Ultra-Indie Spotlight Sunday: The Last Spell And The Terror Of Imminent Defeat

A classic tale of why we shouldn’t use weapons of mass destruction, this time through the lens of wizardry. A court mage of a kingdom at war creates a spell casting a terrible purple explosion that obliterates another kingdom. In turn, others develop that same magic, and soon every kingdom and wizard is annihilating each other. And in its wake, a purple mist that twists and deforms the humans caught within. The village in which this game takes place is the last bastion of humanity. Several mages in the center of town are working to seal off humanity from all magic entirely, hoping to end this magical apocalypse. Your job is to guard these mages with your life as they cast The Last Spell

Conceptual Meta-Wank:

Not every horror game winds up being scary. On the flip side, not every non-horror game is without its scares. Sometimes a developer unintentionally (or perhaps intentionally) adds moments of terror to an otherwise not so scary game. Looking at you, Ecco The Dolphin. Still other times, even without any aspect being that scary, a game can fill the player with extreme stress and dread. This is one of those games. 

The Last Spell adopts the aesthetic of horror, but that certainly does not make it a horror game. However, the game does have you facing a nigh insurmountable challenge; seemingly endless wave attacks against mutated human monsters. Trying your best to hold the hordes outside the city walls, before long you are entirely overwhelmed, and the city and all its inhabitants are annihilated. Even in a turn based game, this can get your heart pumping. And that’s something indie horror devs should note. 

Non-Wanky Game Recap:

Gameplay in The Last Spell is primarily turn-based strategy. You have a squad of 3-4 heroes and you must fight off wave after wave of undead. Each character has a set amount of stamina and mana, so making each attack count is critical, lest you get overwhelmed. The Last Spell is also a roguelite game, so failure is expected. Every time you lose, you get some upgrades that carry over to the next game.

What Works:

Obviously, The Last Spell is more a horror-themed game than a horror game. You likely won’t find yourself jumping out of your chair when you see a ghoulie attack your hero. But the war of attrition you find yourself in will certainly give you extreme stress. Even the first few waves in a game are challenging. As the game rolls on, you find yourself facing dozens of the creatures per wave in an ever-shrinking battlefield. The walls close in and you can’t keep your buildings from being destroyed. Eventually, you’re sacrificing everyone in the village, just to keep your wizards safe. And you’ll probably fail. 

What Doesn’t:

As is tradition in roguelite games, the challenge gets easier. The Last Spell is a game where initially you will lose. Lots. But each time you lose, you carry over a little more item unlocks or buffs to the next game. This is all to be expected in a roguelite game. However, the opposite is true in a horror game. The challenge should get direr and direr. 

How To Fix It:

I wouldn’t ask The Last Spell to get more and more challenging in the base game. But if they wanted to get the feeling of stress up, they could certainly create a nightmare mode or something. Maybe where you have a somewhat completed “build” you’d start with, but in exchange, face wave upon wave of exceedingly tough enemies. That said, The Last Spell is perfectly fine as is. Each game has a constant progression of difficulty. The stress is constant. 

Wanky Musings:

One goal of this article is to help indie developers find new ways to express horror in their games. Not just from your typical Amnesia or Silent Hill type horror games, those ones are obvious. Finding a horror element in a non-horror game gives us some insight into the mind of a gamer, what makes them tick and what makes them dread. The Last Spell has no jump scares, but all the same, it demonstrates clearly how facing a nigh insurmountable challenge can get your anxiety through the roof. There is something to learn from this game. 

You can check out The Last Spell on Steam by clicking here

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