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Genre: Turn-Based Strategy RPG
Release Date: 07/28/15
Well, here we are, nearly a month removed from our initial coverage of Lost Dimension in a 10 Thoughts piece, and some fifty hours of gameplay later, ready to review the overall experience. It’s been an interesting one, to say the least, though that’s hardly surprising; developer FuRyu, while mostly unknown in the US, has at least one translated title to their name in Unchained Blades, and anyone who’s played that game knows that FuRyu has an unconventional side to their work. Lost Dimension is no different, as it’s essentially a turn-based gridless RPG that features elements of the party game Mafia (or Werewolf if you’d rather) attached to a sci-fi storyline with relationship-building elements thrown in. In short, it feels like Valkyria Chronicles and DanganRonpa had a kid. Once you get into the game, however, you find that it’s a whole lot more than the sum of its parts, and it’s actually a fairly robust experience across the board. Whether or not that robust experience is your cup of tea will be entirely up to you, of course, but I personally enjoyed it quite a bit, so let’s dig into the game a bit and see if you will as well.
On Beautiful Betrayal
The plot of Lost Dimension is initially quite simple, but becomes rapidly more complex as the game progresses. The story begins in media res, as the world is under attack by a man simply known as “The End,” who has destroyed a significant part of the world and issued an ultimatum to the world’s leaders: he intends to destroy the world in a little shy of two weeks, and the only way to stop him is to ascend The Pillar he resides within and kill him. The world governments deploy a group of specially gifted warriors, dubbed SEALED, to kill The End, but upon entering The Pillar, The End informs them that they must not only ascend it and kill him, but that there is also a traitor within their midst, and the team must find the traitor and erase them before they will be allowed to continue onward. The player takes on the role of Sho Kasugai, the de facto leader of the assault squad, and the only person properly equipped to deal with the traitor, due to his ability to see visions of the future. While Sho initially has difficulty remembering what his powers even are (due to memory tampering performed on everyone by The End), he eventually realizes he has the power of “vision,” which lets him predict events, influence actions, and see into the minds of his comrades to narrow down who might be the traitor. The plot, then, becomes one of attempting to figure out who amongst your team would betray the others, finding your way to the top of The Pillar, and putting an end to The End once and for all to save the world from destruction.
The first time, anyway.
What’s really interesting about the storyline of Lost Dimension is that while the core narrative of the story is basically identical every time you play through it, you’ll need to play through it multiple times to really understand just what’s going on. Your first playthrough will give you a lot of the core backstory and will hint towards something greater, through Sho’s interactions with The End (as the latter really seems to hate the former for some reason), interactions with your team and so on, but the second playthrough is where things really start to get interesting. The game also does a lot with its character relationships, as Sho will eventually start to get closer to each member of the team, and through interacting with them will unlock more of their past and their reasons for wanting to defeat The End and save the world. Each character is actually fairly interesting once you start digging into their backstories, and all of them have issues they have to deal with due to their powers that you’ll learn about as you follow their paths to completion. This, in turn, makes the fact that someone will betray you even worse, as you’ll eventually see favored characters turn against the team, and since the betrayers are random, no one is truly safe from turning against their allies. It’s an interesting dynamic, especially late in the game when Sho and his allies have begun to bond with one another and you’re really shown what kind of an impact that has on Sho when they’re discovered. The narrative isn’t perfect, mind you; because of the random nature of the betrayal system, some of the multi-person dialogue sequences come across as depersonalized because the game has to keep them non-specific in case certain characters are no longer available, and the true ending is honestly kind of silly and unspecific, but overall, it’s a well-crafted tale, and one that keeps the game going well to the end.
