Let me get one thing out of the way up-front: despite watching trailers and reading a good bit about it, until about a week ago, I still really didn’t have a clear idea of what Lost Dimension was supposed to be. On a base level it looks like an odd cross between Valkyria Chronicles and Danganronpa, but the more you learn about it, the harder it is to really figure out what, exactly, the game is trying to do without sitting down and playing it at some point. Well, the fates have smiled upon me in that case, because Atlus provided us with an advance copy of Lost Dimension, and I’ve taken the chance to put it through its paces… and it’s honestly a pretty unique experience. While I can’t really talk about a lot of what’s going on in the game, I can give you a little better of a picture of what’s going on with it, and hopefully, convince you to take a look at it if you haven’t already, as it’s very interesting, and honestly pretty solid.
1.) The basic plot of the game can essentially be summed up as such: a tower appears on Earth one day and starts absolutely obliterating humanity, and a dude named The End (yup) appears before the world’s leaders with an ultimatum: kill me in thirteen days, or the world ends. The world’s leaders gather up a team of eleven experimental Gift users from around the world and send them, as a team, into the tower, with one goal: kill The End to save the world. Of course, this goes to hell almost immediately; upon entering the tower, the team is informed by The End that they’ve had their memories tampered with a bit, and oh yeah, one of them is a traitor and they’ll need to figure out who it is and eliminate them by The End’s rules if they want to progress. Honestly, the concept is pretty great, especially since there’s just enough room there to create doubt amongst the team, and to make the player wonder if The End isn’t manipulating things a bit. The plot is mostly driven by player interactions, honestly, so you’ll only get out of it what you put into it, but so far, the game makes it a point to give you plenty of opportunities to make friends, and it’s actually pretty good at giving you reasons to do this thing, so as of this point, the plot gets no complaints.
2.) Part of that comes from the fact that there are eleven characters in the cast, each of whom has their own unique personality… which may or may not make them convincing traitors in your eyes as the game goes on. The cast is fairly eclectic, from characters like Himeno, a pyrokenetic with a no-nonsense and icy personality, Mana, a super-strong brawler with an obsession with all things cute, Nagi, a levitating career soldier, and Agito, a Nightcrawler-like teleporter who’s friendly to the point of absurdity, among others, and this cast helps keep the game moving. The game puts a pretty good amount of focus on making friends with the cast, both out of necessity (so that they’ll listen when you tell them who the traitor is and support you in battle) and out of friendliness (to learn more about them), and each of the cast members seems to have a pretty in-depth backstory to make it worth your time. Of course, this also means that it’ll hurt more if someone you like turns on you, which is part of the point, but it’s no less frustrating when it happens.
3.) Lost Dimension looks solid on both the Vita and PS3; the PS3 version looks like an upscaled version of the Vita game, but it looks solid enough that you’ll not notice it too much, and it looks outstanding on the Vita all in all. Characters have varied animations based on the Gifts and Materia they’re using, and everyone on your team looks unique enough that you can pick them out almost instantly, even though they have similar color schemes of blue and white across the board. Each floor you visit also has a unique aesthetic, which helps keep things interesting, and while enemies seem to palette-swap a bit as you move up the tower, they also see some minor aesthetic changes that, while not significant, keep them from feeling rehashed. Aurally, while some have criticized the voice work, I rather like it; every character’s voice helps to identify their personality well, and you’ll generally have a good idea of what a person is like from their voice, which helps a lot. The music is also pretty solid, though it can repeat a bit as you go, and the sound effects are mostly pretty decent, though combat effects can sound muted at times. Gift effects generally have the best aural impact of the lot, while melee combat can sound a bit dull in places; it’s a minor thing, given that this isn’t an action game, though it is noticeable.
