last word

no no, after you

Along with Always Sometimes Monsters, I bought Twelve Tiles' Last Word. Not knowing anything about a game with an intriguing premise (here, that you'll be socializing with other guests in an attempt to get the last word in) is always a treat. Last Word's gameplay involves two mainstays of JRPGs, searching the environment by via an action button and talking to NPCs, either of which may progress the story or provide additional topics. Where it differs is its combat/discourse system.

Instead of HP and MP, each character has a power, tact, and composure meter. Selecting a disruptive phrase from the action menu increases power; a submissive phrase converts power into tact; finally, an aggressive phrase converts tact into moving the 'conversation cursor' using the opponent's composure as bonus movement. Each phrase comes in three tiers, with an efficient, low cost, moderate benefit action, an average action, and an inefficient, high cost, high benefit action. Aggressive actions, for example, cost 10, 20, or 30 tact to move 3, 4, or 5 spaces (plus the opponent's composure for all of them) for a total of 0.3, 0.2, and 0.167 tact/space.

The shared conversation cursor acts as a visual indicator of each side's success in the verbal tug-of-war. Winning the discourse requires selecting actions, usually aggressive options, that move the cursor towards the opponent. Successfully reaching the end indicates that the winner has uttered the last word in the conversation. Having a higher discourse level starts the cursor closer to the opponent.

So to move the cursor a meaningful distance, players need sufficient tact to use aggression. Ideally, the opponent will also have a worse composure than the player, meaning that each aggressive act becomes more efficient for the player. But the same applies to the opponent, too, meaning that players either need to have more tact than their opponent or to use what tact they have more efficiently.

The strategy I found most successful during my play through consisted of spamming disruptive items until I had 80-100 power. While this happened, the opponent was either doing something similar or were weakly moving the cursor towards their goal—in the early rounds, low composure makes aggression less efficient. Next, I'd convert the power into around 80 tact which usually took two moves. Around this time, the opponent usually started to make aggressive, inefficient actions. Spamming efficient, 10-tact aggressive acts would allow me to exhaust their tact while eventually winning.

I suspect the idea behind the discourse system included making a non-violent game but still having a character-based progression system as in many RPGs. This is a laudible goal, but Last Word didn't quite achieve it. RPGs frequently provide new ways to perform the same actions—Fireball XI! Vorpal Sword +5 of Summoning!—and this provides a sense of progression that I didn't find here. There's a bit more to the discourse system I didn't mention (the three-elemental system used to affect your opponent's composure or the skills that can be unlocked in the game) because they didn't change the strategy I outlined above, though they did make it easier. So while Lost Word didn't quite work for me, I'm interested in seeing if Twelve Tiles iterates on the system in future games.