There seem to be two main camps in gaming; one that embraces the new, and the other that longs for the good old days. I’m somewhere in the middle — I like playing new games, seeing where new technology takes us, but at times I just feel like going out, picking up an SNES or NES, and playing some of the old stuff. There’s something more wholesome about the 1980s and 90s of gaming for me so that, at times, the modern onslaught of realistic graphics and complicated plots overwhelms and bores me. Luckily, this is why games like Last Dream: World Unknown exist. They save you the trouble of searching for an old console and provide old school mechanics with a new story.
Last Dream: World Unknown is the sequel to White Giant RPG’s Last Dream, and takes place in a brand new world called Firma. Here, your four heroes witness the destruction of one of the great cities of the world and have to uncover the history of Firma to save everyone. World Unknown does a really nice job of showing the world’s history through flashbacks, and these little cutscenes give you a small window to see what happened and piece together how that affects your journey. What’s lacking from the plot overall is your main party’s involvement. While I understand the game is a love letter to the old Final Fantasy games on the NES, your party has no dialogue, and they feel very detached from what’s actually going on around them. When you rescue a town from a siege, you’ve clearly influenced the plot, but when you’re not involved in most cutscenes, there is no real reward.
Your party of four can be likened to the four Warriors of Light in the original Final Fantasy. Depending on whether you’ve played the first Last Dream, you can transfer your party directly to the sequel. Otherwise, you get the chance to create your own party from 8 different classes and choose from a range of colour palates to make them look as serious or as silly as you want. The choice of classes range from genre staples such as the Knight, Black Mage, or White Mage to some that are a little bit different, like the Hunter, who is less a combat master and more a scavenger and survival expert, or the Gray Mage, who is like the Red Mage, but more physically orientated. I went with the Knight, Thief, Black Mage, and White Mage. Not the most original, but the most familiar and effective for my style.
One of World Unknown’s most interesting and fun additions is the characters’ field abilities. Some classes are more suited to exploration, as mentioned above. The Hunter can tame enemies so you can ride them on the world map, making exploration much quicker. The Engineer has the ability to dig through many of the open holes you’ll come across on the world map, and these act as shortcuts, cutting down on the number of battles you’ll have to face as well as saving you from walking around miles of mountains just to get to the nearest town.
There is much to explore in the world of Firma. The map is made up of several separate islands, and three major kingdoms — one ruled by elves, one by humans, and one by goblins. Everything is very animated and colourful, and each of the kingdoms feels different. The goblin kingdom is slightly more barren than the elven kingdom, which is half tundra beauty and half lush forests. A lot of thought has gone into designing the world of Firma and its inhabitants, including the monsters, who are all hand drawn and some wonderfully unique and grotesque takes on classics. The golems are much more like a cross between Final Fantasy’s flan and the traditional bipedal rocky giants, and there are acid yellow one-eyed spiders. Though some of the towns and dungeons could do with a bit more variety in terms of design, the whole package looks very nice.
You very quickly acquire a ship, which opens up the expansive ocean and the rest of the world early in the story. Of course, with such a large world, you’ll also be getting lost fast, and this sets the tone for a lot of the game. Trying to find what island you need to go to in World Unknown is sometimes confusing. The world is fairly big, so it’s very easy to lose track of where you’re going and what you need to be doing. Even when you weigh anchor at the dock, navigating each of the islands is very fiddly. Your next location might be right in front of you, but it’s more than likely blocked off by a river, a broken bridge, and a thick, impassable forest. This isn’t helped by the awkward controls, which cannot be mapped to a control stick, so not only will you need to skirt around these mountains or rivers, but you’ll probably walk into them more than once. It’s not always clear which way your character needs to go, and there are a lot of dead ends on the maps too, meaning it takes 10 to 15 minutes (not including battle time) to get to somewhere that’s essentially 30 seconds away.
The more you explore, the more easily you’ll notice the music for every island is different and reflects the theme of the narrative at that point. The first island of North Aldrin’s theme is very rousing and stoic, preparing you for the arduous journey ahead, while the elven island of Huldra is more ethereal. This is carried through to the battle themes, and boss themes, with every single track being different based on the location. The battle tracks are very guitar and rock heavy, getting you pumped for battle, but they’re not particularly memorable. That’s the same for most of the soundtrack, and that’s a bit of a shame, because a lot of work has gone into this.
In terms of how much content there is, World Unknown prides itself on choice, as shown by the character classes, and you’ve even got a large amount of choice on how to progress the game. These range from tiny things like threatening your innkeeper for a free night’s sleep rather than paying up front, to huge things such as deciding to plough through an army of over 40 enemies or head back and get some help. There are tonnes of sidequests and optional dungeons, which will only inspire you to get stuck in the world of Firma and explore, and a crafting system which, with a little bit of patience and resource gathering, is very rewarding. Just picking up the recipes from treasure chests can be a chore, but bringing them back to a town blacksmith and gaining an even more powerful weapon is a treat.
I’ve talked a lot about variety, but the game’s dungeon design does not follow suit. Each of these is either a cave, a mountain, or some kind of castle or prison, and consist of a series of corridors, dead ends, and extra rooms just to throw you off track. Navigating these areas is laborious at times. More often than not, you do get rewarded for being lost — cracks in the wall can be destroyed by a bomb and lead to hidden rooms, and you discover hidden treasure chests with healing items, armour and weapons. It’s still very frustrating when you’ve been going one way for at least 20 minutes only to find it’s a dead end and you’ve got to retrace your steps.
The game’s combat helps to break up this monotony. Fighting monsters in World Unknown is like putting on your best pair of socks because the mechanics are so familiar to anyone who’s grown up playing classic turn-based RPGs. You input the commands of each of your four characters, then each of them takes it in turns to attack. There’s nothing that is particularly innovative, but why would you fix something that isn’t broken? It was nice to just watch the action play out and unfold, and reap the rewards after careful thought and strategy for a change.
With a great amount of variety and choice, Last Dream: World Unknown is an RPG Maker game that deserves to be celebrated. The game is here to remind us that old school RPGs can still be fun, but it also brings back memories that we don’t always want to admit — that some parts are best left in the past. Regardless, if you love the NES and early SNES days of turn-based combat, I highly recommend this game. Otherwise, the archaic dungeons, awkward world map navigation, and the basic plot might put you off.