"The weird thing about Lost Dimension is that even when I look at it with a critical eye and acknowledge its shortcomings, I'm not especially bothered by any of those quirks."
When you're a psychic warrior battling a mysterious villain with designs of ending the world, who can you trust to watch your back? In the world of Lost Dimension, the answer is nobody, apparently. It's something of a trite comparison, and you'll likely hear it elsewhere, but Lost Dimension is what you'd get if you crossed the strategic battle system of Valkyria Chronicles with the murder-by-popular-vote simulator that is Danganronpa. In this game, a ragtag group of supernaturally-gifted fighters is sent by the U.N. to take down enigmatic terrorist "The End," who threatens the world with nuclear devastation if he is not killed in thirteen days. In a bizarre, fascinating twist, five of the eleven playable characters in the game are secretly working for The End, and if they are not identified before the final battle, they will turn on the rest of the party. It's the player's job as squad leader Sho Kasugai to suss out his enemies before he finds a knife — or a katana, or a fireball — in his back.
The entirety of the game takes place inside the Pillar, a transdimensional tower full of alien mechanoids out for blood. Sho and his diffident allies square off against these foes in turn-based battles centered around strategic unit placement. The party uses their individual psychic abilities in conjunction with a suite of bladed weapons and firearms to dispatch their foes. A wrinkle comes in the form of the "defer" command, which allows a character to pass his/her turn to someone who has already acted. Also, anyone within attack range of a friendly unit will offer support fire, so it's possible to swarm an enemy with the entire party in one turn, but beware: enemies can do the same. Even so, the game is rarely difficult once you figure out how to exploit your skills to their maximum potential. Protip: level up Himeno's "Ignition" skill, unlock her fire spells, defer to her repeatedly, and enjoy the blazing mayhem that ensues.
An interesting quirk of Lost Dimension is that while it's a text-heavy game, the overall plot remains obfuscated until literally halfway through the final battle, and at least two playthroughs are required for all of its mysteries to be revealed. Instead, the game spends its time developing its characters, all of whom have distinct abilities and personalities... even if those personalities are fairly two-dimensional most of the time. The pyrokinetic Himeno has a fiery (ha) personality and doesn't let people inside her shell; timid telekinetic Marco suspects that anyone who talks to him is going to use him, while levitating gunner Nagi has a cold and detached outlook from spending her entire life as a soldier. The fact that I can sum of each of these people in a single sentence should indicate how straightforwardly they're written, but this doesn't mean they aren't worth getting to know. It's actually essential that you do so if you intend to make it through Lost Dimension alive; spending your limited time with characters in between battles makes their affinity with you rise, which in turn influences their trust in you when it comes time to vote for the potential traitor at the end of each chapter. You read that correctly: every chapter concludes with a trial of sorts where the party members are forced to "erase" one person they suspect is working for The End. Get it right, and that's one less enemy to worry about, but get it wrong, and that person will continue plotting behind your back until the final confrontation. The stakes couldn't be higher.
"But wait," you may ask, "What if I spend time leveling up a character and they end up being a traitor?" Never fear, intrepid reader: anyone who is erased leaves behind a crystalline materia containing all of their powers. That materia can then be equipped on any character, granting them an extended suite of psychic abilities, including some extra-powerful skills that make use of overlapping talents simultaneously. It's kind of morbid, but that's entirely the point. Lost Dimension wants you to feel uncomfortable about offing your allies.
The traitor system works extremely well mechanically, but not so well from a narrative perspective. The traitors are randomized every playthrough, so the internet will avail you nothing in uncovering who's who in this life-or-death game of deceit. Instead, Sho uses his gift of "Vision" to catch glimpses of his teammates' thoughts after every battle; up to three people can be marked as "suspicious" based on their thoughts, and figuring out who might be a traitor becomes something of a logic puzzle. You switch out one or two people who might be traitors, see if the suspicious voice count goes up or down, and continue adjusting as necessary. Sho can then use extremely limited Vision Points to get confirmation on a person's alignment a scant handful of times per chapter. The catch is that the traitorous person changes every chapter, so someone who seemed benign early in the game could turn on you much later. If nothing else, you're kept on your toes throughout, even if it's relatively easy to get a handle on how to game the system. However — and this is a big caveat — the identities of the traitors make almost no difference within the narrative. The characters' individual motivations for turning on you are basically nonexistent, and nobody reacts in a unique way when certain characters die. The dialogue following an execution is static, with people vaguely mourning the "loss of a comrade," and they spend the rest of the game referring to their fallen allies with nondescript language. I was hugely disappointed when I realized that my teammates were nothing more than a set of variables in the game's code. If X dies, then Y gets her powers, and life goes on.
Lost Dimension has something of a low-budget feel to its visual presentation. The character artwork is nice enough, if a bit lacking in detail. Attack animations are generally unimpressive and could use some more oomph, though they're accompanied by solid audio effects. The game's English dub is spot-on in terms of casting and delivery, for the most part; a notable exception is Mana, who reveals early on that her awkward British accent is phony, but she insists on using it to sound cute. You ain't cute, girl. The music fares much better: the rhythmic, mechanical Boss Theme
used in pre-release trailers is a high-octane indulgence, and the final boss theme (which I won't link to here) had my skin breaking out in goosebumps. I'd love to see a soundtrack release for this one.
The weird thing about Lost Dimension is that even when I look at it with a critical eye and acknowledge its shortcomings, I'm not especially bothered by any of those quirks. It's most exciting the first time around, when you're still emotionally attached to the characters in your party. The game loses some of its charm once you begin to approach it with a utilitarian mindset, which is an unfortunate necessity if you want to achieve the true ending. Even so, Lost Dimension is conceptually sound enough to be worth your investment, even if some of its joints are creakier than others.