Last Rebellion
Platform: PlayStation 3
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: HitMaker, NIS
Genre: Traditional RPG
Format: BD-ROM
Released: US 02/23/10
Japan 01/28/10

Graphics: 70%
Sound: 70%
Gameplay: 79%
Control: 89%
Story: 70%
Overall: 74%
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Neal Chandran
Last Rebellion
Neal Chandran

Last Rebellion is the latest effort from NIS and HitMaker. That in itself is enough to make many readers stop reading right here and turn the other cheek. I don't blame them since HitMaker's prior US releases, Dragoneer's Aria, Blade Dancer, and A Witch's Tale, were mediocre at best. Enter Last Rebellion. The trailer for this game offered a glimmer of hope that perhaps, with the help of NIS, HitMaker could live up to its name and rise from the mire of mediocrity. So is Last Rebellion the hit that HitMaker is looking for? Well, the game does have its merits and plenty of potential, but offers an experience that only a select niche of players will truly adore and most players will abhor.

Players explore this world with a surly warrior named Nine who has to reluctantly share an existence with another warrior named Aisha after she witnesses a bizarre Freudian incident that goes a little something like this: Nine gets into a wangsty argument with his dad. While the two are arguing, Nine's brother Alfred sneaks in, kills their dad, makes a little bad guy speech, then resurrects dad's corpse to kill Nine. Aisha then uses a forbidden spell to revive Nine, but there is a catch. You know how some stories have two people sharing one body? Well here, we have two bodies sharing one soul, thus Nine and Aisha's bodies cannot simultaneously exist in the "real world" so they need to periodically switch off. Of course, the ol' switcheroo can easily be done anywhere with the press of a button, though, and since there aren't any inns, HP or MP replenish depending on who's on the field.

Nine is a typical JRPG angst bucket with shallow, misguided, and apathetic anger toward everything. Aisha is more grounded and obviously smarter than Nine, but we only get to see her exasperated side for most of the game because she's stuck in this bond with a petulant cold fish. None of the characters are very likeable at first, and only in the tail end of the game do they develop a little bit. There was potential here for a decent buddy story what with Nine and Aisha's unique relationship, but it was sadly unrealized and instead we got a mishmash of clichés hurriedly thrown together in a way that was not engaging and sometimes even nonsensical. I've seen far better examples of RPGs with the "sullen boy with family issues learning to get along with an exasperated girl who can't stand him in order to exact vengeance against his brother and perhaps help the girl exact vengeance against a power hungry god destroying the world" plotline.

The clichéd storyline wouldn't be so bad if there was good storytelling or dialogue to bolster it. Unfortunately, the writing is hackneyed and the cheesy voice acting only makes things worse. There was a glimmer of potential in the story, especially given the darker atmosphere not typically seen in your average JRPG, but it was sadly unrealized and the story felt like it ended before it truly began. And the ending itself? A cheap excuse for an ending that reeked of a lack of effort.

The graphics and music do not really help Last Rebellion's case either. Last Rebellion looks like a Playstation 2 title. The backgrounds would not be out of place in games like Wild Arms 5 or Final Fantasy XII, but the higher resolution character and enemy models look and animate nicely. The game also gets style points for the appealing character designs, the still character portraits by Ayaka Kato that look hand painted, and the loading screen art by high profile guest illustrators like Hyung-Tae Kim (Magna Carta series), Haruhiko Mikimoto (Macross series), and more. My personal favorite loading screen belonged to Airi Hori. Unfortunately, dungeons and other explorable areas look rather bland and the sheer dearth of people and towns made the world seem like an empty wasteland; although a plot point late in the game does explain why the world is so barren. The game does not look bad and has hints of style and atmosphere, but it will not win any awards for next-gen graphics.

The music mostly consists of minimalist electronic music in the game's various locations. The location music sounds less like music and more like a bunch of sound effects haphazardly thrown together in a dissonant way. Some of the music (i.e. the Henil Cavern theme) grated like nails on a chalkboard. The best pieces of music are the title screen theme and the various battle and boss themes, some of which evoke a mild Yuki Kajiura vibe. The vocal themes that bookend the game are good as well and I liked the vocal song that played for the penultimate boss battle. But even with those few cool pieces, the game not only felt like it had a dearth of good music, but felt like it had a dearth of any kind of music. Since music is a vital component in my enjoyment of an RPG, this was a letdown.

