Hunting the enemy within.
Do you have what it takes to save the world? Lost Dimension, the latest strategy RPG from Atlus and developer Lancarse, asks that very question as you assume the role of Sho Kasugai, a gifted psychic and member of the S.E.A.L.E.D. Team, an elite unit tasked with stopping a mysterious madman named “The End” from destroying the world in a nuclear holocaust. As if hunting down and assassinating a maniacal terrorist with an entire army at his disposal wasn’t bad enough, Lost Dimension also ups the ante by forcing you to unmask traitors who’ve infiltrated the S.E.A.L.E.D. Team and erase them from the face of the earth in order to progress through the madman’s towering fortress and save the world.
The story of Lost Dimension kicks off shortly after the game’s apocalyptic antagonist launches a strike that instantly wipes 2 billion people off the face of the earth. In a last-ditch effort to overcome the looming threat of annihilation, the S.E.A.L.E.D. Team is mobilized by the United Nations to ascend The Pillar, The End’s mile-high base of operations and take him out. Given 13 days to fulfill their mission before the world is destroyed, the group must race against the clock in their fight to the top of the tower and save humanity from certain doom.
Thankfully, the S.E.A.L.E.D. Team’s soldiers are far from your ordinary grunts. Each member of this mysterious organization is gifted with special psychic powers that aid them in their fight against the numerous monsters, mechanized terrors and superhuman soldiers you’ll encounter in the game’s massive dungeon. The game’s protagonist Sho, for example, uses his powers of premonition to anticipate enemy attacks and strike first, giving him an invaluable edge in combat. Then there’s Himeno Akatsuki, a formidable force on the battlefield with the powers of pyrokinesis that can turn even the nastiest foes to heaps of ash with her searing bursts of flame. Other characters, like the stoic commando Nagi Shishiouka, and Agito Yuuki, the pompadour-sporting samurai with a heart of gold, use their powers of levitation and phase-shifting respectively to deftly maneuver around the battlefield with little care for various pitfalls and obstructions that impede other members of the party’s progress. All told, each of the S.E.A.L.E.D.’s 11 members brings an interesting mechanic to the table, and you’ll have to make good use of their unique abilities to earn the upper hand in the game’s challenging battles.
Speaking of combat, the battle mechanics of Lost Dimension are pretty much the standard strategy RPG fare you’ve come to expect from the genre, but there are some unique twists thrown in to spice things up. Players begin the battle phase by choosing six characters to take into the field. After an encounter begins, each side takes turns moving their units around the map in locations that run the gamut from ancient temple environments to mysterious factories and run-down cityscapes. The area you can move within is displayed in a circular radius that shrinks as you advance. Once you’re done moving a unit, you can choose to attack enemies within range of your equipped weapon, use items, or even forfeit your action to afford a teammate who has already acted another turn. You’ll quickly learn that working as a unit is key, as teammates who gain an emotional bond through fighting together and confiding in one another in the game’s pre-battle lobby will actively work together to assist one another in combat. If an enemy comes into range of a group of characters who trust one another and attacks a party member, he’ll be pummeled by a barrage of attacks from the entire squad. On the other hand, this mechanic works for enemies as well, forcing you to be ever wary about the location of each enemy on the field in relation to their allies, as it’s easy to become completely overwhelmed when the attacks from several enemies begin piling on just because you felt a got a little overzealous in your offense.
Making up the heart of Lost Dimension‘s experience, the battles are relatively brisk and engaging affairs. The various weapons such as pistols, shotguns, swords and psychic abilities feel like they have heft, and it’s immensely satisfying pulling off a flawless mission and earning a coveted “S” rank. The system isn’t without flaws though, as sometimes the game’s wonky collision detection can make positioning your party in crowded corridors a huge hassle. Players are incapable of passing through one another (unless they have passive flight or teleportation abilities), and sometimes what seems like an obviously clear path will be inaccessible, forcing you to waste an entire turn shifting your squad around accordingly in order to advance. Considering some missions put players up against steady swarms of enemy reinforcements that pile into the arena at every other turn, these hangups can be especially frustrating. This issue even bleeds over to the enemy AI, which seems to have trouble navigating around crowded areas, and will sometimes cause enemy units to run in place against a cluster of their allies before seemingly giving up and forfeiting an action.
