ahead than if you turn of zig-zag while walking, as the circle shrinks slightly by doing so. Knowing the limits of the circle can be crucial to your strategy: getting that last step at the edge can mean the difference between being in attack-range of your enemy or not.
Positioning is key to getting through each mission. Where you and your enemies stand at the end of each phase can be the difference between victory and disaster. If your characters are close to each other and the same enemy, they will be able to assist each other during their attacks. Lining the characters up for a long assist chain is incredibly satisfying, and seeing the toughest enemies crumble under the pressure is great. But keeping the characters close is not without risk, as enemies are capable of using similar assist chains as well. Some also have powerful area attacks that can destroy your party with relative ease. Your party and enemies will be able to do counter attacks when they take damage as well, so you always need to weigh the pro’s against the con’s before setting up a strategy. Only one round of attacks from the enemy can be enough to destroy your party, so thinking forward is the key to success.
The combat is pulled down a bit by an uneven difficulty curve. Some missions will be a breeze to get through, while others are punishingly hard. While I didn’t have to retry many missions, there were a few where I lucked out while having only one character left alive. The AI for the enemies is not very well done either. While they are certainly capable of dealing a lot of damage to your party, their behavior while moving around the mission area made a face palm at some points. If one enemy blocks the way, a second enemy will waste their whole movement phase colliding with them instead of going around them, for example. I believe that the challenge and strategy level of this game could have been much better and more interesting of the enemies had been programmed more skillfully.
Technical Issues Are The Real Traitors
Despite the fun gameplay, Lost Dimension is being pulled down by a myriad of technical issues. To be frank: The game runs very bad on the PS3. There are frequent large frame drops while out on missions. Sometimes the game lags, especially when using the special abilities of the characters. On a few occasions I even hit loading screens while the game tried to figure out which animation went with the skill I just selected. Having frame drops in graphically heavy games may be forgiven as these games push the console to its limits. Lost Dimension, however, has very simple graphics so it’s hard to understand why the game runs so bad. I don’t know if these issues are present on the Vita version of the game, or if it’s just on the PS3. It could be that the game has been optimized for Vita and simply ported badly for the PS3. Whatever the reason, it is clear that the developer has not bothered much with quality testing.
As I previously mentioned, the graphics in the game are nothing to write home about. Everything looks and feels very flat. The scenery changes as you proceed through the floors in the tower and each floor has a distinct look, but it still feels similar. The enemies on each floor are also very repetitive. They go through minor changes in looks, but their skills and behavior stays mostly the same. Though some missions can be very challenging, the enemies bring little to no surprises after the first floor. The 3D models of the characters do not do their 2D artwork justice at all. Even the animations and special effects in combat feel basic and flat. Overall, the graphics look more like a PS2 game. Again, it seems like the game was originally designed for the Vita’s small screen, but didn’t translate too well to the PS3.
Poor optimization aside, my major gripe with the game is some game breaking bugs. There were some missions on the later floors that I had a very hard time completing. Not because they were challenging, but because the game crashed every time I defeated the last enemy. This only seemed to happen on missions where a certain type of enemies were present. These enemies worked as alarm-bots and summoned new enemies every turn. It seemed like the only way to pass these missions were to get an S rating on the mission. Anything less and the game simply crashes. It was incredibly frustrating having to attempt these missions several times and always ending up with a crashed PS3. I had to spend time farming to get my characters strong enough to get the best rating in order to progress with the game. The worst part is that this game was released a year ago in Japan, and some research shows that this bug was present in that release as well. This means that Atlus was probably very aware of the bug, but didn’t bother to do anything about it when localizing it. That is simply lazy and unforgivable. Again, I don’t know if this is an issue on the Vita version or just the PS3, but whatever the case it is still an awful bug to leave in the game.
Lost Dimension is a unique game in the strategic JRPG genre. It mixes up the game-play by adding new twists to familiar concepts, like having a set radius for the characters to move in instead of traditional grids. The combat is very fun and utilizing characters’ abilities to unleash powerful attack chains is very satisfying. Some characters have very useful abilities, while other characters fall a bit behind. The variation of enemies is very low, so the game doesn’t encourage you to use different strategies for different enemies. The concept of a randomly selected traitor is very interesting and keeps each playthrough fresh, though I do miss to see some consequences of having someone work against your team. The characters all have different personalities, but the writing in general is flat and filled with stereotypes. The character developments are almost non-existent. The game is also held back by poor graphics and game-play bugs. Frame drops and lag haunts many missions, and some missions can crash the PS3 upon completion. In the end, I really enjoyed the new concepts in Lost Dimension, but the technical difficulties and the lack of depth in characters and the traitor system keeps this game from being the gem it could have been.
I give Lost Dimension 2.5 stars out of 5.