Okay, now that I've gotten so much bad stuff out of the way, let's talk about the best part of Last Rebellion – the battle system. Remember the break zone system in Xenosaga II where you had to target particular parts of an enemy in a certain sequence to inflict big damage? Well, the turn-based battle system in Last Rebellion works similarly to that. Players will spend a LOT of time in battle, and even normal battles will require time, patience, and effort, especially when fighting multiple enemies. As with Xenosaga II's battles, some people will call Last Rebellion's battles "strateg-i-licious" whereas others will see them as tiresome. Now before you go running off saying, "Eww, no thank you," bear in mind that I disliked Xenosaga II's battle system but found Last Rebellion's fun. Therefore, this is Xenosaga II done right to me.

During battle, each turn allows players to select the body parts of the enemies they wish to attack and in what order. Attacking body parts in the right sequence yields big combo damage as shown by words like "BINGO" if you get part of the order correct. Attacking also "stamps" the body parts with a rainbow circle so that the next character's magic spells can hit those marked body parts for potentially bigger damage. HP, MP, and CP (the number of points determining how many normal "stamp" attacks can be taken in the battle) are pooled between Nine and Aisha, who trade off with each turn. Be careful, though, because negative status effects are also shared between the two, so status effects like "stun" can really turn the tide of battle against you. After a couple of dungeons, another gauge called "MF" comes into play that works like a classic "Limit Break" gauge where the gauge fills up as you take damage and once it's full, a summon is unleashed.

The battle system is deep, there is no question about it. There is even a mechanic where once enemies are down, Aisha needs to "seal" them or they'll revive with full strength. This is due to a plot mechanic (it's cool how some story and gameplay elements make contextual sense in the game) but also helps when retreading areas with weak enemies; Aisha can insta-seal enemies with significantly lower levels than the party.

Outside of battles, though, the game falters a bit. It's basically a fairly linear dungeon crawler with bland places to explore, most of which are fairly short but are recycled for the required fetch quests toward the end of the game. At the very least all the areas had automaps, reasonably frequent save points, and their short length kept the game from becoming painfully boring, especially given the lengthy battles. The lack of towns also means a lack of people to talk to, so the world seems more barren and far less engaging than the normally vibrant RPG worlds we're used to. Enemy encounters can be seen on the field beforehand, but are difficult to avoid since they will chase you down if they spot you and respawn very quickly once defeated. Because there aren't any towns to shop in, so the only way to procure items and skill upgrades is to kill monsters for them or find them in chests. The two protagonists are pretty much blank slates so it's 100% up to the player to distribute skills between them in ways that benefit their playing styles.

Difficulty-wise, Last Rebellion is not an RPG for beginners. All battles, even run-of-the-mill normal ones require strategy and I saw the Game Over screen quite a bit due to sloppy strategizing and the occasional cheap death. Admittedly, I did find that the game got a lot easier over time once I passed the Henil Cavern and further probed the depths of the gameplay mechanics to my advantage. However, it's still a game geared more for the genre die-hards. The optional boss battle arena stage that opens up near the end of the game may have whimsical looking bosses, but don't let their cuteness fool you. They pack a punch.

Although I think Last Rebellion is best game with the HitMaker stamp on it, it falls into the same HitMaker trap of "tons of potential that is sadly unrealized." The game's somewhat esoteric nature does not help matters much since it therefore only has limited appeal. The deep battle system and distinct atmosphere are plus points, but the lackluster plot, music, and graphics really hurt it. I'll admit, the game did grow on me and I actually liked it more than I expected to for its 19 hour duration, but it is not a game I can recommend at full price; especially with so many better and higher profile titles releasing this season. That being said, if you find Last Rebellion for $12 or less in the bargain bin, it's not a terrible purchase.


© 2010 NIS America, HitMaker. All rights reserved.

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