Lost Dimension is a tactical RPG that initially caught my attention due to one of its biggest gameplay elements — the fact that in order to progress through the game, you have to eliminate one of your teammates.
Reading the description of how you have to vote with your teammates on who is to be erased from existence in a manner that reminded me of the Survivor reality TV series (yeah, I'm old) I thought the game was worth checking out. Unfortunately, while the game is full of good ideas and concepts, that's about all it has going for it.
The plot of Lost Dimension is almost laughably simplistic. A villainous madman named The End (seriously?) suddenly appears, killing billions in a world-wide missile strike. He then informs the world leaders that he has his finger on a button to launch the world's nuclear missiles. In order to stop him, humanity has 13 days to climb The End's tower o' death — that has randomly appeared out of nowhere — and defeat him.
A group of 11 psychics from the special forces team "S. E. A. L. E. D." manage to infiltrate the tower but are subsequently trapped and told that in order to progress through the tower's levels, they must sacrifice one of their own.
They are also informed that someone amongst them is a traitor.
The game is largely divided into 2 parts: the battle stages where you battle enemies in a tactical RPG style, and the main hub where you do pretty much everything else, like converse with your teammates and get to know them, create weapons using energy obtained from enemies, level up your teammates' powers, and try to determine the traitor amongst your team.
The battle stages in Lost Dimension were fairly well-balanced. You can only use 6 members, and each one has their own special abilities. Your characters have a variety of different psychic powers, like levitation, pyrokinesis, teleportation, healing, buffing, and so forth, and each has their distinct benefits and drawbacks. The fact that one of them is a traitor keeps you from using the same characters over and over, lest you risk giving the wrong character a high approval rating (See below).
The enemies are strong enough that beating them one on one is rather difficult, however, you can turn the tide in your favour by using powers and enlisting the aid of your allies. If a character attacks an enemy that is within attacking range of another ally, the ally will execute a support attack. However, this feature applies to the enemies as well. More often than not, you will be at a distinct disadvantage, leading to an interesting tactical element in considering where you place your teammates and trying to predict how the enemy, in its limited AI, will move.
Aside from your standard hit points and psychic points, characters have sanity points as well. If a character's sanity points drop below zero, they go berserk, attacking anything around them, including their teammates. Using powers or taking damage causes a character's sanity level to drop, so the balance between having to use powers to even the playing field and risking having a character go berserk lends itself to a certain level of tension in the game, which is enjoyable.
A character can only execute a single action after moving, be it attacking, using an item, or a special power. While it seemed very limiting and frustrating at first, this limitation did make things more interesting. Very often, the best choice in a situation would be to send a character into battle, knowing they would get pummelled, so you could turn the tide of battle in your next turn.
Characters also have the universal ability to give up their action to allow another character whose turn is already up to go again. This costs sanity points, but it widens the available options your have in terms of actions you can take.
There is a relatively colourful collection of characters in Lost Dimension. However, while they're all described as "broken," most are your generic character tropes. In fact, aside from one character who could genuinely be described as "broken," almost every character falls into the stereotype of "they could be perfectly normal except for reason X." The pyrokinetic is distant and cold because she couldn't control her powers as a child, the telekinetic was bullied when he was younger and assumes the worst out of everything, the guy who controls metal was born into wealth and can't help but look down upon everything.
The characters all have their backstories and through the game, you get to know them and learn to relate to them, but it's all clouded by the fact that you know that there is a traitor in the midst and that you know you're going to have to vote to eliminate some of them as the game progresses.
I will admit that later on in the game, as the number of characters dwindled and each character opened up and revealed their stories to me, I felt a twinge of regret when it came time to eliminate one of them. It's like Stockholm syndrome, where spending time with a (potential) enemy makes you slowly begin to relate to them. However, whether or not you'll connect with the characters and this will be an effective element or not is a relative matter, and I wouldn't be surprised if a good number of players end up putting the game down before it reaches a point where they will feel any emotional investment in the other members of their team.
The Elimination Game
The biggest selling point of Lost Dimension is the elimination process. Because the plot demands it, in order to progress through the tower, you and your teammates are forced to vote on and eliminate one of your group. This is quite an interesting gameplay element in theory. However, while the idea holds a great deal of potential, in practice, it's relatively straightforward.
Basically, for each level of the tower, there are 3 suspected traitors. By completing a mission, you are shown how many suspects were in your team through a psychic vision, but never exactly who the suspects are. By switching around members, you can deduce who the suspects are by the number of suspects in your vision. You can then use Vision Points — which are obtained by completing specific missions — to dive into a suspected character's psyche and deduce whether they are the traitor or not.
All in all, it's an interesting logic puzzle element to the game. In the first play-through, who the traitors are for each level is apparently set, but by clearing the game and loading the clear data, the traitors become randomised, adding to the challenge.
How the votes go is a fairly straightforward equation. Characters will vote against whoever has the lowest approval rating. You can control how characters will vote by manipulating their approval rating among your teammates - there's even a menu where you can see how everyone is likely to vote. Healing others, defeating enemies, and other positive actions will increase a character's standing, while getting knocked out, going berserk, or hitting an ally with an area attack will cause characters to become suspicious.
What this means is, once you know who the traitor is, all you have to do is not take them on any missions and their approval rating will drop of its own accord. You can redo missions you've already completed, so once you've determined the traitor for that level, getting everyone to vote against them is almost too easy. For every level, I wound up with a landslide vote.
The 3 members with the overall top performance rating in missions get to vote twice, but since your character is always on the roster, you inevitably end up being one of the members with extra votes. It would have been interesting if there were some more random variables added in how each character would chosoe to vote.
Eliminating a character does not completely handicap you in terms of mission tactics, though, as you are given an item that contains the eliminated character's powers that can be equipped and used by a remaining character. But you can't level up the eliminated character's powers anymore, so if you end up losing one of the more tactically powerful characters early on, it can probably make the game a bit more difficult.
Eliminating the wrong character does not prevent you from moving on to the next level of the tower, however, it does make things much harder for you down the line, as you will end up with multiple traitors on your team.
Good Ideas, Mediocre Execution
Lost Dimension is a game full of novel ideas — from the voting and the logic puzzle of finding out who the traitors are, to the specific tactical elements, like the limited actions, the sanity points, and the ability to give another character a second move. Unfortunately, mashing them all together does not make for a masterpiece of a game. Knowing there's a traitor on your team negates a lot of the empathy you might feel in having to eliminate one of them, the voting system is easily rigged with very little effort, a lot of the story falls apart in the face of simple logic, and the game does very little to try to defend itself.
Aside from the core concept, the game is very rough around the edges. The controls need more refinement, the powers aren't exceptionally well balanced, and overall, a lot of the game feels like it needed more in depth thought before production. This feels very much like someone came up with the idea of having to eliminate a team member to progress and then they hastily built a game around that concept.
Overall, Lost Dimension sounds a lot better than it plays. It isn't a "bad" game, and playing it, you can feel and appreciate the concepts and ideas that went into it, but it's not really one I can recommend if you're looking for guaranteed enjoyment. It was a noble effort, but could probably have been done better.
Lost Dimension was released for the PS3 and PS Vita in Japan on August 7. No word on an international release.