Recently, a number of games have tried to find success merging two or more genres. There were FPS rhythm games, town management roguelikes, to even a shooter Soulslike. The Last Spell tries to merge a tactical RPG with town building and roguelike mechanics. On paper, this concept makes a lot of sense. Each aspect requires different tactics, with the three together being a real test of skill. Even though it makes sense in theory is the fun real, or purely hypothetical?
The Last Spell starts with a brief introduction to the setting. The narrative is nothing special, building on the classic solving one problem and inadvertently creating another. Essentially, this world use to be a magical place until wars broke out. Eventually mages used a spell that would banish magic from their realm, but in doing so created nightmarish creatures that now roam the world at night. You need to withstand their attacks to seal the area and prevent further attacks. Despite the simple setting, the gameplay loop is surprisingly robust.
Levels start with a couple of random characters of various classes, along with a variety of damaged buildings/defenses. Enemies will appear from somewhere, with later waves adding threats from multiple directions. Each wave consists of a night section that works like your standard tactical RPG. What you need to do is defeat these various enemies while taking as little damage to you, or the remaining structures.
It sounds a lot easier than it actually is. With enemies coming in waves, it isn’t uncommon to have 20 or more threats coming at you. These can be overcame, especially if luck is on your side, it just comes down to mitigating losses over outright preventing them.
I Think I Need a Bigger Fence
Turns should be familiar for tactical RPG fans. Characters can move a set number of spaces, with each unit having access to a couple attacks, and a support move. One nice mechanic is players can do whatever they want within those restrictions. I can move the same unit three times, hit with every attack I have, or keep it simple by defending a spot. Unfortunately, this also means The Last Spell expects a lot from players.
You’ll need to use powerful spells to defeat enemies in clusters, focus on eliminating threats, and keeping the larger forces at bay. Often times you’ll get a curve ball that keeps things interesting, even if one unlucky event can end with your failure.
After finishing a night you’ll receive rewards based off performance, and allowed to plan ahead. Every day section consists of using available resources, selecting skills for characters, and building your defenses for the upcoming attack. It’s important to pay attention to everything The Last Spell tells you, as all the information has value. Not realizing one side will have more enemies, or leaving resources on the table could be the difference from an S rank run and barely getting B. These things are also a slippery slope, so even if you make a small error on wave two, you might pay the price on wave four.
Where things get interesting are the roguelike mechanics. Which upgrades you get are somewhat random, with certain perks being better or worse versions of another. After finishing a wave you can select one of three random pieces of gear, shops will carry various potential items, to even the enemy formation/types changing from time to time.
Upgrades Make Later Runs Easier
Despite the randomness, there are lasting upgrades/perks that can be unlocked. All these systems act to ease you into the setting, with enemies/challenges improving to meet your new abilities. It can be a lot of fun if the experience resonates with you, or extremely frustrating if your tactics are lacking.
Speaking of frustrating elements, The Last Spell was clearly made with PC in mind. Console controls are not bad, they just take some getting used to. There are a lot of clicking, moving, selecting, and so forth that simply works better with a mouse. For these reason we would suggest PC over console if you have the choice.
Another fairly notable downside is length. Finishing a stage can take well over an hour, with it approaching two or more if you’re not the best tactician. Thankfully, quitting to main menu will save your current place, though it can still be a bit much if you’re looking for several shorter campaigns.
The Last Spell Review Verdict
Even though The Last Spell isn’t perfect, it does a fantastic job of bringing these genres together. Every stage is a new experience, with fundamental skills being more important than memorizing encounters. Fans will also likely enjoy the defense mechanics, as a well built town can make things a lot easier. For these reasons, if you’re a fan of the genre, or just want to experience a new RPG, you’ll likely love The Last Spell. However, if you want some quick missions that don’t require a large investment to learn, you’d probably be better off with another title.
[Editor’s Note: The Last Spell was reviewed on PlayStation 5, and a copy was provided to us for review purposes.]