Review Context: I’ve been a longtime fan of Atlus and its game library. Being a fan of both visual novel games (Danganronpa), and Valkyria Chronicles made this game a “must play” for me.
Date of Playthrough: July 2015
Disclosure: This review is based off of a review copy provided by ATLUS.
A key factor many games try to encapsulate is the desire for gamers to replay their game over and over again. The problem is that games attempting to do this lose some personality to the decision making mechanics or randomized elements. Lost Dimension is such a game that had that focus on replayability in mind. Each playthrough will have different allies being the traitors in the story, making each playthrough feel unique to the player. Did Lost Dimension manage to capture the elusive replayability, or did it merely become a forgettable experience?
Lost Dimension has you play as Sho and his team of allies as they try to climb the tower. This team is made up of people with specialized psychic powers called “Gifts,” but upon arrival to their objective they had forgotten certain things pertaining to the mission that they will realize later on while traveling through the tower. Their main objective though is something they all remember, “To kill The End.” The End is the main antagonist of the game, a supernatural being bent on the world’s destruction. You must scale the tower killing off one team member each floor in order to progress, but don’t worry, there is a new traitor who remembers their allegiance each floor. Once you reach the end of the floor you must then enter the judgement area, where you then use all your knowledge of previous battles and how you were able to convince your allies who was the traitor to erase them. You must ferret out each traitor while training those whom you trust for that final battle.
The element of trust in the game is both a great theme integrated into everything, and at times a moot point. You can build up trust, or “Camaraderie,” with members by talking to them first between battles or by bringing and assisting them during battle. The more times each unit is in battle with other units means their Camaraderie will raise. The more Camaraderie raised with each ally can prompt golden discussions where you learn about their character. These segments are really well developed; with the dialogue being the best in the game, as they focus more on one-on-one discussions, rather than making sure everyone receives a line like in regular cutscenes. If you raise your Camaraderie enough you can then initiate character quests, which have distinct characters join you in different scenarios before the final Camaraderie discussion.
The main thing that fights against all of this trust is the randomized traitor aspect. While it does create a sense of replayability, as you won’t always get the same traitors each playthrough, it also makes you less likely to attach to a character. A game focused on bonds shouldn’t force the player to lose their strongest and closest members just because it’s randomized. There is little to no uniqueness in finding out the traitor, unless you complete all the Camaraderie segments. They just say a few things and get erased at the end of each floor. Early on it seems more like a lack of thought to one of this game’s crucial elements, and how it coincides with the trust theme. That being said, I actually enjoy the aspects surrounding the randomized traitor system, such as the “Vision” mechanics and the unpredictability.
While the randomized traitor aspect does fight against the sense of creating bonds, it also makes the game more of a fluid experience. Every traitor whittles down your fighting force until you are only a core six. The Vision mechanics help support this as you learn how to gage the trust of the group. There are four screens to the Vision aspect: The first screen tells you about the trust levels between each member. The second screen details how much a member contributes to battles, and the top three will receive an extra vote. The third screen is the vote forecast, which is used in order to show you how many votes are on a certain person between battles and how the traitor may have convinced them or you may have convinced others to vote a certain way. The person who initially receives a lot of votes is the one with the lowest trust in the group, which does ring true to its theme. The last section (fourth screen) is the most pivotal, which is where you deduce the traitor by looking at each battle. After each battle you use Sho’s precognitive abilities to listen into people’s voices. There are only three dissenting voices per floor, therefore you need to deduce who it is by using different people in battles to find the three voices. You then use the “Deep Vision” mechanic to search into the future to figure out if someone is a traitor or not.
Looking at all these screens it sounds like it can be a hassle to sift through. During the Vision sections everything is straightforward and nothing too time consuming. The only time this becomes an issue is during the “Generator.” The Generator is where you can create items to equip to your various units and you can also dissolve others for energy, which is Lost Dimension‘s currency. There is a constant need to switch back and forth between the dissolve and generate menus, especially if you have a large cast with little budget, as you try to scrape out as much energy as you can. The only menu that confuses me is the status menu, since other menus like equipment are the exact same thing, making it pointless, but that is just a minor nitpick. There is not much visual flair to the UI in this game, but it is accessible enough to not be a burden.
