The Dark Souls of Podcasts
At it’s very core, Lost Dimension asks us, “can you really trust anyone?”. It’s not a particularly unique question to ask – there’s tons of media, not just games, that ask the very same question. But what’s interesting about Lost Dimension isn’t what it asks us as players, it’s how it executes on its concept, how it forces us into thinking about the choices we make, and, ultimately, whether we can overlook the transgressions of those closest to us.
Lost Dimension is very clearly taking cues from Danganronpa. Anyone familiar with those games will recognize the parallels within minutes of booting up the game; but that’s not necessarily a bad thing – after all, Danganronpa is responsible for some of the craziest, most fun and downright mind-blowing writing in games – so much so that Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair won Chooch’s Game of the Year in 2014. Like in Danganronpa, you’re faced with a difficult dilemma; one of the characters in your group has turned on you, and in order to stay alive and advance any further, everyone must decide on who to punish. However, whereas in Danganronpa someone turned on the group by murdering a classmate, here the betrayal is more subtle.
The traitors in your group of elite military psychics have been placed amongst you by The End, a mysterious being hell-bent on destroying the world, and stopping the UN’s SEALED taskforce from carrying out their mission to stop him. It’s only by examining their words, noticing their inner voices betraying them, that the player, in the role of Sho – a character who ticks all the boxes of your typical anime protag – begins to put together the pieces as to who the traitor might be. There’s no set order though, and this is where Lost Dimension really shines. The traitors among your group of eleven are randomly determined at the beginning of each strata of The Pillar, where The End is holed up, meaning that it is very unlikely two players will ever have the same gameplay experience.
Not being able to simply look up spoilers to see who was going to turn on me only forced me to question myself more, and perform various mental gymnastics as I asked the question of what I’d do should certain characters turn on me. There was Nagi – the levelheaded, rational solider with the power of levitation – by far my strongest combatant, and also the character whom I enjoyed interacting with the most. What was I going to do if I suspected her of being the traitor? Sure, I could use my Vision Points – earned through the completion of story missions, and therefore finite – to determine well in advance whether she was the traitor on each stratum. These Vision Points are used to trigger dream-like sequences, as Sho peers directly into the suspect’s soul to uncover their true intentions. It’s neat stuff initially, but they’re all essentially the same, and a little more variety wouldn’t have hurt.
These sequences do throw up some interesting possibilities, of course. What if my suspect wasn’t really even in the mix, and I’d wasted one? What if Nagi was the traitor? Do I sacrifice a character I don’t like – Zenji- brash, loud, standoffish and possessing an initially useless synchronization ability, Marco – a young, cowardly boy with the gift of telekinesis, or Himeno, the tsundere pyromaniac – and deal with the consequences later? Do I bite the bullet and lose her? And if I decide to lose Nagi, how do I manage to turn everyone else against her? After all, everyone in my group trusts her with their lives – she’s the most effective fighter, has the best range and is nigh on impossible to hit – and as one of the top three, she gets two votes come judgement.
It was a situation that left me on edge throughout my playthrough, but, thankfully Nagi never turned on me. Two of my other go-to’s in battle, however, Mana – the cutness obsessed powerhouse with the affected English accent – and Agito – a deadly close-quarters fighter whose teleportation skills make him second only to Nagi in terms of versatility, did. Luckily, when a character (or two, if there’s a tie) is “Judged”, they drop an item – Fate Materia – which allows you to keep their abilities. Sure, you lose a member, and if that member happens to have base stats that you rely on – Nagi’s movement and agility, Mana’s power – you lose those.
That’s the thing about Lost Dimension – your group won’t come to consensus via debate – it’s an entirely democratic process within the game that hinges on trust. If two characters never team up together in combat, they develop an inherent distrust towards one another, and thus become more and more likely to vote for one another when the time comes to pass Judgement. On the second stratum, while I was still figuring out this mechanic, the relationship between Toya, the generic soldier, and Zenji the dick; two characters I had little time for, got to the point where, following each mission, they’d pull me aside and try to convince me the other was the traitor. It took significant work for me to get them to come around on my theory that Marco – probably the least likeable character in the game – was the traitor, and thankfully, I was right. It took forcing Toya and Zenji to work as a team on the battlefield multiple times to do it, but eventually they, like everyone else, came to distrust Marco.
In battle, however, the game is much less interesting. All the internal strife and intrigue that’s built up through the visual novel style cutscenes has a tendency to disappear in missions, which tend to feel a little lifeless and bland, though they’re functionally competent. You take five of Sho’s squadmates with you on each mission, taking turns controlling them – in any order you choose – with those acting later able to “defer” their turns to those who’ve already acted. Characters who trust one another work much better together on the battlefield, following up with assist attacks, allowing you to quickly wipe out multiple enemies. By acting with your stronger characters first, you can potentially finish mission in just a couple of turns – I would generally act with Nagi, Sho and Agito or Mana (before they turned), and then have the other three defer their turns to allow my three frontline fighters to go again. This of course made it difficult to phase Mana, and later Agito out of my main squads in order to reduce their number of votes come Judgement, but again, it all plays into what makes Lost Dimension great – the drama within your squad, and your own internal struggle with having to lose characters you like.
Lost Dimension is ultimately an experience that’s hard to forget. If you can look past some fairly average combat and the very obvious parallels with Danganronpa, you’ll find an emotionally engaging experience that by the end separates itself from the pack. The game runs as smooth as butter on the Vita, too, with some of the fastest load times I’ve seen on the console (though, admittedly, that’s a pretty low bar to hurdle). The writing is solid, the characters are a mixture of likeable fighters who you pray don’t turn on you, mean-spirited assholes you actively root against (looking at you Zenji), and over the top anime loons like George, a self-proclaimed “defender of justice” and comic relief character, and the emotional stakes high enough to keep you gripped that it’s more than a solid recommendation. That each play-through is unique doesn’t hurt either, nor does the great localization job. Lost Dimension forced me to think deeply about the choices I made, the potential consequences thereof, and whether I could stand to lose characters I cared about in a way that games rarely have. For that alone, it’s worth the price of admission.