4.) About half of your time with the game, so far, seems to be spent on combat, which can essentially be likened to a simplified Valkyria Chronicles or, for those who remember it, Operation Darkness. Characters are allowed to move freely across the game world, as there’s no grid to speak of; instead, you’re given a circle of movement around the character, and you can move anywhere within it that your character can reach before stopping. When in range of an enemy, the game will highlight the enemies you can hit in blue, and you can attack any single enemy in range with the chosen character. Turns are based on team movement, meaning that your entire team can act before the enemy team goes, so you can plan out complex character placement before passing your turn to the enemy, and link up multiple allies on a single enemy to pummel the heck out of it, or place your team outside of the enemy’s range to goad them into attacking as you see fit. On a base level, the combat is interesting in structure, and later floors take advantage of the mechanics with split-up floors and pits and such, to force you to take full advantage of the gameplay, so there’s definitely a bit of planning you’ll need to do in advance of making your moves.
5.) The devil’s in the details, though, and there are a lot of interesting details to keep in mind here. For one thing, there’s a team response and counter system in play here; essentially, enemies can counter your attack (and vice-versa) if range allows for it, at a lower percentage chance, so it’s possible you might be at risk if you attack an enemy of dying from a counter, or again, vice-versa, meaning there are inherently beneficial risks you can take to come out ahead. Also, any character will jump in to add in their own attack on an enemy if they’re in range when another character attacks, meaning that you can pile multiple allies on a particularly strong enemy to floor it, or add more attacks to an enemy by having a character attack on their own, then having another attack with the first character contributing an add-on shot for good measure. Gifts also play a big part in the game, as each character has their own skills that can make a big difference in battle. From wide-range AOE attacks, to skills that refute counters or stop enemy attacks in their tracks, to healing and buffs, to inherent skills that allow characters to ignore terrain and beyond, your team has a lot of bonuses that allow them to exploit battles in unique ways, and they only learn more as you go. Each party member also has their own weapon style, from longer range pistols, to short-range but high-damage shotguns to powerful melee weapons, which allow them unique combat advantages based on what they’re up against. It can be very easy to wipe out a couple enemies in the first turn, or to lose a party member to poor utilization of their skills through placement, so there’s a lot more here to the combat than it first seems, and proper character consideration based on level layout is paramount.
6.) The other half of the game is spent screwing around in the safe zone on each floor, which acts as something of a hub for your characters to plan for upcoming missions. At first, there’s not a lot to do here beyond the basics. You’re introduced to the Generator early on, which lets you exchange currency for items or grind down items for currency as needed; it’s essentially the vendor, and its contents change every floor in preparation for the danger of the coming combat, so you’ll always have top-notch gear ready for you as you go. You can also talk to your teammates here; while they’ll only have new things to say after successfully completing a mission for the first time, the first two allies you speak to will see an improvement of opinion when you do so, so making the appropriate choice here can reap benefits (though bringing them into battle with you also improves this thing). Finally, you’ll also be able to select your mission from here, and you can visit any mission that’s available on any floor you’ve seen, so you can go through lower-level missions for easy grinding (since money and experience are universally handed out at the end of the mission) or repeat missions for higher rankings, which can earn you free items if you perform well.
7.) Once you get to the second floor, the game will also open up the Vision system, which allows you to try and figure out who among your party might be a traitor (since there’s a new one on every floor). This menu allows you access to four screens that tell you everything you need to know about your allies. The first measures how well party members feel about you, and each other, so you’ll know how likely they are to listen to you when you point the finger, and who you’ll have to work on to impress them. The second shows you how highly ranked each party member is in battle; at the end of combat, an overall score is assigned to the team based on team performance, and that value is added to each participant’s total value, so the more someone goes into battle, the higher it is (and of course, your character’s will always be the highest). This often influences who the team is likely to point the finger at; lower performers tend to be singled out because, well, they’re not pulling their weight, so they’re clearly the traitor (though YOU decide who goes into battle, so….). The third screen tells you who’s most likely to be voted as the traitor when the next vote comes around, so you can plan ahead if it’s not correct. The final screen is most important, though, as it will show you your party composition history, and traitor flags. Essentially, at the end of every battle, you’ll read the emotional state of the party, and if any of them might be the traitor, you get a distorted read, implying there’s a traitor there. The key is, three members per floor will always trigger as POSSIBLE traitors, but generally, only ONE of them actually IS the traitor. How you handle this is pretty inventive: first, you’ll have to bring varied teams into battle to narrow down who among the team are the possible traitors, using process of elimination tactics to narrow down your options. Then, you can spend a Vision Point (which you’ll earn three of per floor) to deep dive into the psyche of a potential traitor, which is a third-person mini-game where you run towards the image of the suspect until you corner them, and discover that they’re either clean… or a traitor. It’s a neat concept that really sets Lost Dimension apart from other games, and you’ll have to put some real thought into narrowing down your choices, finding the traitor, and convincing the team of guilt (two members will ask about your opinion after most battles), especially if the team members aren’t super fond of you. Time will tell how it holds up into the end-game, when your options are lower and everyone loves you, but in the early going it’s pretty cool.