Visually, Lost Dimension either looks good or amazing depending on the console you’re playing it on. Both versions feature some strong character modeling and animation quality, as well as some high quality visuals in the game world and special effects from characters using their Gifts and such. The difference honestly comes from the presentation of the visuals and the consoles in question, as the Vita version, though less impressive, looks fantastic on the system, while the PS3 version looks good, but not at the top tier other games have reached in the past. To put it another way, the Vita version looks excellent relative to other Vita titles, while the PS3 version looks like an upscaled port of the Vita version; it’s still pleasant to look at, but you can tell it’s not quite what the console can handle. Aurally, the game is generally top-notch, starting with a soundtrack that’s honestly pretty solid from beginning to end. The intro and ending themes in particular are excellent, and the normal tracks that play in combat and at rest are also quite good, if not quite “track down the soundtrack NOW” quality. The voice cast also does an excellent job here, and while I’ve seen plenty of complaints about them online, honestly their roles are played quite well in context. The whole cast does a good job of giving life to their characters, and the majority of the cast fit their performances to what you’d expect with little trouble. The various and sundry effects are also generally solid, and while a few of the gunfire and impact sounds are more muted than you’d expect, on the whole everything works out fine.
On Battles and Betrayals
At its core, Lost Dimension is primarily a turn-based strategy game, and it wears that crown pretty fittingly. Combat is set up in a way where every team gets its turn first, so you spend your turn moving your allies as you see fit, then the enemies get to move all their characters around as needed, and you can swap through your team to move them in any order you wish. The game is gridless, instead showing a movement circle around your chosen character so you can see their full range of motion, allowing you an idea of where they can move so you can position them appropriately. General actions are universal in combat; characters can be moved with the left stick while the point of view rotates with the right stick, X confirms actions while Circle cancels them, and you can bring up a full view of the map, check stats of everyone on the board and so on whenever you wish during your own turn. When you’re dictating actions, each character can attack any enemy within range of their weapon, use Gifts AKA special attacks for a variety of effects, use items or end their turn without acting as needed. If you’ve played a turn-based strategy game ever you’ll pick this all up really quickly, though the game is also nice enough to provide a mandatory tutorial the first time you pick it up to teach you how everything works, so even if you’re new to the genre, you’ll be ready to go within minutes.
Combat is not without its own special features, of course, which come mostly from the Gifts, the Sanity system, Assistance actions and Deferral actions. Each character has their own unique Gifts they bring into battle, based around their core capabilities, so for example Sho’s Gift is “Vision,” so he has abilities relating to probability management and prediction, Nagi’s Gift is “Levitation,” so she has abilities relating to movement and gravity manipulation, and so on. These Gifts change quite a bit of the experience as you play, as each character plays far differently from the others, meaning your tactics will change dramatically depending on your team composition. However, as you’ll also lose party members while traversing The Pillar, any character who is lost leaves behind a Materia that can be equipped to any character, thus equipping the Gifts associated to it in turn, giving them added benefits that further expand what you can do in combat. When characters are alive, at the end of battle they’ll earn experience points whether they participated (at full value) or not (at a slight reduction), thus earning them higher levels. Every other level, and occasionally after certain battles, they will earn Gift Experience, which they can use to learn Gifts from three categories of skills based on their Gift type. If a character is then erased, they will in turn drop up to three Materia (based on what skills you’ve purchased) that can be equipped to anyone, though Materia cannot be improved any further once their owners are erased. Also, each character some skills that act as combination Gifts; essentially, if you equip specific Materia to the character, that Materia and the character’s inherent Gifts will, in turn, interact, allowing them to use skills that combine both into powerful special abilities. It doesn’t quite make up for losing characters, especially characters you like, but it does mean you won’t lose their skills, if nothing else.
When characters use their Gifts, they lose some energy in their Gift pool, which can essentially be thought of as a magic bar, but they also lose some of their Sanity, due to the mental stress of using Gifts. Sanity, in fact, can be affected by several things, such as taking an attack (which reduces it, even if no damage is incurred), Deferring a turn (which reduces it) or resting for a turn (which improves it), and some Gifts can positively or negatively impact it. The goal, however, is to ensure it doesn’t bottom out, as when it does, two things happen: first, the person who bottoms out goes Berserk, attacking anything around them for significantly more damage for three turns before returning to a stunned state, and second, it mentally harms all allies around the character, lowering their morale and stats as a result. This can be beneficial (and one Trophy even revolves around it) but it’s mostly a bad thing and should be avoided. For those asking, “Well why would I Defer if it impacts Sanity?” the answer is, because it can actually be quite useful, as it essentially ends one character’s turn to give a character who has already acted a second action, at the cost of ten Sanity to the Deferring character. This has several key uses, including allowing characters to move forward faster in long-distance stages, allowing support characters to cast more support skills, allowing damage dealers a second turn to hurt more enemies and more, depending on what you’re trying to do. Deferring can also be very useful when it comes down to positioning characters, since positioning is key to winning some battles, thanks to allied actions. Any time a character attacks an enemy (or vice-versa), any ally in range who is at least somewhat agreeable to that character will also attempt an attack, dealing more damage to the enemy in the process. This is a big deal, especially against powerful enemies, as being able to chain up to six attacks off of one action can deal a huge chunk of damage to an enemy, and can change the face of a battle in a flash, regardless of which side pulls it off.
