Hide And Seek
The “traitor in your midst” is a very common trope in storytelling. It is a simple way to add suspense to almost any kind of story. In more passive entertainment media, such as in books or television, the use of this trope is a way to get its audience to be a bit more active in the story. While the viewer may just be sitting in one place and experiencing the story, a “traitor” aspect allows them to try and use to clues given to them to guess who it may be. A small mystery, if you will, to keep their attention.
The trope can also be used to spice up more active media such as gaming. While the player usually controls most aspects of games, the stories contained within still tend more toward the passive experience. A mystery aspect can be used to add more gameplay to the story, especially if you want to keep the “skip the story for the gameplay” kind of players interested in your hard work. The use of a traitor this way, unfortunately, has been overused to the point of being a cliche, especially in the RPG genres.
But what about making the traitor hunt the main aspect of gameplay? There’s already a fairly popular board game style, under names like Mafia or Werewolf, where the entire point of the game is to figure out who is playing the traitor. Putting more focus on the trope allows it to be explored more in depth, and the discussion and debates that ensue are a major part of enjoyment in this style of game.
Today, we are looking at a game that puts a major focus on this traitor hunt. While there are, of course, many parts to this game, Lost Dimension puts a major focus into the traitor hunt, and the sacrifices that must be made between weeding out the traitors and trying to finish your overall mission.
Lost Dimension is a game created by Lancarse and FuRyu, and published in the West by Atlus. The game is to be released on July 28th, 2015 in North America for both PS3 and Vita. The PS3 version was played for this review.
The End Has Arrived
The world is about to end, not by nature, but by the hand of man. Everything will be destroyed in a matter of days. Thirteen days, to be precise. At least, this is what is claimed by a man only known as The End, speaking to the world from atop a massive tower-style pillar. He is, though, allowing a group of people into the pillar to stop him. Taking advantage of The End’s “generosity,” the United Nations has put together S.E.A.L.E.D., a team of teenagers with psychic powers known as Gifts.
Despite putting together a large team, only eleven members manage to make it to the pillar. How they get there is unknown, as each of the members wake up already inside the pillar with no idea of how they arrived. Upon arriving, The End greats the members and explains to them the game they are about to play: they have thirteen days to get to the top of the pillar and kill him. However…there are multiple traitors in their midst. In order to ascend the tower, the team must choose who they believe is the traitor before being allowed access to the next floor. Whoever is selected as the traitor will, in The End’s words, be “erased.”
Overall, the story of Lost Dimension is very straight-forward. Weed out the traitors, kill The End, and save the world. Aside from the fact that The End seems to know the main character, Sho Kasugai, there is little in the way of twists or surprises. While it is enough to give reason to the gameplay, it is hard to call the story interesting.
To Catch a Traitor
There is one comparison I’ve heard ever since this game was originally released in Japan, and I would like to confirm it outright: Lost Dimension is, at its most basic, a combination of Valkyria Chronicles and Danganronpa.
The Valkyria Chronicles comparison comes from the meat of the gameplay. Most of Lost Dimension is presented in a turn-based strategy style. Each round, you will have the chance to move each of your characters (of whom you can bring six of your choice into battle). Rather than moving them on a grid or giving them general RTS-style commands, once you select a character, you are given direct control of them in a third-person style. The character can be moved within a circular area, and can perform one action before their turn ends. Once all characters have acted, the enemy gets their turn, and the round ends.
Each character has a distinct style and specialty, and selecting the best lineup for the current mission is very important. Some characters carry guns, while others only have melee weapons. Further dividing them are the Gifts each has, ranging from healing to fire attacks to telekinesis. Also available for each character is an option to defer their turn to another, which allows a character who has already acted to act again.
Alongside the typical hit points and skill points, each character also has “sanity points.” Being attacked, using Gifts, and deferring actions all come at the cost of some sanity. If a character loses all of their sanity, they will go berserk: you lose control of the character, they hit harder, but they are also more vulnerable to attack. For what sounds like something that must be avoided at all costs, berserking becomes an important part of your strategic repertoire as the game progresses; battle difficulty spikes quite high, and the hard-hitting abilities of a berserk character can help turn the tide of battle.
