Genre: Tactical Strategy / Role-Playing Game
Reviewer: John Rien
Overall: 8 = Excellent
A strange structure has landed on Earth, a harbinger of destruction in the form of a massive pillar. An eccentric being within the object, calling himself The End, soon informs the leaders of the world that he will destroy the planet in two weeks; the only way to prevent the world’s annihilation is for someone to ascend the pillar and defeat him. As these things go, it’s up to the player, as a member of the United Nations-backed SEALED team, to ascend the pillar, navigating traps and battling sentries in the process, to foil his plans and bring The End to justice. As with previous multi-platform reviews, system-specific comments can be found at the end of the write-up.
The world’s armies aren’t strong enough to stop The End, but SEALED members aren’t typical soldiers. Each character has a special ‘Gift’ that they can call upon in combat to harness the elements, revive squadmates, teleport, or levitate. Sho, the protagonist, stands out amongst the company by his ability to see glimpses of the future and into the hearts of his compatriots—or should I say “possible allies.” During their first encounter, The End informs the squad that there are traitors in the group, and that the only way to ascend the pillar is by sacrificing one person for each floor. Sho’s abilities offer him greater influence in the squad, as he is the only one capable of rooting out the traitor before entering each floor’s Judgment Room. By getting to know the others through conversation, combat, and peering into the psyches of possible suspects, he can secure the squad from any turncoats in a match of betrayal that kicks off before going up against The End.
Identifying the traitor will require completing each floor’s main and side missions. Aside from the always-welcomed experience and cash, missions are also how Sho influences the others and how he gets a better read on the traitor’s identity. In between missions, all SEALED members are stuck—some might say … sealed—in a room, which provides the perfect opportunity for Sho to get to know his squadmates. Of those who are up for a chat, the first two chosen will grow closer to Sho due to being picked before the others. If the two grow close enough, a one-time special Character Mission will become available that will fully solidify their bonds once completed. Bonding with a character doesn’t mean they won’t betray the group, however, so it’s important to keep a close eye on everyone. Even though friends still turn, it’s worth taking the time to unlock and complete the Character Missions, as the best ending requires a tight bond with everyone. Players act as an invisible hand to influence the voting process by choosing who gets to go on missions and how Sho reacts when questioned upon returning to base. Characters build trust as they fight alongside one another, and even more so whenever they lend a hand by helping to replenish another’s health, Gift Points, or Sanity. Missions also serve as a way for Sho to focus on a handful of characters, as a post-mission sequence shows the combatants’ inner thoughts racing through Sho’s mind. By taking note of those involved and what’s said, players can determine if a traitor definitely or possibly was part of the insertion team. Events can be further influenced afterwards, due to other members questioning him about whether he thinks their pick is accurate or who he has in mind.
Deciding on what to tell those wanting Sho’s input is a delicate affair. Saying something too soon might sway the group into voting out the wrong person, while waiting too long could result in them choosing someone they haven’t fought alongside and therefore do not trust. The number of times a character is used in combat also has an effect, which could leave an innocent character susceptible to being ostracized by a close group of veterans simply because that character’s Gifts didn’t sufficiently fit with the player’s style to warrant them being called upon for action. To verify any suspicions, players can spend their limited supply of Deep Vision points, earned by completing story missions, to delve into a suspect’s true self. Wandering around a surreal realm, Sho must follow floating passages to the character’s location several times before they uncover whether the person is or is not the traitor. Once they’ve been cleared of suspicions, their portrait will be marked as such and the investigation continues. By selecting different characters for missions, players can narrow down who in that floor is going to turn. It’s also possible that the first guess could be right, and if that’s the case, players can then work to isolate the traitor by sitting them out of missions and steering the others to their name during the post-mission conversations. It might take some time, but being able to replay any mission affords players the opportunity to ensure that the guilty party gets marked for judgment.
Surprisingly, the traitors do not show their colors during combat. This twist is frequently referenced by the other characters, who are equally dumbfounded that the guilty party would not take the opportunity to stab others in the back. Instead, everyone performs their tasks assigned by the player—except for when they go insane. Squadmates will turn on others during combat when confused or charmed by the enemy, but a far more serious threat is when the stress of utilizing their Gifts or being attacked causes a character to snap after a complete loss of Sanity. In this state of chaotic rage, the character will go berserk for several turns and harm anyone or anything nearby. This harsh penalty is the game’s way of slapping the player’s hand when they become sloppy. Rarely was this state caused by superior AI, as in nearly every case it was avoidable on my end by judicious use of powers and proper positioning. Granted, the enemy can sometimes give themselves a buff that allows them to get the drop on the squad, but by and large, the player has all of the tools to ensure that no one is pushed too hard.