8.) As mentioned previously, your characters earn experience at the end of battle; regardless of performance, the main team will earn a set value for completing the mission, while those you left behind will earn a smaller amount, to keep them somewhat close to consistent. Every level, characters will see a general statistical improvement, and every other level, they’ll earn a point that can be committed to Gift improvement. Participating in certain battles can also earn two extra points, so you’ll have to weigh who gets those points a bit, since it’s possible that person could turn on you later… but their Gifts might be useful in the long-run. Also, while losing a party member can be a detriment, the game works around this somewhat by providing a Materia of the Gift set the deceased character had maxed out to you on the following floor, which can be equipped to any character with a free Materia slot. Each Materia has a specific benefit to it, either as an inherent skill or a usable one, and comes with all the skills you bought at the levels they last had, and while you can’t improve them any further by that point, they can still be useful on other party members. Additionally, each party member has some inherent skills they can only learn with a specific Materia equipped, which often gives you a compelling reason to set a Materia to a specific person. In other words, if you spend a good amount of time leveling people before going on to Judgement, you’ll find that the loss of party members only becomes noticeable by the change in available weaponry, though the emotional impact may be a bit more severe.
9.) Beyond the above, there are other things that are worth noting as you progress through the game. While I’ve not seen the late or post-game content, from general research, there are multiple endings to see and the game offers a New Game Plus mode, so those who are looking to see and do everything in their games will probably appreciate that. Additionally, since the traitors in each playthrough are randomized, you’ll find that playing through the game multiple times can end up with different narrative paths as you go, so if you want to see the game through with each character, you’ll almost have to play through the game multiple times to see everything here. The game also only has one default difficulty setting, but dedicated players will note that you can repeat missions as often as you wish, so the game can be as easy or as hard as you want it to be, depending on how dedicated you are to grinding; by the end of the second floor, for example, I was taking out first-floor missions in a single turn in some cases, so you’ve got plenty of incentive to play the game your way.
10.) Lost Dimension is one of those games that might fly under your radar, but so far, honestly, if the game holds out as well as it has across the whole, that’ll be a mistake, as it’s pretty unique and interesting, and it’s a good example of what JRPG’s can do when they don’t hold to conventions. There are definitely some sticking points here; it seems like it’s possible, for those who enjoy a grind, to use grinding out lower floors as a way to figure out traitors and nerf their battle performance to get the results you want, for example, and the randomized nature of the traitor system could end up being a hassle if it leaves you with poor weapon balance or forces you to play through the game multiple times to save one person (though you don’t have to finger the correct person to advance…). There are also only six normal missions per floor, so far, and while that can change based on various factors, depending on how many floors the game offers, the overall game might be a bit shorter than some might want. Still, there’s a lot of promise in the game so far, and if the game can maintain that promise until the end, it’ll end up being a sleeper hit, and one you’ll want to pick up. We’ll get back to you closer to the release with a full review here at Diehard GameFAN, so check back with us closer to the game’s release on July 28th.
Tags: Atlus, JRPG, Lost Dimension, playstation vita, Sony PS3