Lost Dimension masquerades as an average, everyday JRPG. Spiky anime hair, teenage angst, and crater-inducing special attacks abound, but this turn-based quest to prevent global genocide manages to successfully pair the expected with the aberrant. The tactical combat and deep pool of weapons, armor, and abilities are robust enough to stand on their own, but there’s a twist. Within your 11-person troupe lives a traitor, and knowing of this mole’s existence but not his or her identity forces you to tackle otherwise straightforward situations in unique ways--altering who you take into battle and how you interpret one-on-one conversations. Should you trust the doctor with a checkered medical practice history? Is the lavender-haired vixen with her admittedly fake accent out to get you, or is it the shotgun-toting knucklehead you can only pray remembered to leave the safety on? What could have amounted to a throwaway gimmick is instead used to enrich both combat and story, and while the elimination of party members devalues some character progression, Lost Dimension pulls off its bold gamble.
The cast can be comically bizarre, but the story itself is both bleak and highly self-serious. In the near future, the fate of the world is threatened by the pale, moody villain all-too conveniently named The End. This archetypical evildoer rides in on a massive structure from another dimension called the Pillar and wipes out a significant percentage of the population to show that, despite the red-frosted tips in his hair, he means business.
To combat this threat, the UN sends a special task force wielding psychic gifts to reach the top of the Pillar, battle The End, and save humanity. Codenamed “SEALED,” this peculiar group is little more than a mishmash of colorful strangers with foggy memories. Bonds between each member and the protagonist, Sho, need to be built from the ground up, but working against that process is The End’s declaration that a traitor is present among the group. Before advancing from floor to floor of the tower, your team must vote to not only oust this fraud but also sentence him or her to death. Each subsequent floor establishes a new traitor, and the identity of the turncoat is determined by your interactions with each of the characters along the way.
Like in any good relationship, building trust takes time and effort--and Lost Dimension makes that a surprisingly enjoyable task. Without knowing anyone’s background, you quickly pick favorites and identify people you don’t feel too comfortable watching your back. Continuing to chat and adventure with a specific comrade improves camaraderie between your two characters, and beyond the social benefits, this often leads to more assistance in battle. It’s important to vary whom you bring into skirmishes, too, because Sho can hear the thoughts of those he fights alongside and note whether or not they seem suspicious. By switching different members in and out of your lineup and keeping track of these guarded thoughts, you can more easily narrow down your search.
This unique system forces you to care about otherwise irrelevant dialogue and experiment with different combat concoctions. The identity of the first traitor becomes clear before you’re asked to cast your vote, but from then on, you’re often wracking your brain over the choice. You accumulate Vision Points that can be used to dive deep into the psyche of any party member you’ve battled alongside to out the traitor, but if you use up three vision points only to discover three clear consciences, you and your team are left taking a shot in the dark when asked to vote someone off the island.
The combat variation that comes with having 11 stylistically distinctive party members is both vast and delightful, even as your numbers dwindle over time. Any six members can be taken into a mission and moved within a restricted circle to perform group attacks, flank enemies, pick up items, or hit switches to open gates. You can both move and attack in a given turn, and because you’re often outnumbered, it’s critical to partner up with members of your team with whom you’ve become friendly to coordinate assisted assaults. Guns, blades, and magical gifts can all be used to clean out a given location, but even highly leveled and well-equipped SEALED members can be easily dropped when isolated.
Boosting stats and abilities is exceedingly rewarding, and Lost Dimension provides a healthy suite of techniques to learn. A character with basic fire-based Gifts can eventually learn area-of-effect attacks, abilities that drastically reduce enemy stats, or even devastating special moves that might smite a target in a single blow. It can be frustrating to build up an individual character only to learn that he or she is a traitor, but even fallen soldiers leave behind items that can be used to unlock even more powerful Gifts for those who are still standing.
What Gifts you unlock and whether you decide to invest more heavily in defense or offense can make the difference between earning the top S rank and limping to the finish line with just one of your six characters standing. Once you get a handle on the battle system--how to attack without constantly getting countered, maintaining your Sanity meter so you don’t lose control of a character, and taking out specific enemies to complete missions in a hurry--Lost Dimension becomes a smooth operation. However, the stuttering framerate muddies an otherwise even experience. Even the most basic attack animations can make combat sequences chug, and the dull, insipid environments and unspectacular visuals make for a game that rarely looks as good as it plays.
What’s also uneven is the difficulty. Even if you keep up with the side missions and special character quests, some battles ambush you with a disheartening level of difficulty. The final battle is the biggest culprit, forcing you to grind out old missions over and over again to even stand a chance at victory. It’s not enough to sully the otherwise rewarding combat, but Lost Dimension’s sporadic degree of challenge can make hours of leveling up and character building feel moot.
Dialogue suffers from having far too many cooks in the kitchen, and it feels like whoever was writing the lines was forced to include a quip from each of the 11 characters for every single occasion. What’s actually said is almost never more profound than “Who could the traitor be?!” The one-on-one chats are much more interesting and actually reveal valuable information about a given personality, but watching the camera swing from character to character during the story only to hear empty, repetitive lines is wearing.
Sure, Lost Dimension is another RPG in which a group of teens need to save the world from a maniacal villain with wonderful hair, but Lost Dimension thinks outside that box just enough to feel new. The goofy characters, rewarding progression system, and tactical combat supersede the stunted dialogue and inconsistent framerate, and while the difficulty can be a bit overwhelming, the mechanics are fun and fresh enough to temper most frustration. What really brings it all to life, though, is the suspense that comes from never quite knowing who to trust, which keeps you wary of much more than just the enemies on the periphery. This is a JRPG layered atop a tactical strategy game layered atop a murder mystery, and somehow, the resulting structure holds up reasonably well.