Most RPGs start pretty similarly: one or two party members begin a journey, meet other characters to join them along the way, and everyone discovers new powers and skills along the way. As the game progresses on, players get favorite party members, relegating their least-favorite character to dust collection outside of battle. But what if the party members you didn’t use were gone forever? And what if you didn’t get to know which ones were your favorites before you got rid of them?
Lost Dimension, the upcoming SRPG published by Atlus, puts you in just that situation. The world is on the brink of doomsday as a villain calling himself “The End” threatens to launch nuclear missiles at every major city on the globe. You play as Sho, the leader of a team of 11 agents dispatched to climb to the top of The Tower, an ominous structure where The End awaits that crash lands in the middle of town. The catch: somehow, The End has wiped the memories of the 11 agents, and nobody remembers what they were doing before they entered the tower, or how they know each other. They each have to work together to destroy enemies and ascend the tower, but not everyone gets to make it to the top…The End informs the group that they have a traitor in their midst, and at the end of each level, the party has to vote to “erase” one of their own.
Playing as the team’s impromptu leader, your job is to choose the right party lineups for each mission, issue commands to make the team successful in combat, and also devise who in the group is secretly a traitor. At the end of each stage, your vote will go in to the pool alongside the other party members’, and whichever character gets the most votes gets eliminated. If that doesn’t sound like a lot to balance at first, then you’re probably an Atlus veteran: between the approachable-yet-intricate combat system, attention to individual character storylines, overly-dramatic dialog, and grind-y gameplay, you’d be forgiven for thinking Lost Dimension some sort of Persona-spinoff. And most of the time, I mean that as reverently as possible: from getting to know your team to learning the ins-and-outs of battle, when the pieces of Lost Dimension come together, they’re pretty fantastic.
Most impressive about the game so far is its team-focused combat style. You’ll choose 5 teammates to go with you on each mission, each team member holding different special abilities and weapon types. Each mission takes place on a 3D map, allowing full range of motion for each character instead of forcing them to stick to squares on a grid. When a character targets an enemy that’s also in range of another team member, that ally can make a supporting attack. Get enough allies in one place, and you can create devastating combos that take down brutal foes. But enemies have the same ability, and if one of your party members gets surrounded its almost sure to lead to their downfall. I’ve had times where I thought I had everything under control, just to find out that I placed a party member a little too close to a group of enemies, and the results cost me the battle.
Each character has hit points representing vitality and magic points representing their energy for special abilities, but they also have a PSY meter, representing their mental state. Using abilities and getting attacked lowers this meter, and when enemies run out they get stunned, leaving them defenseless to attack. If one of your party remembers runs out of PSY, though, they become enraged, acting on their own and attacking the nearest target, friend or foe, along with a huge strength boost. A single party member getting enraged can completely turn the tide of battle, devastating your party or taking out bosses with a single well-placed blow. It’s critical to keep an eye on all of these stats while in combat, otherwise things can get out of hand pretty quickly. Of course, outside of battle there’s plenty of stat and skill management as well, with each character possessing a unique, branching skill tree.
Though I really enjoy the combat in Lost Dimension, what drew me in to the title was the story and character development, and I’m still on the fence about how its progressing. With fully-voice and animated cutscenes at the beginning, the game writes a pretty big check about pitting your party members against each other. Who really is the traitor? Is there more than one? And what’s The End’s motivation for putting them through this ordeal in the first place? Still, it seems like its trying to make sure the player doesn’t get trapped in a bad situation by providing too many opportunities to find out who the traitors are, and once that puzzle is solved, the rest feels like basic math.
After going through the first stage, I’ll admit that I spent a lot of time contemplating every move: which party members to bring with me to combat, who to talk to after each mission, who to give premium gear to, etc. Each floor there are three traitors that you can discover through a sort of process of elimination by bringing them on combat missions. If one traitor gets eliminated at the end of a floor, another party member will become traitorous on the next floor of the tower. But eventually, finding the traitor and eliminating them becomes more of a numbers game than anything else since there’s no time element to force players forward. Party members are most likely to vote out the character with the worst battle performance, and you can repeat old missions seemingly as many times as you want to tease out who the traitors are, allowing you to pump up the battle scores of party members you want to save, or wreck the ratings of people you want to eliminate. I’m really hoping that there’s some kind of twist later on that puts the heat on the way that I felt it going into the second floor after I’d learned all the “rules of the game,” so to speak.
The Vita’s become a bit of a haven for JRPG fans, and so far, Lost Dimension’s given me a new reason to keep that device charged and ready for action. Lost Dimension will be releasing on PS Vita and PS3 this Tuesday, July 28th in North America; if you’re a fan of anime, Atlus, or team-based tactics, be sure to keep this game on your radar.