Finding out the right point of contact, and just what to do once there, is the best part of the combat system. In many ways, it’s like a simplified version of Valkyria Chronicles. It’s tempting to draw parallels to the more recent X-Com, but there is a critical difference, which is that players manually move their characters into position. But it doesn’t go into as much depth as the other two, as there is no cover to hide behind or destroy, nor is there anything similar to an ‘overwatch’ feature to auto-attack nearby enemies whenever they appear in a character’s line of sight during the enemy’s turn. Fortunately, the game does take into account the position of the enemy and allies: attacks from the back do much more damage, and any nearby friendlies will join in with an assist attack before the enemy gets a chance to respond. Characters can also ‘defer’ their action, at the cost of some Sanity, to allow a previously moved character to have another turn. Area-of-affect attacks can also damage squadmates, so getting the right angle becomes paramount to dealing maximum damage while avoiding friendly fire. Rather disappointingly, Gifts cannot be linked together between characters—there’s no setting debris on fire by one character and having another throw launch it at enemies. Other characters’ Gifts do come into play in other ways, albeit unexpectedly: after being judged as a traitor, a laser will zap them out of existence, leaving only a cube behind. This cube represents their Materia, which can then be equipped to a surviving member who then gets access to new combination skills.
After clearing the required missions, players must then take their spot in the Judgment Room. If they’ve read the situation correctly, the guilty party will be given the majority of the vote and they will be immediately destroyed. It’s easy to game the system, but it can take a while. By isolating the traitor through dialog options and leaving them out of missions, characters will not only distrust them but also have greater voting power due to being in combat more. However, despite the uniqueness of this element, the actual process does not amount to much—it’s no Danganronpa. The whole process is over in a few minutes, and to be honest, after so much work to find and point out the guilty party beforehand, it’s a little anticlimactic. Traitors are randomized, which means no two playthroughs will be alike, which is a nice touch, but it doesn’t add much spice to the trial proceedings. But hey, at least there’s some sweet, sweet, Materia at the end.
Lost Dimension’s shortcomings seem to be the result of a limited budget. Not only is the combat system missing some of the depth of other console strategy titles—fairly standard elements at that—but there is a lot of repetition throughout the game. Whenever characters question Sho upon his return from a mission, they say the same two or three lines repeatedly; this might work for one or two characters, but it’s odd to have them all say the same thing. Similarly, characters frequently reuse the same dialog during missions. Much of the between-mission chatter is superficial, with characters simply rephrasing recent events or a variation of ‘This is crazy!’, while much of the meat is to be discovered in text notes; still, a few surprising tidbits are revealed when a character’s story is fully explored. Environments are also bland, with simple textures and basic designs throughout. But for all of its shortcomings, the wide range of abilities found within the Gifts’ three skill branches manages to make each character an asset during combat, which often isn’t the case. And while the investigative and trial elements aren’t terribly involved, they are interesting nonetheless.
Those debating between the PlayStation 3 or PlayStation Vita version should definitely go with the PS3 version. Both have odd performance issues, such as having to lead each attack and character models loading during conversations, but the PS Vita version chugs a bit. And even though the touchscreen would make menu navigation much quicker, it is oddly unsupported. The core of both games is the same, however, so the handheld version is definitely a strong option for those wanting to give the game a shot.
Lost Dimension has one of the best premises of any game that I’ve played, and it does an admirable job of living up to it. Combat is satisfying but missing a few key elements, such as the ability to seek cover or sacrifice movement to attack enemies during their turn, and dialog is often repeated and lacking the depth found in text dossiers. Even though both versions suffer from minor performance issues, the PS Vita version fares the worst, so dual platform owners should consider going with the PS3 version. That said, the game is very addictive, with fast missions, loads of great skills, and an intriguing mystery that keeps the player guessing throughout their 30-odd hours within the pillar. If Atlus and Lancarse are up for a sequel, I’m definitely game.
(This review is based on a copy provided by the publisher.)