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The Last Battle (Sega Mega-drive) Review.

Hey O there, total disclosure. I have not completed this game I have tried and played the game for the last 10hrs plus so take this into account when reading the review.


The Last Battle (TLB) is a side scrolling beat'em up released in 1989 on the Mega-drive and Genesis. It was one of six release games for US Genesis and although I've not watched a single episode or read a page of the Manga I can tell that this game clearly had some inspiration from Fist of the North Star. Indeed it's only when actually reading up on TLB that I had the connection confirmed as the Japanese title is translated to "Fist of the North Star: The New Legend of the Post-Apocalyptic Messiah". I even put the title into Google translate and it came up with a fairly descent approximation confirming the connection to the Manga "Legend of the Savior at the End of the New Century Fist of the North Star". Interestingly this wasn't even the first Fist of the North Star game the first was released for the SEGA Mark 3 (Master System) under the title of Black Belt.



Plot


A great war has devastated the land and a rather unpleasant empire was established in its aftermath. This empire seems to have treated the "good people" like slaves. Then though hope came in the form of  Aarzak the mighty and his friends Alyssa and Max, who banded together to reclaim their homeland. By using Jet-Kwon-Do, a secret martial art, Aarzak was able to defeat the Duke, the Master of Tae-Kung-Fu. Peace was finally restored, but the remnants of the battle, Gromm, Gross and Garokk, the three strongest warriors escaped. This next bit is where I believe the story in the game starts. I'm taking this plot reference from the games intro but the fact that you see Max and and Alyssa in the first two starting sections sort of suggest that the following hasn't happened right at the beginning of chapter 1 in the game. Garokk with the other two plotted to one day return to power and after three years passed they staged a surprise attack on the capital city capturing Alyssa. Aarzak followed the trail of Alyssa's captors to the savage lands, where he prepared to face the three seemingly invincible foes.  After a fierce battle, Aarzak was able to defeat Gromm. However, in the midst of the fighting Alyssa was taken by (his?), I'm assuming this is a typo in the intro text as Alyssa sprite looks feminine but I'm aware that manga more readily has ambiguous gender characters then western comics. Either way Alyssa's captors take him/her to another location. In his quest to find Alyssa, Aarzak meets his brother Gross. Some time ago Gross lost his memory and as a result he turned to a life of violence. To save Alyssa, Aarzak is forced to fight his brother. But during the fight Aarzak was able to restore Gross' memory. With that done there's one last battle to be fought with Garokk, the most powerful enemy.  Aarzak learns that there is a secret to defeating Garokk which is contained in the sealed legacy of the creator of Jet-Kwon-Do. After much thought Aarzak is able to break the seal and learn how to defeat Garokk. After defeating Garokk in battle , which apparently happen over a course of a couple days, Alyssa is finally was rescued and peace is restored.

Pros


TLB is definitely recognisable to the Manga of The Fist of the North Star like I said I've only seen a couple of screen shots of the animated series and movies and even I could tell this had a connection to Fist of the North Star. The sprite design and the dystopian look, as well as the way the first enemy boss died really twigged the connection.


There is some puzzling in TLB as it is necessary to find specific allies to open paths or gather strength to fight the bosses as well as the trap stages which are about avoiding and dodging rather than fighting. It's nothing much and can be infuriating when backtracking but the variation on the usual move forward style of beat'em up, such as Altered Beast and Golden Axe, should be recognised as unique for the time.


TLB allows you to walk back through the stages. Yes bit of an odd Pro this one but if you enter a stage from the other side of the usual left to right you'll be treated to right to left beat'em up experience which is a nice addition and does mean you can play the stages backwards.


Mildly funny I have to admit that when my character punches some one and the subsequent low level henchmen gets sent guiding off the screen due to the force of a single punch it does kind of make me smile as well as the poorly translate conversation boxes make the whole experience a bit silly.

Cons 


TLB only gives you 1 life and no continues, yes you have a life bar which when dealing with the normal thugs seems fine but you soon realise how quickly that disappears when dealing with a competent opponent. Upon death that's it your back at the start even if you use the continue chapter cheat you'll still have to work from the beginning of that chapter having to repeat it all again. 


There is a time limit, This is probably one of the most arbitrary things in the game and I can't think of any other reason why it's here except to stop the player grinding for more power in there power bar as it only applies in areas where your dealing with regular thugs. So enjoy the 99 seconds you've got to walk through the ruined town and beat up every one before your life bar starts tanking.


Navigation unknown? Now this is a unusual one as your given a map screen after each stage you complete or ruin you pass through. Now you'd think I'd be able to tell which way to go from this like which area has a boss or which area has an ally or a friendly village but no. The closest indication of a possible boss battle was a Colosseum looking sprite to the north east so I opted to go south to another cityscape turns out that's a boss area as well so yep it's basically trial and error and if you enter a boss battle without been prepared well that's the end of you.

Repetitive sprite use is another staple of TLB. Now I'm aware that other games are guilty of the old palate swapped goon, notably Streets of Rage, but TLB takes this to the Nth level. The goons look identical in chapters 1 and 2 the only difference been them are weapons they hold and a change of colour between stages. Yes they vary in the way they act depending on the weapon but seriously it feels like your been attacked by a clone army either that or the same quintuplets each one returning to try again after you punch them beyond the boundary of the screen. There is some variation in chapter 3 with the inclusion of pirates and new goon sprites and it's the most varied in chapter 4 but considering how frustrating it was to get to them I don't consider it much of a reward.


TLB's presentation of the Story. I think this must be one of the most boring story intro's I've seen. It's literally a black screen with a text scroll, no music and no images. So bland it beggars belief why it's even in the game it may as well be confined to the manual, even Sonic 1 has the sense to do this and allowing the player to go straight into the action. At least it can be skipped with the Start button and if the scrolling is to fast for you it can paused by holding either one of the A, B or C buttons.


TLB's music score is not terrible, but it's not very memorable either, if anything I found it bizarrely subdued. I suppose it's to denote the desolation of the wastelands but it stayed rather subdue through out so I kind of tuned it out. I even had to specifically go back to areas to check if there had been any music change I determined at least 4 music scores but there could be more each one wasn't particularly thrilling.


Nerdy C's Nerd O Metre Rating


A kind of undecided, low 2 out of 5


The Last Battle kind of left me exacerbated by it's insane difficulty spike when running into any boss and with only one life you either work out the pattern of attacks or die, and go back to the start. I couldn't even use a cheat to check out all the levels. So my recommendation is to get a strategy guide and be prepared to sink 15hrs plus into working out how to fight the bosses also get to know how to pull off the one cheat you can use it will help you significantly in later chapters. Anyway it would be remiss of me to base my whole rating on the experience of the games massive difficulty curve. The game itself has good sprite design and does feel authentic to the source material even though characters names and sprites have been altered you can tell this is still Fist of the North Star. There are also interesting mechanics in here such as the power increase which generates new attack sprites for the main character, though this would have been better if it was expanded upon. It's down sides though of repetitive sprite goons/backgrounds and infuriating difficulty as well as a quite frankly pointless map screen make this a difficult one to repeatedly come back and play.

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