Platform: PlayStation 3/PS Vita
# of Players: 1
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)
Score: B (80%)
Oh, how I do wish there were a Lost Dimension OVA or short-run anime series. Just so I could see the scene at the close of one episode when villain The End materializes outside that strange massive pillar he’s dropped in the middle of Tokyo to address some reporters who’ve popped up outside with their news vans and a moderately sized crowd of terrified (but terminally nosy) gawkers. In my somewhat addled brain, the English dub would go something like this:
REPORTER: Mr. The End! You’ve dropped this massive Pillar onto the city, killed over two billion people around the world and are threatening the human race with total extinction! What will you do now?!
THE END (dryly): Hmmm… I guess I’ll go to Disney World… and kill everyone there as well.
Whereupon The End would smirk, drift high up into the air and vanish as the crowd below gasps and chatters away. As that reporter is making some dopey closing commentary, the camera would pull way back as he or she is talking right before a huge chunk of rubble drops on top of everyone outside. Cut to The End looking down and grinning as we get a freeze frame shot of his face and THE END in big letters fading in before the closing credit theme kicks in.
Yeah, I’d pay real money to see that. But I’m a bit crazy.
Anyway, my poorly plotted final fan fiction fantasy dream aside, let’s talk about the game in question. Lost Dimension comes to you from developers FuRyu (with an Lancarse assist) and publisher Atlus as a solid, intriguing hybrid of visual novel and tactical RPG. It’s a game that takes a number of genre cliches (and the fact that JRPG fans love them) and flips them onto their heads as it asks you to kill off your team one by one in order to advance the plot. While that’s going on you also need to bond with as many of your remaining teammates as possible before the final showdown. And you need to do this twice in order to get that best ending.
I usually don’t do this, but I’m going to go and gently spoil some of the obvious stuff the game slaps you with hard just to make sure it’s understood how important it is to NOT automatically like the cast from the get-go.
The game doesn’t care a whit how cute you think Himeno is or that Marco wears bangin’ headphones and has a snowman or whatever the hell that is on his outfit. In fact, going into the game with notions of “saving” characters you like is a really terrible idea. Not only will you be disappointed that someone you’re attached to is going to get theirs at your hands, you’ll end up in a frustrating loop of trying to reload saves that won’t matter at all as you try to salvage someone who needs to die anyway…
Just free your mind from your deepest desires to see your favorite guy or gal live to fight another day (or live at all) and let the story wash over you as it plays out. You’ll find that the game will be a lot more surprising and rewarding when you stop trying to bend it so fiercely to your will. That and it’s pretty weird to obsess over a single (fake) character or a few different ones you like when over two billion (fake) people just got murdered by that spiky-haired meanie with the bad attitude. If dropping that Pillar and decimating the population wasn’t bad enough, The End then threatens to destroy the rest of the world in thirteen days with its own nuclear missiles. Yikes. With nowhere else to turn, the powers that be decide to send in a group of teens with powerful psychokinetic skills to save what remains of the day and humanity.
Unfortunately, (or as you’d expect for what initially sounds like a Japanese version of an X-Men movie) things don’t go exactly as planned. But that’s also a big case of “What else is new?” when it comes to Japan being the source of plenty of games where only teens without a lifetime of experience in using their talents can save the day. Anyway, nicked furiously into the Pillar, the agents of SEALED (rendered partial amnesiacs by the sudden shift into the tower of terror) find themselves battling The End’s devious plans and each other as traitors are revealed to be in their midst.
Yes, the game packs on plenty of the familiar elements you’d expect from many JRPGs and in fact, guides you into thinking nearly everything is going to play out as you’d think from start to finish. Indeed, some of it does (and how!). But that traitor stuff? It messes with your mind in such a grand manner that you’ll have to tip your cap to the developer for making your brain cells twist and shout about the very idea of killing a party member you’ve taken a shine to. Get used to this, folks – it only gets
harder easier after the first time. Or is is easier harder? Let’s find out now, shall we?
Granted, you’re handed a freebie kill on the first floor in the form of George Jackman. Poor misunderstood George. For me, George was an annoying ‘cho gaijin’ type who may be great with his katana, but is lousy with his overuse of Japanese terms. He’s that noisy American you may know who’s been to Japan and maybe even lived there for a bit, tends to call everyone “-san” or “-sama” and generally makes you want to beat him over the head with a box of cheap ramen whenever he opens his trap. Yeah, he deserved to go. Well, at least the first time through the game.
