Copyright Adam Schlosser
Contact:
aschloss@gmail.com


Copyright 2005 Adam Schlosser


Posted by Pip

F144- His Fanny Pack Turns Into A Laser Gun

Man, I've been using the same backpack for like 14 years and not once has it turned into robot parts or been a projector or shown slides or whatever the Builder has going on for him. What are you keeping from me, backpack!?
Now I'm feeling kind of nostalgic for that “BOOP” noise school slide projectors made when you needed to advance to the next slide. And that also makes me feel super old.

Waitaminute, trying to find that noise on a sound archive has now taught me that VCRs were in wide use by 1980 so why the heck was my school still using those slides to teach me in the 90s?! I'm not old, I just had a terrible education! Actually that one might be more depressing.


Quick Critique: Lost Dimension

These kind of strategy games seem to have some kind of curse. Just like Valkyria Chronicles, Lost Dimension is SUPER anime, almost all the characters are terrible, and the writing and story are a letdown, but, man, do they have some of the best strategy RPG gameplay you can find. The gameplay is great and should be the ultimate thing you base a play/purchase on. If you're looking for a good story, skip the game. If you like strategy RPGs, you should play this. It's a kind of Valkyria Chronicles-light meets Disgaea. They don't have the firing when you're moving on the map or the ability to target specific parts of the enemy, but it has a similar move and turn system and your placement on the map lets you set up back attacks or buddy up with an ally if the two of you are on good terms and both in range of an enemy. It's incredibly satisfying to have your team members arranged in a way that causes a chain reaction of all six of them buddying up and doing a string of ally attacks, popping off stat debuffs and critical hits, and shooting a Metal Gear looking walking tank in the back of the head. The skill trees are nice and varied and you can unlock some really meaningful passive buffs, team powers, and special moves, so it's fun to spend your skill points as soon as you earn one. Like in Valkyria, your characters have oddly terrible accuracy for a trained military squad. You can be standing so close to an enemy that your models are intersecting, point a shotgun right at it, and somehow miss. I call bunk on the “95%” accuracy rating the game will give you at times because you still miss a lot at that distance. Accuracy stats just have no place in a strategy game and a few missed shots can mean an entire battle falls apart and your team is wiped out. Critical hits can also bring an amazing plan down because even enemies that are ten levels lower than you turn deadly if they get a few critical hits in a row. A crit can be the difference between taking 20 or 200 damage, so it throws a not-fun wrench into the idea of planning and strategy. While the battle may otherwise be a lot of fun planning routes of attacks and how to divide up your team, the enemies themselves are pretty boring. There are around four types that get recycled with minor differences and they aren't even interesting and don't fit well with the game's story or themes. They look like they were made for a different game and used because that's what the company already had art for. You also can't fast forward through the enemy turn and some of the robots are incredibly slow to walk, so they quickly become a drag. The DLC missions reeeaaally feel like they were removed from the main game, but the big one is also free, so they may just have been trying to get around a file size limit on the Vita side. There's a weird difficulty spike at the end. Your level is overly important to how well you do since it affects your hit rate, so the game prioritizes having bigger numbers over good tactics. The enemies in the last area and the DLC missions just get a big level boost and things in the shop get crazy expensive, so it requires you to grind for experience and money. It also handles rewarding you with money and experience very poorly. Some missions are just worth ten experience points even though you're fighting enemies stronger than you. Even the lowest story mission is worth thousands, so there's just no reason for it and it feels odd to reward you so poorly for playing the DLC. The final boss is total BS. He can split himself into 3 different characters that can all do joint attacks with each other and can kill a party member off of each one, he has enormous resistance to physical attacks (and the characters I had left for that battle were mainly physical fighters), and he has an absolutely asinine amount of health. So the game is basically forcing you to grind like crazy. Oh, and there are two unskippable cutscenes right before the battle, so every time you try it, you have to sit through the bad guy's fairly nonsensical plan. Pro-tip: cheese the hell out of the fight. Max out the hero's power that lets you skip an enemy turn, bring a ton of the items that refill everything, and just keep abusing all of that. I had three members for the final fight, so the main character had to use that power every turn, one character had to heal him every turn, and that just left one guy to slowly whittle down the boss. Tedious, but extremely effective.