When not in battle, your home base acts as a hub that allows you the standard activities you’d expect. You can talk to your party members, so long as they have one of three icons next to their name: a blue icon, indicating the conversation will improve their opinion of you, a white icon, which provides narrative but no boosts, or a gold icon, which advances the story of the chosen character and lets you know more about them. After the first time you’ve fought a battle blue icons will appear next to some characters, indicating you can talk to them, though after the first two conversations all the rest turn white. Gold icons appear after you’ve improved someone’s opinion of you by a set amount, and stay there until you speak with them. You can also visit the Generator, which acts as the shop in this game, transmuting energy you acquire during combat into items and items into energy as needed. You’re also able to jump into battles from here via the gateway, allowing you to take on any battles available, even battles you’ve fought before in case you want to grind out levels or improve your rankings on a battle (since higher rankings reward you with more loot). There’s also an option to check in with your party members as needed to see their stats, spend Gift Experience, change loadouts and more, and you can even poke around in the notes and lore you find as the game progresses as you wish.
A good amount of your time here, once you complete the first floor, will be spent in the Vision menu, as this is the place you’ll go to try and figure out who the traitor is on each floor. Essentially, the Vision menu gives you four screens of data to peruse: one that tells you everyone’s relationship to everyone else, one that tells you who has the highest battle rankings, one that tells you who’s most likely to be erased next, and one that tells you the Vision results of each battle you’ve gone through while on the current floor. The last one is the most telling, because after every battle, Sho will see the thoughts of each person on the current team, and will see anywhere from zero to three distorted visions per battle. These distorted visions will, in turn, tell you how many potential traitors were in the combat group you just used, which is where the Mafia/Werewolf comparisons come in. You’ll have to take different compositions of teams into battle to narrow down the potential traitors (as each floor features three), then flag them from the Vision menu, as it helpfully allows you to color-code safe, risky and suspect party members. Once you have your three suspects, you can then spend a Vision Point (which are earned by completing main quests) to dive into their mind to confirm if they’re the traitor. This takes the form of a third-person open-world environment, where you’ll have to chase down the potential suspect three times by following their voice (literally, as their words appear in the air from the direction they ran) until you catch up to them. Once you’ve confirmed your traitor, you’ll then have to utilize the voting and battle results screens to confirm that the majority of the team is voting the way you want. Now, anyone who trusts you will ask you after battle who you think the traitor is, which allows you to point them in the right direction (unless you tell them you think they are the traitor, which just upsets them), but you can also avoid using the traitor for a few battles while utilizing your lowest ranked members to also influence votes, since people tend to vote off underperforming members. It’s an interesting system all in all, and one that will tax your logical deduction skills as you strive to figure out just who is the traitor this time.
On The Nature of Existence, And Whether This Should, In Your Library
You can get through your first playthrough of Lost Dimension in around fifteen to twenty hours, depending on how much time you spend on Vision analysis and grinding, though this is one of the very few games out there where a second playthrough isn’t just recommended, but mandatory to see everything through. The game does offer a New Game Plus feature, fortunately, which will carry over a set amount of Gift Experience per level you’ve earned (one per every other level the first time, one per level the second time) as well as about ten percent of the money you earned in your prior playthrough, so you won’t be plowing through enemies mercilessly, but you’ll be much better prepared to wreck stuff at least. There are also an extensive amount of Trophies to unlock, many of which demand a second playthrough, since you won’t be able to max every relationship in a single session or unlock all of the notes, for instance. The game also offers three endings to see, based on which playthrough you’re on and whether you missed a traitor on any floor (which defaults you to the worst ending), so that’s also an incentive. The Japanese version of the game also offers an extensive amount of DLC, including costumes and missions, and while none of it is available just yet, it’ll add even more of a reason to come back to the game for those who are invested in what the game does.