Fooled into thinking choosing traitors is an easy task by George’s less than sad demise, the rest of the game is spent destroying that thought. Thanks to the random number generation (RNG) used by the game to determine traitors, you’ll n-e-v-e-r know who’s on the chopping block. Each floor has three potential suspects but you only need to identify one in a VP scan and eliminate that person in the Judgment Room that unlocks after you complete that floor’s main story missions. But a funny thing happens on the way to the forum if you fall hard for some of those potential traitors. You just can’t do it. The story is set in stone to the point that even that randomness you’ll hate intensely is a big and hilarious red herring. A test of your inner desires pushing hard and fruitlessly against the developer’s coding skills.
Give it up, pal.
Depending on what the uncontrollable RNG says, Mana’s going to die. Zenji’s going to die. Himeno’s going to die. Agito’s going to die. Yoko’s going to die. Sojiro’s going to die. Nagi’s going to die. Toya’s going to die. Marco’s going to die. Poor George is already dead, but you get to play the game a second time so he (and everyone else) can live again even as a traitor. They don’t die all at once mind you, so let that be your cold comfort. Those Judgement Room cut scenes are probably going to be tough to watch if you’ve invested any time in liking a character. It’s of note that this is merely the developer twisting the knife intentionally. Remember, you were warned early on that this was coming. Even The End gets in some yuks as only he can as you whittle down your party one by one.
While you don’t know who’s been selected on each floor, the game allows you to influence your remaining team’s voting as well as be influenced by what they say. After each mission, lead character Sho has a brief vision that reveals up to three potential traitors. Your job is to replay maps using different team members and those post-mission visions to weed out the bitter fruit in time for Judgment later on. My first time through I chose to ignore scanning and relied on the opinions of others post-missions. I ended up bumping off Marco as the second traitor for no other reason that I couldn’t put up with his constant whining and generally jumpy nature. I also don’t care much for people who wear headphones all the time in real life because the Lobot look is SO damn 1980. That, dear reader was a mistake I paid for later on. Oops.
The rest of that first play was flawless, but I ended up feeling annoyed at myself that I let a character’s silly traits goad me into bumping them off. Considering Zenji ended up being more of a pain in the butt to talk to (but stayed loyal), Sojiro’s arc getting weirder (if he’s your primary care M.D., consider changing him up, stat!) ans so forth and so on. Himeno had to go next because she kept coming up after visions early on and once that carried over to the next floor I decided to drop her like a hot potato. That was a wise choice I didn’t feel bad about. By then, I’d gotten that the game was messing with me and pulling every string it could. It didn’t matter because I was hooked in for the long haul, warts and all.
While The End has a thirteen day time limit before his form of Armageddon hits, the game doesn’t force you into any sort of cheap timing trap in finishing up that Pillar. You can (and should) take your time with the game using Sho’s visions and the handful of Vision Points he gets to clear out the deadwood before it piles up. Once you scan a party member and they’re noted as a Suspect, this is the person to kick to the curb permanently (again, no matter how you feel about them). Do this up right and the endgame is a breeze. let your emotions guide you away from that person and you’ll pay for it before The End is in sight.
Party members implicate themselves, point the finger at others and generally make Sho’s (and your) decision making a tricky bit of business. There’s a fun mini-game where you can use those limited Vision Points you have to pry into the minds of one party member per point to try and scry out the traitor. It’s not hard at all to complete, but take too long for any reason and it times out, wasting that point and kicking you back to the game’s lobby area. There are five floors in that Pillar (which is weird because it’s like eleventy-thousand stories tall) and as you ascend, you’ll earn points from completing missions that can be used to generate weapons and items. Having issues with an enemy’s attacks or defense? Well, there’s an app for that. No, seriously, You can make apps and other goodies to equip that help boost your team’s talents moderately to considerably.
As noted earlier, bonding with your team post-battle is key. Happier members help out in Assist attacks while anyone who hates you isn’t going to be of much help. This is again, where replays come in handy. You’ll be able to track how much you’ve used each person on the Vision screen, so if you’re having issues with someone and you haven’t made the mistake of accidentally accusing them outright of being a floor’s traitor, just take them on some map runs and chat them up when the option arises. for those short on time who want to enjoy the story, you’ll be glad to know a ton of grinding isn’t necessary at all to complete the game (which isn’t all that hard).
That said, I got caught up in making bonds and replaying missions and side missions to the point where I’d gotten seven out of ten bonds complete including Character Missions, one of which unlocked on the third floor of the Pillar. The rest dropped all at once on the next floor, making for a busy time going back to previous stages to see the new battlefields. You only get one shot of these per play through and it seems any ranking gotten on these doesn’t affect your trophy progression.
