Whitty Gawship, a company photographer, finds herself at the estate owned by Professor Chatters, a linguist and military inventor, seemingly to enjoy a party. She gets herself acquainted with the other guests, well-to-do folks with more pun names based on talking, but soon finds herself in a conflict with one of mankind’s greatest weapons: the discourse.
Last Word is a game made in RPG Maker XP, where conflicts are verbal battles and having the final say is law. It’s by Twelve Tiles, development primarily led by Lannie “Merlandese” Neely III. A version of the game was originally made for Indie Game Maker Contest 2014 (available here for free; also Photobucket is bad), while this updated Steam version was released for $9.99 in 2015.
The plot advances as Whitty gossips around the house, finding new topics and improving her understanding of them to get more information out of guests. She finds herself acquainted with the drama of aristocrats, militarism and The Mouth – the weapon that Chatters created to aid the military and keep all the guests in line. Chatters further confides in her a mission: to find the word, a mystical word that ends all debate.
Discourse holds a special place in the world of Last Word. Having the final say in a conversation holds ultimate persuasive power. It’s why the mystical word in the latter half of the story’s so important – you’re pretty much the god of negotiations. I sort of find the importance of discourse in the game funny. Like, consider the fact that the party guests are trapped in the estate. It’s not because they’re physically stopped, but because The Mouth (essentially a one-way intercom) just tells them not to leave and nobody can talk back. It’s absurd and I love it. It’s a shame that online discourse today can’t be this fun; everyone’s just mad as hell and the discourse never goes anymore.
So, what is the discourse? It’s a battle system of a sort. It’s a game of reverse tug-of-war, a bar at the bottom representing who has the upper hand in the debate, victory dependent on which end of the bar the conversation shifts. Your character’s level factors in by determining where the debate starts out, with your higher level opponents having the conversation thrust more to the losing side and vice versa if you’re better than them. However, unless your opponent is hideously overleveled compared to you and you have no skills to back you, you can beat anyone with a good sense of strategy.
The debates play out by selecting moves in three categories: Disruptive, Submissive and Aggressive. Disruptive moves could slightly move the talk in your favor and generates power, which Submissive moves are dependent on. Submissive moves in turn creates tact, which powers up the Aggressive moves that moves the debate bar more significantly. However, you also have to be mindful of Composure. Every move has a tone represented by a symbol and in rock-paper-scissors fashion, you lower the composure of your opponent by selecting a move with a tone that beats the tone your opponent last used (regardless of category). Lowered composure means that your opponent loses more ground when you go for an Aggressive move; of course, you have to be mindful of your composure, since they can do the same to you. All this makes for an engaging system and a rare RPG Maker game that’s dependent on strategy.
Outside of these debates, you’re mingling with guests and gathering gossip. You can approach a fellow party-goer with a topic and if sufficiently new information’s learned on the topic, the topic is leveled up, which unlocks more dialogue from guests. There are special events throughout the game that’s also cleared depending on a topic being at a certain level and doing it grants Stored EXP, the game’s currency. With it, you can buy skills and extra skill slots (in the form of dapper bows, sometimes gained through leveling), so even if you’re bad at discourse, finishing these special events can help you out.
Generally, the game looks pretty good. The estate is nicely detailed and vibrant with colors, each room managing to look different. Unlike the IGMC contest version of the game, everyone’s got a good talksprite that’s pretty representative of who they are (from Whitty’s no-nonsense attitude to Mrs. Prattle’s wealthy condescension). The only thing that I’m kind of wondering about the art is the approach toward the overworld sprites. I don’t quite understand why characters are represented as colored silhouettes, aside from easy representations of their houses? This was present in the game’s original version, so it may likely be an intentional design decision, but it kinda feels off with me.
While on the subject of presentation, there’s the music. Last Word‘s soundtrack is full of calming tunes that exudes fanciness, which perfectly fits the setting. The battle themes for the game in the meantime are waltzy tunes, which are much more befitting of the context of the game’s “fights” then standard RPG fare. The final boss of the game particularly adds a dramatic flair to the normal battle theme, making things feel more climactic without stepping away from the game’s general tone.
The game’s also kinda interesting in that there are only a few actual maps in the game. Almost the entire game takes place on one map – or maybe variants of the same map that gradually change with each chapter. Sure, this means that there’s pretty much no variety in environments, but variety would be unneeded in this context. Besides, more maps honestly would have made going for 100% harder.
I nearly 100%’d the game in 9 hours, which I suppose could be the average playtime on this game if you’re trying to go for everything. I say nearly because I’m missing out on two special events and they could have been time-sensitive things I missed (quick heads-up, interact with the bottle on the right of the table before the end of the second chapter). There are a bunch of side things to lengthen playtime, including a new game plus that adds a true ending if you’re diligent enough.
One side thing that you can do are Seymour’s Challenges, a set of challenges starring one of the more important NPCs in the game’s story. He engages in discourse with the other characters, which are more challenging than the standard discourses because you don’t get to pick the skills he has and some of the challenges starts out with you and/or the other participants already on edge. While I think these challenges are good, what bothers me is that to play them, you have to level Seymour up, and he just sort of levels up on his own whenever you grind. It just kinda feels like unnecessary padding, but then again, you’ll probably end up grinding to tackle some other challenges anyway.
Last Word is overall a pretty nice game and it’s a good example of what you can do in RPG Maker. Usually when people talk about RPG Maker games on Steam (when they aren’t being negative), talk usually focuses on LISA or To the Moon and its related games and I feel that more attention should be given to Last Word.
[…] (On that note, the actual winners of the 2014 IGMC, Antagonist and Last Word, still got picked up by Degica, to much lesser success, while the creator of 3rd place winner Cope Island self-published to sadly even less success. I played Last Word though and it’s pretty good, don’t sleep on it.) […]