For decades, role-playing games have drilled a very specific decree into our heads: our fellow adventurers are devoted, dependable friends. Allies are routinely our most valuable resource, endowed with traits such as a capacity for spellcasting or an aptitude for healing- the type of abilities that are essential when fighting resilient bosses. In the infrequent cases when our companions are initially indifferent, it’s typically an excuse to build social bonds and mirror the nuances of relational development. Gradually, they grow into our most trusted partners, augmenting our capacity in combat. And when the rare comrade turns antagonistic, the twist is only there to add astonishment to the story arc.
With Lost Dimension, the recently released title from Etrian Odyssey and Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey developer Lancarse, your partners are indispensable allies- each endowed with the type of psychic or physical abilities that are common to comic books. But, here they can also turn out to be silent enemies, infiltrating the group with treacherous intent. As such, the game requires players to periodically ‘erase’ an ally from their team, ensuring unease from the lingering survivors. While many titles push ethical quandaries on players, few put us in the position of potentially executing an innocent and important ally. Although the title succumbs to a repetitive rhythm, Lost Dimension’s impetus is a refreshing deviation from role-playing convention.
Those who appreciate speedy narrative set-ups, will adore Lost Dimension’s succinctness. An animated cinematic details an attack by a mysterious adversary named “The End”. Previously, the extremist had emerged from a soaring spire, instigating a nuclear attack on the world’s major cities. Now The End tells mankind he’ll continue his ambition for global annihilation in thirteen days, daring the world to stop him. After military forces are effortlessly destroyed, humanity’s last hope enters The Pillar, sending in a team of eleven individuals, each endowed with supernatural powers to scale each floor of the building, and topple the tyrant. After treading through titles that didn’t reveal an impetus until six hours in, Lost Dimension’s five-minute prologue feels invigorating, quickly ushering gamers into their first battle.
While previews have compared Lost Dimension’s and Valkyria Chronicles’ clashes, the appraisal proves superficial, with the former dispensing a number of mechanics to promote distinction. Once players have assembled a team of six combatants, they’ll head to smartly-sized battlefields that allow the turn-based skirmishes to be handled in ten to fifteen minute spans. In execution, both allies and enemies take turns moving members around freely, with a highlighted perimeter showing maximum movement. Get into the proper proxemics distance with an enemy, and they glow, indicating that your team member can unleash a melee, ranged, or gift attack- with the latter signifying magic in Lost Dimension’s sci-fi themed realms.
Like any respectable role-playing game, there’s an ample amount of minutiae to master. When you’re adjacent to any ally, you can ‘Defer’ action, passing your turn onto a teammate. In play, it’s a pleasing wildcard, allowing wounded members space to heal, or giving your powerhouse an extra chance at killing an obstinate opponent. Naturally, the command has a cost, deducting from a character’s sanity meter. Drain the gauge completely and a member goes berserk, wilding attacking friend and foe without discrimination. Of course, it can also be parlayed into a positive, allowing an isolated companion to Hulk-out, striking multiple enemies at once.
After combat, kills are converted into experience (and later, voting power), and the team sits down for a post- conflict conversation with Sho Kasugai, the game’s protagonist. It’s during these moments that social bonds are forged, as players listen to the feelings of each character, and sporadically choose from dialog options. The order of exchange is quite important, as the first few characters you speak with increase their trust level with Kasugai. The immediate benefit of comradery shows in combat, when nearby confidants demonstrate they have your back, engaging in extra attacks, Disgaea-style. But in the long-term, cohesion is also vital. The only way players will see Lost Dimension’s preferred ending is by forming bonds with the entire membership. Achievers take note: you won’t be able to do that on your first play-through.
Once players have completely enough main and sub-missions, they’ll spot a new option in Lost Dimension’s base of operations. In order to advance to a higher level in The Pillar, they have to eliminate duplicitous members, voting to erase one of three characters, in an exhibition that echoes reality-show spectacle. Fortunately, Dimension doesn’t send players into the elimination completely blind, offering two methods to determine the identify of the team’s turncoat. The first involves paying attention to a post-battle sequence, where Kasugai is bombarded with the thoughts of his peers. Players can also use Vision Points to peer into the psyche of their comrades, using the prospect to narrow down the suspect list. Agreeably, each playthrough offers a randomized selection of traitors (after a default initial conspirator), boosting Dimension’s potential for longevity.
As a procedural with compelling combat, the game’s doesn’t quite succeed in its aspirations, with several mechanics not gelling together. Notably, your post-battle conversations won’t give any insight into the identity of the conspirator, with terse, undeveloped dialog centered on a handful of subjects. In execution, the writing is supposed to serve as character exposition and to arouse a sense of suspicion, but since the interchanges don’t signal the schemer, players won’t he hanging on every word.
As such, the implementation of Judgement isn’t as poignant as it should be. Erasing verdicts should have been charged with sentiment, with players hesitating before they cast their vote against an assumed friend and battle buddy. When the time comes, loss isn’t particularly heavy with the fingering of an innocent not having the emotional resonance of say, losing a close companion in Fire Emblem. Some of the sensation is dulled by Lost Dimension’s decision to have a character’s Fate Materia equipped by remaining members. Sure, it’s a beautiful metaphor for existence and it keeps players from painting themselves into a corner, but it fails to foster a sense of sorrow.
Beyond that shortcoming, there are a handful of other niggles along Lost Dimension’s otherwise absorbing trek. Load times on the PS Vita can be a bit long, and have the tendency to appear in the middle of battles, disrupting the flow of combat. Purists who prefer Japanese voice work will be disappointed by being forced into listening to the English dub. While the acting is decent and many lines are abbreviated into single word responses, an option to listen to the original voice actors would have been pleasing. Aesthetically, Lost Dimension’s character animation is adept, although those with a taste for moe might grumble about the game’s more dignified visual sensibilities.
While conversations can cue tedium, the game does strive to maintain a sense of momentum. Character powers are quite interesting, allowing players to toy with the powers of telekinesis, teleportation, pyrokinesis, and magnetism. Pleasingly, arsenals grow through a plush skill tree, allowing new and interesting ways to take out enemies. With two levels of difficulty, the level of challenge can be customized, and some will be happy to learn that Lost Dimension doesn’t demand much grinding.
Ambition is often refinement’s diametric cousin. Appreciate Lost Dimension for its departure from role-playing tenet. From a storyline that hits the ground running to the lingering cloud of skepticism that’s cast over your confederates, the game breaks new ground for the genre. But along with those creativities, Dimension occasionally disappoints, unable to offer the type of play that’s hinted at by the game’s premise. When it’s time for Judgement, the title succeeds, but here’s hoping it passes its essence onto a worthy successor.
Lost Dimension was played on the PS Vita with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: PlayStation 3, PS Vita
Release date: July 28th, 2015
Price: $39.99 via retail and PSN, each version sold separately