Not even reaching the actual combat of the game, the visual novel aspects of the character interactions are well done in the sense of development and dialogue, as long as it’s one-on-one. In larger groups every character needs a say, and it just comes off as stereotypical responses from each person, unless it’s Sho or The End. There is also never a way to fail the golden discussion; you more or less just restart if you choose the wrong thing at times. The rest of the game forces you to make one solid decision, yet certain aspects could be restarted if you wish, which sort of goes against the core aspect of the game to me. You only get to save each playthrough to one save file, you cannot save onto others, and pivotal moments force you to save before doing them. I feel like this should have been a constant thing for even the character interactions, because just as you cannot redo core events, you shouldn’t be able to magically keep on trying until you say the right thing.
Now let’s hop into the battle gameplay, which while it is technically not all that stable, the actual system itself is fun and engaging. It lags at the beginning of each quest which is quite apparent. The camera angles during the enemies’ turns at times don’t even show the enemy but a wall. The AI at times, if stuck on its own ally will not run around them and use their full maneuverability, but simply stop and end their turn. It’s technical errors such as these that are glaring imperfections in the technical side of the gameplay. My fear was that these imperfections would hinder my experience, and at times it did, but the concepts and ‘Valkyria Chronicles style’ of play really did well to offset the bad.
Each character has a movement circle, which slowly grows into a straight line the farther your unit goes. Each unit if in range of attacking another enemy unit can support one another; this means that if one unit attacks, all other units in the surrounding area can assist in the attack, chaining together long sequences of damage, but you aren’t the only ones, as enemies can do the same. The unit is then allowed to either use their Gift for attack or defense, attack with their weapon, or use their items. There is also accuracy depending on how far away from an enemy you are. Along with each character’s unique Gift, there are two gauges one needs to consider; GP and SAN. GP is just the ability points needed to perform certain moves, while SAN is a bit of a unique concept. SAN stands for the character’s sanity, as it lowers by a percentage with each move used. You can use it with an ability or use the action “defer,” which can give an ally who already used up their turn another turn at the expense of SAN and the user’s turn. When a character’s SAN is at zero, they then enter a berserk mode where you can no longer control them for three turns. Their defense lowers while their attack skyrockets, but the problem that arises is that they can attack friend and foe alike. The concept of SAN gives extra layers of depth to a combat scenario, which causes concern when at a low SAN percentage near allies, as enemy attacks also lower SAN. One ally can take down your entire team in berserk if you are not careful. I originally gave the comparison to Valkyria Chronicles style of combat, but the use of SAN as a new element creates more tense situations and sets itself apart from the Valkyria Chronicles style. While these unique concepts during fighting create an interesting dynamic, the technical fails more or less to create smoother battle experience.
The characters are quite memorable; all from their designs to their personality stereotypes, culminating in their development throughout the story. Each characters’ backstory revolves around either their personality or Gift, as it has caused them troubles or animosity, but that’s not to say some of the reasons aren’t the best. Lost Dimension is a game with a huge focus on characters over anything else. Each character has ability trees pertaining to their psychic ability, and if one is erased others may utilize the abilities pertaining to how far they developed, and depending on what side of the ability. This allows for multiple combinations of abilities to change up gameplay and create even powerful ability combinations.
The designs of the characters and the environments really stand out, whether it be their futuristic spec ops outfits, or the unique color combinations of the enemies and surroundings. The visuals may pop, but there are some very glaring flaws. Everything looks like it was designed specifically for a handheld device, and would look smoother on a handheld device. On the Playstation 3 it seems rougher around the edges and potentially pixelated at points. This awkwardness also translates to the soundtrack, as everything is a form of techno. The problem isn’t so much the music itself, as it is actually nice to listen to in certain situations, such as the somber battle themes, but it lacks diversity. There are not many songs that I even noticed during my playthrough of Lost Dimension. The voice actors on the other hand give a great performance. While nothing is truly tear-jerking, everything was done with a layer of underlying emotion. The voice actor for Sojiro gives a great performance, especially during his ending discussion. Looking back at the aesthetics and sound design of the game, I have to say, it’s a mixed bag and nothing is truly outstanding.
The melding of both the visual novel aspects and the battle gameplay create a unique game, one that I have not been privy to before. There are weak moments of course, but Lost Dimension still trudges on despite them. The themes of trust were melded well into almost every single aspect well with only a few hiccups. The visual novel aspects were interesting concepts, but flawed at points in execution and personalization. The gameplay, while technically weak, held a solid combat system which outweighed the faults. To every yin in this game there was a yang, making this game a fun but flawed experience. Sometimes mechanics are not the only thing that will make a game replayable, as it is the excitement of the story and fluid characters that make us come back for more, especially with one that has visual novel aspects. Lost Dimension is that flawed gem of a game that shines in very special moments that makes me come back for more.
Similar Games Liked:
Valkyria Chronicles (PS3)
DanganRonpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (Vita)