For the story, like I mentioned, it is SUPER anime and is not even remotely ashamed of that. One of the soldiers (your melee bruiser) is dressed like a school girl. It has a slow start and middle so you spend a lot of time with characters that are unlikable and overly combative, whiny, or grating. At the start of the game, you're not actually sure what's important and what you need to be paying attention to, only to later find out none of it really matters. I did all of the dialogue scenes and puzzled over every interstitial, only to find out that it wasn't worth it. The dialogue isn't interesting and the characters aren't likable, and it all comes down to a random number generator in the end. The story has a neat idea where the bad guy is manipulating you and the situations you're in so you have to play his game and there are traitors in your group, but the whole traitor thing feels too random to be important. You can identify suspicious memebrs by going in and out of battles and swapping allies, but that's really tedious, and at the end of the day, the people I want on my team are there because I want access to their abilities. I want the scout because she's awesome and scouts are ridiculously overpowered. I want the medic because he's the only person that can revive allies. I want the brawler British lady because she's strong and an absolute nut job. So if you do go through swapping your allies in and out, that simply lets you identify the "Suspicious" characters. Then, you have to go to another menu and enter their mind, which consists of holding up on the stick while the same voice samples play over and over. After way too long of that, you'll find out if they're innocent or guilty. And you have to do this all over again in every chapter of the game. It's way too time consuming, tedious, and isn't fun at all. It seems like the game would be far more enjoyable if the traitors were just part of a good, set storyline. They sacrificed making the game enjoyable to encourage multiple replays due to the randomness. And speaking of replay value, to see the ending, you have to beat the game multiple times, but when you start new game plus, it takes away all your levels, all your weapons and armor, all your items, and all your money. All you get to keep are some skill points on the tech tree, so you can unlock abilities you don't actually have the magic power to use yet. It's a shame too because one you do get the real ending, things actually do wrap up and resolve well. The bad guy gets a decent motivation for his actions, the world's backstory is fleshed out, and it comes to a satisfying conclusion. But to get to that point, you have to play through the game at least twice and find all the hidden text logs. Again, it would have been a way better game if the traitors were done as part of the story instead of being random, the threat of being betrayed was actually built into the story and gameplay, and they focused on making the game the best it could be on a single playthrough instead of trying to shoot for replay value that bogs both playthroughs down.
Once you learn to stop paying attention to the traitor mechanic and treat the game like a vengeful god, you can have some fun. Super anime, overly combative guy, you displease me so you're totally sacrificed! Super anime, mopey guy, boom, sacrificed. Crazy British lady that I've actually outed as the traitor, I'm keeping you on the team because we're bros and you're keen, and look, you just unlocked your character quest for us to go on and we're best friends even though canonically you want me dead. Pro-tip: Your first time through, always have George and Mana on your team, they make the game the most enjoyable. Insane British lady and insane American that wants to be Japanese guy and kind of sounds like The Tick shouting about "Justice!" is the best this game has to offer. George shouts "Sweet baby Jesus" in the most heroic voice he can muster at one point. I would buy the heck out a buddy action-comedy game starring George and Mana. Even in the final chapter, the traitor mechanic only determines how many allies you have for the final fight so the whole thing just feels so half-assed. I maxed out all my team's friendship, did all the character missions, and had the touching moments where they pledged loyalty and friendship to each other no matter the outcome and that they'd be willing to sacrifice their mission to help me, and then in the last battle three of them turned on me and I had to fight them. It just all felt so meaningless and silly because the character and story dialogue doesn't sync with the randomized traitors.
There are some technical issues that knock it down a few pegs too. The game has to load every time a character uses a move. It's a quick load, but between your six characters and a dozen or so enemies per map, it adds up. There's also a lot of menu time between dealing with the traitor mechanic and equipping your characters. The tech tree UI is absolute garbage; it's really zoomed in and the screen shifts position when you move between abilities, so it's difficult to track down what unlocks other powers if the previous levels are on a different part of the tree or if you're trying to compare two abilities to determine where you want to spend your points. If you win a new item in battle, the "New" icon covers up what kind of item it is. The names of some of them aren't really descriptive, so you have to dig through menus to find it and when scrolling through the list, just highlighting an item removes the New tag, so you might miss it. It also crashes on launch. It was always fine once I was in the game, but it's a coin flip if you're actually able to start it.
For its many faults and missteps, I still beat Lost Dimension three times. I meant to only beat it twice so I could unlock the true ending, but then I only had three trophies left and I still enjoyed playing it, so I went through again and got the platinum. I don't normally do trophies, but I wanted to call out that the trophy icons form character art as you unlock them. One trophy will be the head, the next is the torso, and then the last is the bottom half. I haven't seen a game do that before and it looks awesome. It was just a really neat touch. I'd definitely say it's worth playing if you're a fan of Valkyria Chronicles or accessible strategy RPGs (it's not like the PS3 and Vita have a lot going for them right now), but it needs a lot of improvements that I hope a sequel can offer. And George and Mana darn well better show up in that sequel. For Juuustiiice!



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