The Danganronpa comparison comes in the events that occur outside of battle. Between each mission, you are given the chance to speak to each member of your team to get to know them better. The more you talk to them and select dialogue choices that they like, the more trust you build with them, which makes them more effective in battle. The more trusting a character is of you, the better chance you have of them helping you out, or assisting in an attack if they are nearby.
During downtime, you also have the chance to use Sho’s Gift to investigate who may be the current traitor. After each battle, Sho has a vision that hints toward if a member of the lineup used for that mission is a traitor. On each floor, you are given three chances to fully investigate a character, to determine if they are the traitor or not. The traitor hunt boils down to a game of Mastermind: take a different lineup into each battle, use the vision to see how many are possible traitors (each floor has three possible traitors), and investigate the ones you determine as possibilities to confirm.
Finally, once all of a floor’s missions are done, the characters are brought to a room to vote on who they think the traitor is. Unlike Danganronpa, though, your vote doesn’t completely determine the outcome. Each other character can place their own vote, depending on the trust level they have with each character. You are, however, able to influence the vote both during battle (by not including your suspect or by commanding them to, say, attack other team members) and outside of battle (by speaking to characters and directing their suspicions).
The most interesting twist of Lost Dimension rears its head here: outside of the first floor on your first playthrough, the traitor is randomized each time. While this increases replayability, it also means that you are at risk of losing any character at any time. This is where you may have to make some interesting sacrifices. If your healer or most powerful character is the traitor, do you out them and lose them for the rest of the game, or do you kill an innocent so that you can keep them around?
A Mechanical Monstrosity
The graphical presentation of Lost Dimension is where the game takes a bit of a tumble, mostly due to the fact that it is not all that interesting. The environments of the game are rather bland and repetitive, despite the fact that each floor of the pillar is supposed to have its own theme. Character design is lacking as well, as each of the characters have rather bland designs and use similar color palettes. Animations, especially during story cutscenes, are minimal and repetitive.
The overall quality and presentation is just kind of…OK. The company that developed the game, FyRyu, just seems to have a penchant for middling quality. Nothing that comes from them is outright bad, but they tend to have graphical and presentation issues that drag experiences down. This is also personified, strangely, in their hand in the anime figurine business as well. Hell, the opening cutscene was a strong reminder of this, as it seems like they took a trailer for the game and stuck it in as the opening. It just felt tacky.
Discussions And Debates
Unfortunately, the music of Lost Dimension falls into the same problem. Much of it is rather unremarkable and, in many cases, quite repetitive. Given that just about half of the game’s playtime is spent in conversations, and the majority of those conversations have the same background music playing, it can really begin to grind on the nerves. Even despite that, the soundtrack itself is a rather generic style, with no tracks in particular that stand out.
Voice acting is incredibly hit-or-miss. I can’t really praise any performances, but some characters such as Himeno and Yoko turn in passable performances. Others, especially Mana, border on painful to listen to. The game is being released as a more budget-oriented title ($39.99 at release in the United States), but some performances are hard to forgive even with that in mind.
The End of it All
Overall, Lost Dimension takes an interesting concept and sticks it into an unremarkable package. Before anyone turns their heads at that, let me say: this is not a bad game. The gameplay itself is solid, the story is passable, and the traitor system is an interesting twist. However, it’s just not anything truly special either. This is a straight-up middle-of-the-road game that’s good for getting through the summer release drought at the very least.
Despite the randomized traitor system offering some strong replayability, I can’t say that I’m inclined to play through this game again. Lost Dimension would make a good rental for fans of strategy RPGs, but it is hard to recommend for other gamers.
~ Final Score: 5/10 ~
Review copy provided by Atlus for PS3. Screenshots courtesy of Atlus. Some screenshots are from the Japanese version of the game.