It’s become something of a tradition over the years that, as a PlayStation console’s lifespan winds down, it gets treated to a litany of solid JRPGs. If you’ve so much as recently glanced at the PS3 section at your gaming retailer of choice, you already know that Sony’s third console has arrived at that phase. In light of that fact, NIS’ recent announcement that it is already packing it up and moving all development resources to PS4 was as disappointing as it was surprising, but we do still have publishers like Atlus to step in and bring us those 11th hour titles we would surely otherwise miss. One such title is Lost Dimension, also available for the PlayStation Vita, an intriguing offering from Etrian Odyssey developer Lancarse.
What Is It?
Depending on how you look at it, Lost Dimension is either a position-intensive JRPG or an outright strategy RPG, which focuses on the superhero team SEALED. Cut from much of the same cloth as the X-Men, SEALED is sent after a terrorist known only as “The End” after the latter succeeds in wiping out half of the human race. Upon arriving in The End’s tower, the rules become simple: SEALED must fight their way to the top, occasionally voting to sacrifice one of their own in order to progress. There are also traitors in their midst, so it’s in their best interests to ferret them out and get rid of them through “the judgment”.
You are Sho Kasugai, telepathic member of SEALED and apparent nemesis to The End. With Sho’s memories in a jumble, it’s not altogether clear what he did to draw The End’s anger, but that becomes a central plot point as you climb the tower. After every battle, Sho will get hit with a wave of the innermost thoughts of those he fought alongside, dropping hints at who might be ready to betray the group. Skillful use of this ability will help identify suspects or exonerate the innocent. The best tool at Sho’s disposal, however, is Deep Vision, which lets him occasionally probe a party member’s mind for a here-and-now, yes-or-no answer to their allegiance… Not that they can’t have a change of heart further down the road.
Once a traitor has been identified, it falls on Sho to try and influence the other members of the team before the judgment. To make things easier, you can go back and replay any past battle in order to maximize the number of chances you have to discuss things, which can feel rather anticlimactic when you’re merely grinding away to guarantee the dismissal of an incriminated character.
It’s a necessary concession, though, as your save file is isolated for every play through, for the sake of making the procedurally-generated treason mechanic relevant. Any time you use Deep Vision or go to the judgment, the game auto-saves, leaving you at a point of no return every time you get any semblence of certainty about anything. Just as save-scumming would make the game far too easy (and Deep Vision outright abusive), it was wisely decided that somehow imposing The End’s 13-day deadline as a gameplay mechanic would risk making the game unbeatable in the late running, as any surviving traitors will serve as an extra battle immediately prior to The End himself, thereby leaving you shorthanded at the same time. Lost Dimension, for its part, gives you every tool within reason to prevent that from occurring to an insurmountable extent.
Why Should I Care?
The concept itself is quite strong, so it falls squarely on execution to see the game succeed or fail. The combat certainly holds up its end of the bargain, even at times you find yourself grinding to gear up your party or just figure out the next traitor. Every member of SEALED has their own abilities that they bring to the table, from the pyrokinetic Himeno to the nimble teleporter (and all around bro) Agito. Formulating strategies based on those abilities, not to mention who you happen to have left, is a central focus of the game. Team attacks are also prevalent — so long as your party is all getting along, attacking a specific target should result in all other party members within range of that target getting their own attacks in. Learn to coordinate, because the more difficult enemies are built around this strategy. Once you have the overall idea figured out, combat is a blast.
The story also stays compelling throughout, with all 11 members of SEALED comprising one of the more memorable JRPG casts in recent memory. You can grow quite attached to characters, even going as far as to completing their respective character quest (Lost Dimension’s equivalent to the Persona series’ maxed-out social links) and still have them come up as a traitor at some point in the game, with all the emotional impact you would expect.
Unfortunately, this also leads to the biggest knock against Lost Dimension. For a game built upon the premise that anyone is capable of betraying a cause they believe in under the right set of circumstances, and throwing around heavy discussion about things like how “it’s a very special sort of tragedy when a sane man wants to destroy the world,” none of the betrayals ultimately do justice to the host of well-realized characters perpetrating them. The game almost exclusively focuses on the fact that the traitors are traitors rather than why that is, and the one-size-fits-all motive that is eventually alluded to is a dissatisfying copout in the face of the character development you’re treated to throughout your journey up the tower.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
Fumbled execution of the premise aside, Lost Dimension is still very much worth playing for both its satisfying battle system and genuinely endearing cast of characters. Had they done a better job of tying the individual characters’ personalities and worldviews to their betrayals, we would be here discussing an instant all-time classic that explores human behavior on an unsettling level. As it stands, Atlus has still curated a very worthwhile game for fans of the genre who are looking for something a little bit off-the-beaten-path.