IGN Review of Last Rebellion
The partnership between NIS America and developer Hit Maker (not to be confused with Hitmaker -- no space -- the SEGA development wing responsible for Crazy Taxi and Virtua Tennis) has yielded some interesting results. I use the word "interesting" because I'm trying to be nice, but in truth, the boys and girls at the Japanese dev house are running the very real risk of becoming hilariously ironic given their moniker.
And, unfortunately, Last Rebellion isn't really doing them any favors. Their first PS3 effort is strikingly familiar territory, and I don't just mean in the sense that they've cranked out yet another lackluster RPG effort; this is clearly a game that was started as a PSP project and then just moved up. Everything from the presentation (literally nothing more than a pair of hand-painted portraits that don't even have moving mouths) to the graphics (terrible, blurry, low-res textures, all the geometric detail and complexity of a launch PS2 game) to the actual gameplay (no party, no equipment, no towns, no side quests... no kidding) all feel like an upscaled PSP game. It's absolutely inescapable.
Also (mostly) inescapable? Enemy encounters, though that at least helps highlight one of the game's few interesting tidbits: the battle system. See, encounters aren't random, exactly; you can see the enemies running around in the world, and in very rare cases you can actually run past them, but because most of the areas are so small, there's either no room to run past or eventually an enemy that gives chase will catch up to you. Once you get even relatively close (no, you don't have to touch them, nor they you), the battle is on.
Last Rebellion's "story" sets up the idea rather early on that its two main characters, Aisha and Nine, share a single soul. That also means they share health and magic points but input battle commands separately and swap out every turn in battle. They also share CP, which is just a fancy way of saying they both burn points from a single pool to attack individual enemy parts. Attacking a head, then an arm, then a leg and so on "marks" them for subsequent turns, with more vulnerable bits having the mark "stick" for more turns (up to five) unless the enemy wastes a turn to cancel out the marks.
That's all well and good, but absolutely central to the game's combat is the idea of locking down a specific order to the attacks. It's a bit of a guessing game, but as you dole out strikes, if the right body part is hit in the right part of the overall sequence, you'll see BINGO flash on the screen and that particular part's attack order is saved. Notch a couple consecutive BINGOs and you'll get a COMBO, which adds to the Bonus Meter in the bottom-right of the screen. Bonuses take whatever the base experience was earned from a fight and multiply it, up to 999 percent, effectively, meaning with a little hunting and pecking, one can lay a beat down on a bunch of enemies to really maximize the amount of experience gained per fight.
But that's a process of elimination, really. The first time you'll encounter an enemy, their turn order is a complete mystery, and the only way to suss 'em out is to randomly start plugging away at an enemy. It almost feels like a little mini number puzzle every time you fight -- at least until you've figured out the full pattern, at which point you can press L1 to lock in that sequence and R1 to recall it at any time in future fights. There are multiple types of the same enemy, so you're not guaranteed to know every sequence even if the enemies look the same, but generally speaking, time spent plugging away at an enemy has long-lasting benefits.
Since every attack on an enemy part burns one CP, and that pool is shared, it pays to mark enemies in the right sequence and then use some magic, which only burns a single CP, to hit all those enemies in sequence. So long as they're still marked, spells can be a cheap way to notch damage to big groups easily. Even just defending to recoup CP can have a strategic effect; opting to defend against physical or magic-based attacks can actually yield extra CP per hit if the right option was predicted. It's a neat little touch, and helps add some extra layers to a very common action, as five enemies that all need to be hit in 10 different places can quickly burn through your available CP.
But all is not perfect with the battle system. To actually end a fight, you have to "Seal" enemies, wasting CP to completely kill them (gaining some HP in the process) or they'll revive, stronger and more powerful than before. Aisha finally ends them, but Nine can draw MP out with his special ability if you've actually burned through a bunch of magic during the fight. It ends up making every fight rather tedious toward the end, and since escaping is almost impossible, you'll have to seal low-level enemies if you go back through an old section of the world. Worse, for some bizarre reason, Hit Maker decided it would be a good idea to let enemies hit your entire party (read, just two people, only one of which can be out at a time), with three different kind of incapacitations that last multiple turns. You can be stunned. You can be paralyzed. You can be put to sleep. All of these things are the exact same thing, and they mean you waste your time plugging in commands and then watch them never get carried out as your characters just... stand there.
It actually lead to the game's few deaths a couple of times (none of which, ironically, were at the hands of a boss fight), and seems made purely to annoy and frustrate while you're powerless to prevent things, since the stun effect hits both main characters and leaves them to waste turns while still swapping in. Enemies will often constantly use stun attacks back-to-back and there, again, inexplicably, are multiple types of stuns so you can get stuck doing absolutely nothing for multiple turns at a time while enemies just beat on your characters. And again, these are common enemy encounters, not boss battles.
Interestingly, those boss battles do drop some very flexible items: Aria Paper is used to mix and match levels for all the spells you've picked up throughout the game (yes, spells are found in chests, not earned as you level up). Since Nine and Aisha share the same soul, they can share magic too, and either can be set to cast a spell inside of battle or out (you can swap characters while outside of battle by pressing Square, and depending on which is out, HP or MP will slowly regenerate). By simply scrolling down the attack or support magic list, you can dedicate up to five Aria Papers to a spell, and these can be changed out at any time. You'll still have to select the level of the spell in battle, but at least you can tweak things depending on the situation.
All of this strategy in battle and even before a conflict ever starts makes it plain that Hit Maker was going for a level of complexity that the rest of the game simply doesn't have the means to support. Most areas can be traversed (barring an enemy encounter) in about 30-45 seconds, and the frequent transitions between these bite-sized areas make it pretty obvious this was meant to be played as a couple-minute-at-a-time experience -- certainly sounds like the mantra of a PSP project, no?
In the end, though, it doesn't really matter. When you can blow through a role-playing game in less than 14 hours, see everything there is to see and yet be completely bored the whole way through, clearly something has gone awry. Last Rebellion just has nothing of real value to offer beyond a localization that's oddly more competent that the rest of the game and a battle system that never seems to fully embrace all the strategy that was created for it. All that's left is to lazily run from one dilapidated, sloppily-textured area to the next, thumping on monsters and getting some mostly-still portraits talking to each other in between. When the guest artists that contributed to your game end up delivering the most impressive bits of visual oomph, things have gotten rather dire indeed.
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