On the gameplay front, Lost Dimension is pretty solid. The turn-based combat resembles Valkyria Chronicles but removes the strategic elements such as crouching, reloading and aiming grenades properly. Instead, you have Defer, Assist and each characters skill sets to fall back on and they work quite well. The game rewards both speed and patience. Letting enemies come to your position in some maps works as well as charging the line with your party in others. Skills (or “Gifts”) are worth leveling up because even some that seem useless or too costly to use can turn the tide or in some cases, end a mission in your favor. Gift use chows down on a characters Sanity and GP (Gift Points) and while both can be restored, there’s a use for a character with no sanity left that will net you a nice and shiny Trophy. Just make sure no one else in your party is in the vicinity when this happens unless it’s that persons turn and you have a Sanity restoring item handy.
Maps range from compact and a bit cramped to larger ones that will take some time to complete if you’re not properly leveling and using certain skills. Even if you lose a specific member to the Judgment Room, you get their Fate Materia that allows another party member to use their Gifts. Some maps put you within spitting distance of enemies while others place you far enough away that you can work out a few ways to approach threats and execute accordingly. The camera tends to get wacky on Enemy turns by sticking to where your party is as enemies move closer. This gets you long and loving looks at walls and other objects on some maps instead of what’s coming your way. Other than that and some slight chug on the Vita (that doesn’t affect actual gameplay at all), the game looks pretty much the same on both platforms. While it’s not an “amazing” looking game if you’re picky about graphics, you can make out character names on uniform patches if you get the camera turned at the right angle and the characters all look great in 3D and 2D forms.
There’s an excellent score to keep your ears entertained via unlocking tracks as you go. Other than the great free DLC (available for the first two weeks at no cost to PS3 and Vita owners), it’s one of the few bonuses the game gives you out of the package. An art gallery and cut scene viewer would have been fantastic extras, but I’m gathering the developer didn’t figure on them being necessary. Hey, some Vita-owning folks who fall head over knee socks for certain guys or gals are going to be wanting more than those screen shots they’ll no doubt take. Perhaps this can be addressed in some sort of update, but I’m not holding my breath.
Given the hybrid nature of the game where story is supposed to sit side by side with the gameplay, it’s also where the game trips up a bit. If you pay attention to the story and/or if you’ve played JRPGs with similar end of the world themes, you can probably figure out where it’s heading early on and it doesn’t skid from its path one bit. This leads to some less than spectacular revelations on that second play that may not hit some players with as much dramatic punch as they should. Then again, this is also a game that may just be the entry point into the whole visual novel scene for some gamers. For them, this may be all new and a lot more thrilling than it is to more jaded players. It’s in a way like Pixar’s repetition of certain themes in their films. They know that every time they release a new one there will be a legion of viewers who are seeing something they’ve made for the very first time.
In the final (but not quite final, read on) analysis, Lost Dimension works quite well for what it is. It’s clear that it’s supposed to be a game that will appeal to both new and old fans of VN’s as well as gamers who like “tactical” RPGs looking for something new and interesting. The game hits the right notes and while not “deep” in terms of gameplay or some of the story territory it mines for what riches are remaining, the whole element of randomness opened up by the traitor aspect is a huge amount of fun to mess with. Yes, it gets less tough to figure out who’s who as the story progresses and sure, some of the twists and turns become less twisty and turn-y. But there’s a reason for that the game explains that I won’t spoil that actually makes a bizarre sort of sense. You’ll see when you play this one. And you WILL play it or else The End will probably drop a massive pillar on you while you’re in the bathroom just because he’d roll like that.
I Thought I Was “Done” With The Game, But Atlus Has Other Ideas, Department: Yes, there’s Day One (and FREE) DLC for two weeks with this one and I initially thought it was only wacky costumes, some PSN themes and a handful of non-plot related maps for boosting levels. Well, guess what? you do indeed get all of the above, but those non-plot related maps are actually plot related, there aren’t a handful, but TWENTY total and some look to be in all new areas. This review is already a novella, so I won’t torture you any longer. Well, other than to say I’ll be reviewing those DLC missions sometime soon. By the weekend if possible or next week at the latest.
Review code provided by the publisher. I played through Lost Dimension on both the PS3 and Vita five times (twice on each system plus a third run on the Vita to grab a trophy I missed), got the True Ending on both systems and started up a sixth game NG (on the Vita) to play “guessing game” style. What’s that? Well, it’s where I just pick potential traitors based on who I like and don’t like. Thus far, the results have been… interesting. I’ll pay dearly for those bad choices, by the way…