Heavy Rain wasn't the only PS3 exclusive released on February 23rd. There was also NIS America's Last Rebellion, a JRPG which casts players as Nine and Aisha as they attempt to restore peace and balance to their world. The quest took me just under fourteen hours according to the timestamp on my save game, and I had a lot of fun throughout. However, Last Rebellion's casual difficulty and lack of any side quests may ultimately make this a tough purchase decision for the JRPG crowd.
Two Gods In Disharmony...And Two Souls Become One
Last Rebellion puts players in the midst of a dark time where two powerful gods have fallen out of harmony. These two gods -- Formival and Meiktilia -- maintain the balance of life in the world. Meiktilia is responsible for taking souls of the dead, while Formival brings life. The opening narrated introduction goes on to say that Formival's reckless actions have created an unbalance. He's revived too many souls and now the world is overrun with demons. Meiktilia blessed certain people with the power to destroy these demons, and they were known as Blades. To destroy them isn't enough however -- these unfortunate souls must also be sealed away, and so Meiktilia also created Sealers. This is where Nine, a young, arrogant but highly skilled Blade and Aisha, a beautiful and caring Sealer, come into the story.
After a short tutorial to get you acquainted with the battle system, the primary component of Last Rebellion's gameplay, players are treated to the first of many story events. These story events take the form of conversations between the main characters. You can skip these at will by pressing Start, but I found the story plenty interesting enough to just read through the dialogue. Each of these events are voiced over with good voice acting and the dialogue isn't bad. By tapping X, you can quickly read through the conversation, which I ultimately found most convenient after the first few hours of play.
After a major event in the first few minutes of play, Nine and Aisha become one soul, bonded together. Only in the Vamino Room can both exist in the same plane of reality at the same time, but otherwise, only Nine or Aisha can appear at once. This is an important part of how you play the game because you can only control one character at time. You can switch between each character at anytime by pressing Square, however. Both characters behave similarly, with a few key differences besides their appearance and voice. For example, while you are roaming about in the game world as Nine, your MP will increase by one every second until it's full. While playing as Aisha, your HP increases by five every second. Aisha is also the Sealer, so to end any battle you must end it with Aisha sealing up the souls of the enemies you've just slain. Finally, what magic abilities each has will differ, depending on how you currently have them assigned.
Because it's such a big part of the game and before I go on any further, let me explain the battle system of Last Rebellion. Battles are started by story events (taking place after the dialogue driven scenes I just mentioned) and through random battles. For the most part, battles are random, and by that I mean you'll see a enemy walking in the game world within a certain patrolled area. If you get close to them, they run over to you and bam, battle starts after the screen blacks out and about a two second delay. Certain spells can be cast to allow you to run quicker and even be invisible to get by these enemies if you do not want to fight them. That's something I did a lot of during one of the last quests in the game (Tower of Freya) where I had to revisit all previous locations just to find a hidden item. Plus, it's possible, but not always the case, to simple Escape from a battle right as it begins.
But assuming you're engaged in one of the hundreds of battles you will partake in, you'll first note its turned based. A round begins with players choosing what they want each character (Nine and Aisha) to do. Somewhat early on in the game I found a routine that worked wonderfully for me -- use Aisha to cast the Physical Damage Increase spell (Power Gain I think it was called), then use Nine to start the attack. The key to the battle system though is figuring out what sequence to attack enemies in.
Each enemy can be attacked in many different ways, all depending on the order you decide to attack their parts in. Foes will have anywhere from five or six target spots up to ten. For each spot you target, you use a Chain Point (CP). Chain Points are similar to HP and MP, but you have far less CP than the other two. Eventually, around the halfway point of the game or so, I no longer found myself having to cast spells to regain CP. Reason being, I had leveled up enough to where I had plenty to go around for any battle, including boss fights. Deciding how to distribute your CP and therefore your order of attack on an enemy is a fun and engaging part of the battle system. After you select your sequence and the attack begins, you'll know when you've got an attack in the right sequence because the word "Bingo" will flash on the screen. Getting multiple Bingos consecutively will have the word "Combo" appear, and you'll note your Bonus Points in the lower right hand side of the screen increases during these times.
Obviously, trying to remember the correct attack sequence for the dozens of different enemies you'll face is a ridiculous task. Instead, the game will automatically reveal which attacks go in which order, assuming of course you've discovered these. Usually, against a new enemy, you might get one or two attacks in the correct order on your first attempt, so you'll have say numbers 1 and 5 revealed out of the possible 10. It's nice that the game saves that information for you, but you can also commit attacks to Memory by pressing L1. That way, anytime you face the same enemy in the future, you can simply press R1 to Call up your saved attack sequence. I thought this idea of having the player feel out each new enemy, which is engaging and fun, but then also allowing them to save this effort and later recall it, was great.
This way of doing battle is known as Attack & Stamp, or Stamp & Attack. You stamp the areas of an enemy you want to attack, and then you attack. Stamp Magic is used when you want to cast Stamp Magic abilities. So, having Stamped and Attacked, you can then call Stamp Magic to blast an enemy with Ice Shards, Mithril Arrows, Photon Light, and a variety of other offensive spells. In practice, I found myself using Physical Attacks coupled with Support Magic. Support Magic is a third option your characters have during your turn in a battle. Support Magic includes spells for healing, increased offensive, increased defensive, CP restoration, and affliction recovery for states like Gravity, Virus, Stunned, Dark Invasion, and Corrosion. What multi-turn Support Magic and affects you currently have going for (or against) you are displayed next to your HP meter in the upper left of the screen. Oh, and it's important to know that each character can't cast each Stamp or Support magic spell -- you have to decide who casts what in a separate screen. Either character can use any of your available Items, however.
