During this year's escapades at E3, we got the chance to try out a bunch of ATLUS's offerings at their booth, and although games such as Etrian Odyysey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight and Persona 4: Dancing All Night were easily the largest titles on display, the company also had a few surprising games as well.. Lost Dimension was one of those titles, and the longer I played the game after getting our review copy, the more and more impressed I was by the experience. Lost Dimension is a Strategy RPG, much like Valkyria Chronicles or Fire Emblem. You move your characters around the battlefield, you set them up to attack enemies, and both your skill set and your position on the battlefield has an effect on the battle as a whole.
[caption id="attachment_49192" align="alignleft" width="300"] At the end of each floor, a vote will be cast - and the loser will be erased, leaving behind only a Fate Materia. Your job is to ensure that only traitors get erased.[/caption]
Based off of the "core" gameplay alone, I could easily recommend Lost Dimension; each character is unique, and the variety in skills present between each character allows a lot of customization for anyone that is interested in really delving deep into the battle mechanics. Besides this, each character has a variety of skills that they can unlock, which can only be utilized if they either use an erased party member's Fate Materia (more on that later) or uses some of their energy by having the corresponding character for that skill "defer" their turn to them.
Positioning, and the ability for any character in proximity of the enemy that you attack assisting you, also allows for players to set up elaborate combos to make taking down the toughest of enemies a breeze, while also forcing players to quickly learn about the game's mechanics. To top it all off, which direction that you hit an enemy from can have an effect in how much damage that character deals. It's not necessarily difficult, but it is satisfying—and a loss is almost always your fault. That would be well and good, but the active gameplay is really only one half of the Lost Dimension experience; the other half is the Traitor mechanic.
The story for Lost Dimension makes this mechanic clear; following the arrival of a cataclysmic entity known only as "The End," the world's government is forced to send an elite group of ESP-wielding soldiers into his domain, The Tower, in an attempt to kill him before he sets off a wave of nuclear devices, destroying the world. To make matters worse, once your team enters the tower, he reveals that there are traitors among your teammates.
Many Strategy RPGs have a perma-death feature for characters, and the way that it's implemented varies between games. For example, in Fire Emblem, dying on the field means that a character is gone for good. In Lost Dimension, however, perma-death takes a different slant. Instead of having to worry about your party members dying while out on a mission, you're worrying about which party member that you're going to want to erase in order to get to the next floor of the enigmatic Tower. As you progress through each of the 5 floors of the tower, members of your party will remember their "true allegiances" and will plan to turn their gazes against your party in the final battle. Your job, as the sole member of your team that can sense other's intentions, is to weed out the traitor and attempt to get them erased instead of someone else. To accomplish this, you must make use of two features: the "Voice" mechanic, where you will listen to party member's "inner-voices" following a successful mission, and a minigame that lets you check characters to see whether or not that they are a traitor.
Once you've identified the traitor—usually by trying different party configurations and using basic deduction to figure out which 3 characters are that floor's "suspects," before using your vision points minigame to reveal them—your next goal is to convince the rest of your teammates of the traitor's guilt. This is where the light politics sub-game comes into play, as each character has a differing opinion as to how they judge other party members. Some of them will judge party members based off of their performance in battles, while others will trust characters based off of their affinity to each character, and some might only rely on your judgment, provided that your character, Sho, has performed well in battle.
This mechanic changes a relatively simple RPG to a more in-depth experience, as not only do you have to worry about completing each stage, but you also always have to be on the lookout for the traitors among your team's ranks. Characters that you might depend on because of their abilities are never guaranteed to make it to the next floor; being careless can lead to the deaths of valuable members of your party,and can potentially lead to your inability to complete the final mission, provided that you fail to identify the traitor enough times throughout the game.
In essence, regardless of whether you are in or out of a mission, you can never truly relax your judgments. To make matters worse, as you progress through the game you gain access to some of these character's motivations, and although some of their personality traits can be cliché, the writing for their characters overall is fantastic. Each character's special abilities doubles as a curse for them, and some of the justifications for these character's personalities is truly well done. The added touch of special scenes for characters that you've maxed affinity with if they are being erased, as well as yet another variant for these special scenes if these characters were actually the traitor, lends some surprising depth for the story despite its generally procedural experience.
[caption id="attachment_49194" align="alignleft" width="300"] Positioning is important; the more characters that are within attacking distance of the enemy that you're targeting, the better. Assists and Defers are key to success on the battlefield.[/caption]
Since the true ending for the game can't be achieved without fully maxing out every characters affinities at least once, there is some incentive for players to replay the story. Traitors are truly randomized following the game's initial playthrough, and half of each character's skill points get transferred over when you start a new game, allowing you to breeze through your second or third playthrough and leaving time to collect any hidden lore drops that might be hiding on some levels. Even without replaying the game, though, there is plenty of content to wade through. Each floor has a minimum of 5 levels, with most of them having 6 regular levels, with there being an additional 10 levels to be unlocked corresponding to each character obtain max affinity with.
Beyond the gameplay and story aspects of the title, the game is aesthetically clean, with a decent yet sterile artstyle. There is some variation in the scenery between each floor, but overall most levels look the same. Graphically, the game is especially impressive while on the Vita, character and enemy models are all very well detailed, and graphical effects are both flashy and look nice. Animations aren't anything too special, but some attacks can look fairly impressive for the handheld. On the PS3, it looks about average, but on both systems the game tends to run well, with any framerate drops still leaving the game in an easily playable state. Sound design is decent, with some tunes being especially memorable, but besides for a handful of songs, there really isn't anything here that you'll be humming for days on end.
Taken as a full product, Lost Dimension is one of the most unique Tactical RPGs that I've played in a long time. Although not everything about it is 100% perfect, enough about the game is unique and interesting that it can easily be recommended to both fans and newcomers to the genre.
Lost Dimension will be available starting July 28th at an MSRP of $39.99.
A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for this review.