Though beating back the hordes of heavily-armed enemies will certainly be the main focus of the game’s battle segments, another constant threat comes from your team’s fragile sanity. After all, saving the world from a nuclear-armed psychopath is stressful business. Much like the sanity meter from Sacnoth’s cult classic Shadow Hearts series, as your allies take damage, cast spells and experience the horrors of war they’ll steadily lose sanity points. Once a character has lost their mind completely, they’ll go berserk and become extremely powerful. In this enraged state they berserk characters are a huge threat to friend and foe alike, and one rogue player can throw one hell of a wrench into the machinery of even the best laid plans. Being mindful of your ally’s mental state and keeping a healthy stock of sanity-restoring tools in your inventory is vital to your survival, especially during the game’s more protracted encounters. However, some enemies – particularly the mammoth mechs and tanks you’ll face with maddening frequency later in the game – are such a threat that you’ll actually want to use an enraged party member’s added might to your advantage: just be sure to keep your party a safe distance from these living time bombs when the shit hits the fan.
Remember that thing I said about traitors being in the midst? These dangerous turncoats prove to be one of the most interesting parts of Lost Dimension‘s sadistic SRPG package. From the moment you first encounter The End, the madman reveals that there is a traitor among the game’s 11 protagonists in the S.E.A.L.E.D. Team. During each of the game’s chapters you’ll spend just as much time attempting to weed them out as you do fighting on the game’s varied battlegrounds. In order to progress through each stratum of The Pillar, one member of your party must be sacrificed in each area’s “Judgement Room”, and you’ll attempt to build up your camaraderie with your team while using your powers of perception to root out the traitor before the ballot is cast to determine the next member to be erased from the face of the Earth. Leads are given after battle segments, when Sho has visions that feature faces and voices from your party. Up to three of these voices will display in red and be garbled text, from there you’ll need to use both your intuition, along with a special trick to determine the enemy within your ranks.
The secret weapon used for uncovering the traitors is Sho’s Vision ability, which allows you to dive into the subconscious of your allies to learn their true intentions. These segments are presented as a brief minigame, in which players take control of Sho as you pursue the the suspected traitor’s specter through a thick fog by following the sound of their voice. Eventually, you’ll be given definitive proof as to whether or not that character is the turncoat. After you’ve gotten definitive proof as to whether or not they’re the traitor, it’s up to you to do your best to shape your party’s opinion in dialog sequences, because the possibility of having an innocent member of the group sacrificed on The End’s altar is very real, and it sucks to see them blasted into oblivion. These tense sequences are especially potent given the game’s effective writing and the cast’s solid voice performances. Thankfully, you can get an idea for who the party suspects through the Vote Forecast board, which allows you to see who is most likely to be eliminated during the next Judgement Phase.
The underlying mechanic of detecting the traitors in the group (which changes from playthrough to playthrough) and whittling down your party’s numbers in order to progress proves to be one of Lost Dimension‘s darkest and most interesting features. Faced with the very real prospect of having your favorite party members dissolved into nothingness, you’ll work hard to sway the minds of your team to make the right choice when it comes time to cast their ballots. Additionally, watching a character you’ve grown attached to become a heel after fighting alongside them for dozens of hours hits hard. Thankfully, even when a character is sacrificed you’ll still be able to pass their abilities on to another member of the team by equipping swappable ability materia they drop when killed, making death, while permanent, a little less traumatic when your most powerful heroes meet their maker.
In terms of presentation, Lost Dimension is a bit of a mixed bag. While the game certainly has a lot going for it in terms of execution, it’s impossible to deny just how dated the game looks. Aesthetically speaking, Lost Dimension‘s doomsday scenario seems well suited to the game’s barren visuals. The prevalent flat textures, stiff animations, and sparse particle effects are at odds with the game’s otherwise eye-catching character designs, which is a shame. Thankfully, the core experience is so satisfying you’ll likely overlook the game’s visual shortcomings in not time as you’re pulled into the addicting moment-to-moment gameplay. Also, the the character portraits showcased during the pre-battle lobbies are large and well animated, and the game’s handful of anime cutscenes look fantastic and match the game’s dark and ominous tone perfectly.
The SRPG genre has been lacking a sense of innovation for quite some time, and Lost Dimension manages to perform a handful of tricks to spice up what could have been just another formulaic foray in the crowded turn-based arena. By blending an addicting combat system with a large and varied cast of characters who you directly work determine that fate of, Lancarse has crafted an engaging experience that fans of the genre won’t want to pass up. Though a bit rough around the edges, those who can overlook the game’s uneven presentation will find a thoroughly dark and captivating SRPG that simply shouldn’t be missed.
Final Verdict: 4 / 5
Available on: PlayStation 3 (Reviewed), Vita (Reviewed); Publisher: Atlus ; Developer: Lancarse; Players: 1; Released: July 28, 2015 ; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita review copy of Lost Dimension provided by the game’s publisher, Atlus.