Developer(s): Imageepoch, Capcom
Release Date: July 15th 2010 (Japan exclusive)
There are countless Japanese RPGs where a youth loses all he holds dear, hearth and home lost in one brief moment. This results in him embarking on a globe trotting journey to right wrongs and fight evil while developing a jolly band of friends. But, what happens if that isn’t the case? What if the youth willingly abandons what he holds dear, without any real fanfare, and he only cares for himself? What happens is that you get Last Ranker.
Developed for the PSP in 2010 by both Capcom and Imageepoch, Last Ranker did unfortunately not see the light of day outside of Japan. There was some demand for it, partly due to the pedigree of the team behind it, however it was not considered for release in other territories. Last Ranker tells the story of Zig, a villager from a small tribe of people. One night, he simply ups and leaves, journeying to a nearby city where tournaments are hosted to decide who is the strongest. Those at the top of the rankings act as the government. Along the way, he encounters those who seek to rise up to support their own causes, those too weak to do it themselves and keen to manipulate others, and even one from his own tribe. No matter what, only the strongest survive.
Progression is incredibly linear, with Zig having to scour the city and surrounding areas for people of a rank close to him. As he progresses through the ranks, the plot is steadily revealed. Interestingly, for a game where the whole point is to be the strongest, a central question is whether or not it is appropriate to have the “strongest” people remain in control. It’s also a question the game never really answers. It’s much more about the individuals and their reasons for wanting to be on top than anything.
Gameplay wise, it’s kept simple. As Zig’s rank raises, so too does his level, allowing him to use different weapon types, and increasing the range of abilities at his disposal. In it’s simplest form, the battle system is centred around a stamina bar which is depleted when you act, but steadily replenishes itself over time. The result is that battles are never too rushed, and means you have to choose your actions somewhat carefully. That said, in the later stages of the game, the range of abilities allow you to push your way through most encounters with brute force.
For a PSP game, Last Ranker is visually very appealing. If you have played Monster Hunter on the same platform, you can probably imagine the type of scenery and scale that Capcom were able to have the system pump out. A lot of this is background detail and unfortunately you do not get to explore the city to its full extent, but the sense of grandeur is very apparent throughout. Presentation is flashy, with bright, vibrant colours filling the menus and bold bars framing the screen in battle sequences. As you search the city, NPCs also have little markers above their head showing their ranking, so finding who you need to topple next can usually be a quick process.
Last Ranker most likely attracted attention due to it’s pedigree. Not only was it handled by Capcom and Imageepoch, but the team behind it are very well known. The story was written by Kazushige Nojima, who has involvement with Final Fantasy. An orchestral and occasional guitar orientated soundtrack was crafted by the ever impressive Yoko Shimomura, known for Street Fighter II and Kingdom Hearts, along with many others. Character design was handled by Tatsuya Yoshikawa, known for Devil May Cry and Breath of Fire, giving the visuals a distinct Capcom flavour.
While it hardly set the charts ablaze, Last Ranker is a solid title. It’s legacy is little more than a short manga series, and it has not been referenced since in any other form. Due to being on the PSP, a western release was perhaps unlikely from the start. While it’s hardly ground-breaking in what it has to offer, it does what it intends to do very well, and there are very few low points within the overall experience. If you have the opportunity to give it a try, it’s certainly one to consider.