You'll engage anywhere from one to five enemies at a time, a number you won't know until after the battle screen appears. Enemy types include a bizarre assortment of things like blobs of 'Gello,' lizards, Yeggs, Wolfmen, walking weeds, chickens, tiny hobbits, mermaids, griffons, trolls, and even droids to name a few. Each main area (there are about a dozen) has at least one unique enemy type, and within each enemy type there are a few variations. Regardless of what enemy it is, the battle sequences are the same. Oh and as a very minor note, sometimes when there were just two enemies to battle, the second enemy was nearly completely hidden by attack window. On more than a few occasions, not seeing this other enemy, I ended my turn without even addressing the 'hidden' enemy -- more of a goof on my part than the game's, but just watch out for that.
When you've worn down your enemy, they will collapse to the ground. You can tell how far along an enemy is by looking at the HP meter. After they're down, you need to Seal them within a few turns, or they will revive and be more powerful than before. This is rarely a problem though, but before you Seal, you may want to have Nine cast an Absorb on them first. Nine's Absorb power will drain a decent amount of MP from the fallen enemy, while Aisha's Seal will extract HP from them. Depending on the toughness of the enemy, you'll earn different amounts of MP and HP from Absorb and Seal. More importantly, Absorb is required to truly finish off an enemy, i.e., to end the battle. Also, you can cast Absorb and even Seal on an enemy that isn't completely beaten down, with some success. Whether or not that actually works depends on how high your Level is compared to theirs.
Should either Nine or Aisha die in battle, it's game over. That's the only way to die in Last Rebellion, there is no falling damage or environmental hazards, just enemies. I died about a dozen times in the game, most at the Caverns thanks to Yeggs and Skinks. To get passed them, I spent about an hour level grinding, and to be quite honest, the game was butter from there. It's not that wasn't still fun, but suffice to say that once I hit about level 24, I don't think I even got close to dying again. Considering I ended the game at a level 54, that's a lot of time of just cruising through the story -- about seven of the thirteen hours I would say. In that regard, I just wish NIS found a better balance between the difficulty level. Even for a JRPG rookie like me, it was just too darn easy.
More on Gameplay
With each battle, you earn XP, and this of course goes towards new Levels. The lower right hand corner of the HUD shows your current Level and what XP you need for the next Level. Last Rebellion did a nice, albeit expected, job of making sure you couldn't just wail away on repeated random battles with the same low ranking enemies to earn XP. Battles against tougher foes or ones where I learned another piece or two of their correct attack sequence would yield XP. New Levels increase the amount of HP, MP, and CP you can hold. You do not learn new magic abilities with Levels though; these are unlocked by locating red boxes throughout the game world.
The red boxes are one time use boxes -- once they're unlocked and you have taken their contents, they disappear. Red boxes should always be opened, and at key moments they also contain required items that open barriers. Sometimes they contain Equipment. Equipment can be worn by either Nine or Aisha and include a variety of earrings, rings, and bracelets that give small amounts of additional ability (increased HP, protection from certain attacks, etc). Blue boxes on the other hand are a little more common and can be accessed anytime you can unlock them. To unlock either you must locate Gannon Keys, and these are gotten from defeating enemies in battle. Initially, Gannon Keys are in short order, but by the end of the game, I had about 135 of these -- and you'll never need more than 10 at one time to open any box. Another element of the game I thought could have been used better was the Meiktilia Force (MF) meter. Later in the game, you encounter Meiktilia and she grants you this ability. As you take damage, the meter fills up, but it takes a long time to do so. When it's full, Meiktilia appears and does a ton of damage to anyone you're in battle with. Problem is, I only managed to get this meter filled about 1.3 times, and she appeared during a battle I really didn't need her in. There is apparently a Support Magic that can keep her from appearing until you want her to, but I couldn't even find this Support Magic, so I could never cast it. It's unfortunate that this ability isn't more usable, but it's possible the developers realized the game was easy enough without it, I'm not sure.
Last Rebellion's built in map and its story keep you moving in the right direction. Players will also encounter Kekans (think I got that spelled right) who look like Jawas from Star Wars. These NPCs are always next to save spot or some important junction and will often have something important to say. With the map, clear objectives, and the advice of the Kekans, I rarely got lost. And, getting around the world in Last Rebellion is much easier with the convenience of the mirrors in the Vamino Room. These can teleport you to any main area of the game after you've been there just one time. I also appreciated the numerous save spots that make taking breaks and recovering from lost boss battles (which is rare) convenient. Also of note, the Tips section in the Pause Menu. From here, you can examine a glossary of terms, read summaries of the scripted conversations between important characters, and read up on tutorial topics.
Finally, a few words on presentation. Last Rebellion isn't a high end visual shocker, but it does include some nice art and is technically good from a frame rate and animation perspective. At first glace you might be thinking 'PS2' in terms of polygon count and what not, but it's good looking nonetheless. The environments and enemies are weird, but that can be expected from the genre. As for audio, voice acting was good and the soundtrack wasn't bad. I did get a little tired of the battle music after so many hours, but certain tracks for certain areas were quite nice, especially the song that plays in the Caverns. Sound effects weren't bad either, but not quite outstanding.
To the summary...