The Last Spell

I know it’s early. I mean, we’re still in the beginning of March here — we’ve got almost ten months before we start really thinking about what we should crown the 2023 Game of the Year. However, right now, The Last Spell seems like it’s deserving of at least a nomination. This is one of those games that sets its ambitions super high, then nails just about everything that it sets out to do.

In case you haven’t heard of The Last Spell (its Early Access period has been nothing short of contagious), it’s a tactical RPG in the vein of Final Fantasy Tactics or Disgaea, but with tower-defense and roguelite elements thrown in. So, you know how in Disgaea, you have a team of up to ten characters who do battle with an enemy team of maybe up to 20 or so baddies? In The Last Spell, you start out with a team of three, and you’ll do battle against an army of literally hundreds.

This does change the TRPG formula a little bit, as instead of strategizing positioning for maximum damage to a single enemy, you need to think about how to blast multiple enemies — preferably dozens — in a single turn.

The Last Spell

But you’ve also got plenty of resources to draw from. I’m a big fan of the ballistae, which you can unlock fairly early in your playthrough and will absolutely decimate large swaths of undead fodder if you can get a full row set up at the edge of your village. You can also construct useful buildings during the day, like an alter that will allow you to heal your characters between battles, or mines that will passively acquire gold for you.

There’s permadeath, of course, so the three characters you start out with are almost certainly going to each meet their own untimely demise, but there are also permanent unlocks that make each run a little bit easier than the last. So you probably won’t be successful on your first run, but you’ll likely unlock a few things that will give you a much-needed leg up in the next run. Rise and repeat. This is where the game starts to feel a little bit like a roguelike — it’s a run-based, randomly generated affair that makes more and more sense to you as you play it.

If you can clear the first village (which requires you to survive for a full week, then defeat an army of harpies), you’ll unlock the Inn, which is a must-have addition to your town. This building allows you to recruit more fighters, which means you aren’t stuck with a three-person team forever. Plus, when a team member bites the bullet, you can recruit someone new to replace them — if you have the gold to spend, that is.

The Last Spell

As you get deeper into the game, you’ll unlock more classes, like a swordsman who has a thrusting attack that will cause them to move forward, or a grappling-gun-wielding attacker. And while the early classes are decent enough to play, the later classes are ridiculously fun. I’m especially fond of the ridiculously wide shotgun blast of the gun-wielder.

Now, I do think the tutorial moves blisteringly fast, especially since the game chucks a mountain of information at you in the early stages. But at the same time, I can understand the instinct here — instead of slowly dragging you through each of its systems one by one, the game says, “Hurry up, you’re going to love this!” and grabs you by the hand, pulling you through the basic information at a rapid clip. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed in this phase of the game — I admittedly had to put the controller down and just process what I was looking at for a bit — but once it all clicks, The Last Spell is ridiculously satisfying to play. The systems are complex, yes, but they’re really well thought-out, and they interlock with each other in really interesting ways. No matter how much time you invest in a session, whether that’s 30 minutes or several hours, you walk away feeling like you accomplished at least a little bit of something.

Once it all sinks in, the gameplay loop becomes hyper-addictive, and you’ll find it really difficult to put this one down. Seriously, after spending six straight hours with this thing, I went to bed and woke up thinking about and strategizing my next session. I think I’m going to spend a good chunk of March pushing through the latter portion of this game, and redoing the early-game runs with the difficulty cranked to max. Once The Last Spell grabs you, it’s not going to let go easily.

The Last Spell

The Last Spell is an immensely rich and satisfying meat grinder of a game, tasking you with surviving wave after wave of undead hordes on a turn-based grid. The learning curve is a bit steep, but if you can get over that, you’re in for a real treat. In fact, I would even say that this is one of Spring of 2023’s must-play titles — especially for fans of TRPGs and roguelites.

Disclaimer: I was given two codes for The Last Spell — one for Steam and one for PlayStation. I played the game mostly on PS5, but I did dabble with it on PS4 and PC a bit as well. The opinions expressed in this article are my own.

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