Despite being one of the oldest game genres going, Interactive Fiction has never gathered much foothold into the gaming market since its original popularity in the early to mid-1980s. Of course back then a text adventure game could still be considered relatively new and interesting. When you consider that most home computers of that time were designed purely with home accounting in mind, just having any sort of game was better than nothing. Nowadays new Text Adventure games themselves are rarer than a Leprechaun who rides a Unicorn to work, the only way you’ll find one is by searching the deepest darkest corners of the internet.
Luckily we haven’t been completely deprived of Interactive Fiction over the years. In fact titles such as the well-known Graphical Adventure The Secret of Monkey Island took interactive fiction to a new level. In more recent years the genre has spawned yet another sibling dubbed the Visual Novel. Visual Novel series present the player with much more text and less actual gameplay, and just as with a real book – the reader is asked to use their mind and imagination a little more than they would with a traditional game.
Last Window is the sequel to 2007s surprise hit title Hotel Dusk; now if you’re familiar with the original game then you’ll have to excuse me while I give just a little bit of background for newbies.
Hotel Dusk 215 was an experimental title from Cing & Nintendo that put a Mystery Novella into the hands of DS players and hoped that the addition of visuals and some puzzle solving would be enough of a draw. The unique Rotoscoping visual design gave Hotel Dusk a rather unique look and was instantly attractive to anyone who caught a glimpse. You as the reader/player took control of a rather reserved ex-cop called Kyle Hyde who had to unravel the mysteries of Hotel Dusk in an attempt to find his missing partner.
Last Window is the follow up to Hotel Dusk and features a totally new storyline which only fleetingly refers to the original. Once again you take control of Kyle Hyde who still works as a detective around his cruddy day job; door to door salesman.
Everything seems fine until Kyle’s laziness finally catches up with him. Not only does he get fired from his job but the apartment block he lives in is also being sold off. With just a couple weeks to find a new home, this isn’t really the best time to be without your pay check.
If that wasn’t enough of an issue, Kyle gets himself embroiled into a brand new mystery after a strange note is put through his door one morning. An anonymous stranger is requesting Kyle’s help in finding the ‘Starlet Star’ which disappeared from a hotel over 25 years previous. Of course that is more than enough intrigue for Kyle but when he finds out that his apartment block actually used to be the hotel in question and that his neighbours are somehow involved, Kyle has no choice but to see this through to the end. Ok that’s the story – but what’s the game? Well once again you’re required to hold your DS in portrait mode (like a book) and prepare for a slow paced adventure with plenty of reading. The gameplay itself usually focuses on three different play styles.
First and foremost you explore the apartment block by walking its corridors and walking into the rooms looking for clues. During this exploration mode you’re presented with a bird’s eye view of the area you’re in on the Touch Screen. This also acts as your character control method; to walk you simply hold the stylus down in the direction you want Kyle to walk in. On the opposite screen you have a real-time 3D visualisation of the area, or in other words – you’re seeing out of Kyle’s eyes.
Your second most common mode of play is investigating objects close up. As you walk around in exploration mode any area that has items of interest (or even items of non interest), a magnifying glass will appear on your display. This icon signifies that you can take a closer look at that area and investigate any items there in more depth. In this viewpoint the DS screen position shifts and the 3D area is now displayed on the touchscreen so that you can tap on any items that catch your eye. This is also the viewpoint in which you’ll solve the rather small number of puzzles; usually this is completed by taking an item from your inventory and using it with something displayed on the screen; such as placing a cassette tape into an answerphone recorder.
Thirdly comes the questioning or interrogation. To solve the mystery you’ll need to frequently question and sometimes interrogate the neighbours that share your apartment building. Here is where the lovely visual style is shown off, the characters you are speaking to will appear on the touchscreen and Kyle will appear on the other. Because of the lack of voice acting you’re required to read the entire conversation, this actually makes it harder to appreciate the gorgeous animation but also means you can sometimes miss visual clues given away by a characters expression. That said, when you’ve spent many hours playing the game and reading the text your eyes will actually start to concentrate on the text more and the graphics less.
So why I’d like to chat about the game story more it would really spoil it for you and I’ll just have to apologise about being somewhat vague. Last Window for DS is a game that you’ll really have to play for yourself to appreciate the most.
Last Window’s graphics might not wow everyone but the rather unique Rotoscoping effect for the characters really does lend itself well to a Visual Novel game because it provides the fluid animation you’d expect from a game or cartoon but doesn’t distract you either because it looks like a classy book illustration. The 3D environments to the game aren’t amazing on their own but are more than good enough to realistically depict the environments you’re encountering. The textures in particular are a little blocky on occasion but not really more so than you’d have encountered on original PlayStation or Nintendo 64 games.
If you’re not a fan of jazzy tunes then like me you’ll perhaps think about turning the DS volume down a little whilst playing Last Window. With nearly every action in the game having accompanying text it’s probably not even essential to have the sound on at all, but I do happen to think the audio cues given whilst knocking on doors or looking at items is handy enough to put up with the rather off putting elevator music tunes.
I have to rather admit to enjoying Last Window for DS despite its lack of actual gameplay. Perhaps this is because I’m not averse reading a good novel anyway, those who hate reading of any sort will likely despise the game – but then they probably don’t read reviews either.
There aren’t too many negative points in Last Window to point out, on the odd occasion it’s possible to accidently hit a game over screen whilst you choose a wrong path in a conversation tree. It shouldn’t happen too often if you take careful note of what is being said but once or twice I feel I was hard-done by when a legitimate question I was asking was considered as wrong, and subsequently bad enough for Kyle to give up the investigation over.
Of course there are no multiplayer or online modes of any sort to be had around here; this is a proper single player affair with no distractions to take you away from the story. Nevertheless, Last Window has a good cast of characters, an engaging storyline and a handful of pretty hard puzzles to solve.
As long as you don’t mind spending more time reading than playing you’ll probably agree with me that Last Window DS should score a rather decent 7 out of 10.
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