There’s only one really notable flaw to Lost Dimension, surprisingly enough, which is that the game honestly isn’t very challenging mechanically, but is very challenging from a logical perspective, which may throw players off. The reality is, the game kind of encourages grinding to make progress, though not from the normal “grind to level up” perspective; rather, it’s better to grind while you’re figuring out who the traitor is so that you can easily blast through missions you’ve completed in the past, since this allows you to figure out who’s who before you tackle the important missions. Since the game gives you access to any mission you’ve completed up to that point, later floors will often allow you the chance to visit the hardest mission from the prior floor and, since you’ll have much better gear, smoke it repeatedly to narrow down your list of suspects. On the other hand, the logic puzzle that is figuring out who your traitor is can be vexing, since it requires keeping track of which compositions of people generate what result. Even with the Vision menu, this can be frustrating for those who aren’t used to logic puzzles, and even when I walked through the process during a Livestream of the first floor, some of the viewers admitted they were having trouble really parsing the whole process. This is really one of those games that is going to appeal to someone who loves logical puzzles (like me), but may not appeal to the traditional strategy game fan, which is perfectly fine, but it bears mentioning in case you are that person. Beyond that, the game might be a little short for some, as I cleared the entire thing, Trophies and all, inside of fifty hours, and the game sometimes takes a bit to load even as an installed game, but that’s about it.
Lost Dimension is honestly a really interesting idea wrapped around a game that’s good at executing that concept, and while the end result is more logic heavy than strategy heavy, it’s a great experience overall, one I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone looking for something different, or failing that, an SRPG to spend some time with. The narrative is mostly top notch, the visuals and audio are stylish and well assembled, and the mechanics are easy enough to understand within minutes but expansive enough to allow you a lot of room to plan. The game does a lot of its own special things that make it unique, from Defer turns to allied assistance to the Gift system and beyond, and between the interesting and fairly innovative Vision and traitor mechanics and the degree of depth that basically requires a second playthrough, the game does a lot to make it worth owning. The narrative can be generic at times and doesn’t end on the best note, the Vita version looks notably better in context than the PS3 version, the game might be a culture shock due to its heavy focus on logic and its ease in combat (at times), and it might be a bit short and loading heavy for some to deal with, but surprisingly, none of this ends up being game-breaking. To be frank, I plowed through the game in its entirety and still want to boot it up for a third go, because Lost Dimension is one of the more imaginative and interesting games to come out in a while. If you like SRPG’s, logic puzzles, or a good old game of Mafia or Werewolf, you’ll find that Lost Dimension is a game that should be in your library sooner rather than later.
Short Attention Span Summary:
Lost Dimension is one of the most surprising and interesting games to come out this year, at the very least, and while its logic-heavy setup might not be for everyone, it’s a game that’s easy to recommend if you’re even the least bit curious about it. The plot is mostly well written and executed, the visuals and audio are strong, and the gameplay is easily understood but offers plenty of flexibility for the strategists out there. The Gift, Defer and allied assist systems add a lot to the experience mechanically, and this is one of the very few games on the market that demands a second playthrough and supplements doing so in a way that makes it worthwhile, which should make the game a worthwhile endeavor for anyone looking for value in their experience. On the downside, the narrative can be impersonal at times and the ending isn’t great, the Vita version is more contextually impressive visually than the PS3 version, the game is less challenging mechanically and more challenging logically than players might expect, and there are some minor issues with length expectation and loading that may impact the game for some players. Overall, though, Lost Dimension is a surprisingly strong game, one that will almost definitely be a sleep hit for Atlus this year, and it’s well worth checking out, if for no other reason than it does something you’re almost certainly never seen before, and it does it very, very well.