There are a lot of games out there. The advent of development tools like Unity or RPG Maker have allowed designers of all skill levels to put a game together, and Steam, Android and iOS stores have opened the market to a lot of these budding developers and have expanded the number of titles out there exponentially. Now, big companies effectively have to compete with small groups and individuals ready to leap into the fray, whether newly-educated, self-taught, seasoned veterans, or even just someone playing around at a casual level. In theory, this is an amazing advent in game production. In reality, however, we wind up flooded with a swath of mediocre games that, while important practice for a game designer, leave players disillusioned, less and less willing to waste their time on another sparse exploration game or cliche-riddled RPG. As such, the words “Unity” or “RPG Maker” showing up in a description or set of tags will turn off consumers, having them check out and continue scrolling through the game list, before inevitably running into an endless string of identical shooters and “mature” anime dating sims and just giving up and going back to their MMO of choice.
I bring this up because there have been many times in my Steam queue that I have been tempted to put the tag “RPG Maker” into my filter, avoiding them altogether. I resist this urge however, as I don’t want to limit myself so greatly, as something could easily be hiding in there that really bucks the trend and creates something unique. As a gamer and a reviewer, I would be doing myself a disservice to ignore these games. And the game I’m looking at in this article proves that sentiment right. It’s a game that took RPG Maker and utilized more than just the basic tools therein to create a unique style all its own. Today, I’m going to talk about developer Twelve Tiles’ casual RPG, Last Word.
Last Word is an RPG with a turn-based battle system, much like you would expect from an RPG Maker game. However, rather than rely on HP, weapons, monsters, and so forth, Last Word features face-offs with fellow high-society party guests in an effort to outwit them and get in the last word. You play as Whitty Gawship, a stern but charismatic young woman invited to a party by the famous Professor Chet Chatters, who plans on revealing his latest invention to a specially chosen group of social climbers. In order to advance, you must challenge your fellow party-goers to discourse, gossip for information, and discover key topics to bring up in order to figure out the mystery of the night: just what is Professor Chatters’ invention, why has he invited representatives of these houses specifically, and what effect will it have on the war of the words currently being held between these two vaguely European countries?
To engage in verbal combat, Whitty will strike up a conversation with another guest. Disagreement or social posturing will ensue, causing them to enter an exchange of banter. By using Disruptive, Submissive, or Aggressive approaches, the speaker will gain power, tact, or movement respectively. The speaker needs power to execute social graces, tact to assure they can push the conversation while saving face, and movement to edge the conversation to its end, effectively getting in the last word. Each approach is sub-typed as Subtle, Common, or Overt, each of which operate in a rock-paper-scissors style to affect the tone of the conversation, with an effective combination setting the opponent off and increasing their temper, which affects how their actions come off. On top of all of this, a speaker’s Level will determine where the two of them start out, with a more skilled conversationalist starting much closer to getting in the last word. Regardless of the result, the speaker will gain some experience, with a win gaining more experience than a loss.
This system, though a little unwieldy at first, is really quite innovative and takes a fun, new approach to RPG Maker-style combat. Though many may find the set-up a bit too simplistic, really the discourse is only one part of the game. Whitty cannot rely on her conversational prowess alone. She must also discover facts about the other guests and the professor to uncover secrets and use those to push her way forward, permitting her to enter discourse with other characters and advance her standing, all while telling us the story of a world where words are weapons and war is fought with wit. The plot unfolds nicely, with the world being explained as you go, creating an effective bewilderment at the beginning that eases you into understanding and accepting the somewhat unrealistic setting Whitty lives in.
This game’s premise and rules bring to mind an old surrealist film by Luis Bunuel called “The Exterminating Angel”. In it, a group of high-society party-goers wind up trapped in a room, not by physical barriers but by social etiquette, each guest unable to leave for fear of leaving a bad impression or not living up to societal expectations of their respective stations. Last Word, however, looks more at what it means to have a discussion or a heated debate with someone, creating a world where getting in the last word leads to your social standing, which, in turns, controls your actions, leaving you at the mercy of your superior’s demands. It’s quite a fascinating little piece of storytelling from a very unlikely source.
As always, there are some flaws to the game. As previously mentioned, the combat system can be seen as a bit too basic and repetitive, and a real missed opportunity for those hoping that within battles themselves the two would exchange actual dialogue. Also there are moments where the writing is a little forced, including a few painful moments where actions are written into a dialogue box, even though the game typically uses Whitty Gawship’s observations to convey action through reaction. This leaves a jarring, inconsistent feeling in some instances. However, there is still a lot of thought and effort put into creating a unique experience, which may very well allow you to overlook some of its flaws.
Last Word is a genuinely unique game made in RPG Maker, creating its own feel and identity on top of a pre-existing engine. Its clever approach to gameplay and commentary on conversation and power provide an experience worth trying out. The game runs normally on Steam for $9.99, which might be a little more than I’d be willing to pay, but if you ever catch it on sale (as I did) it will be a worthy investment and addition to your library. I’d even suggest that it might be worth paying full price for, if doing so sends the message to other RPG Maker users (and to Twelve Tiles) that taking risks and being creative will pay off. Hopefully we’ll see more and more creative endeavors rise to the top as time goes on, and until then we’ll need to keep our eyes and minds open to quality being found in all kinds of places.