History has long been fuel for arts and entertainment, and video games are no exception. Ages of strife are perfect settings for intense action titles, from the shadows of the ancient world to conflicts that still define our lives.
In the case of The Last Soldier of the Ming Dynasty, that setting is China during an era of brutal pirate raids. This game has its fair share of rough edges, but there are some sound mechanics here for action fans who can deal with its shortcomings.
The story of this game involves a bit of a history lesson, but the good news is that it heavily involves pirates.
The Kingdom of Ryukyu was an independent domain centered in Okinawa that eventually ruled all of the Ryukyuan islands. This tiny kingdom was very significant during the early modern period when it served as an intermediary for trade between China and Japan during the era of China's isolationist haijin policies. It would eventually become a Ming Dynasty tributary state, which led to many Chinese people moving to Ryukyu to aid in its administration.
In the 16th century, this trade arrangement was threatened by the rise of the wokou - Asian pirates led by Chinese merchants ruined by Ming's trading restrictions. Armed with Portuguese cannons and sheltered by Japanese daimyo, the wokou were able to wreak havoc across the mainland for two decades.
The main character is a soldier unwittingly pulled into this conflict. Sent to Ryukyu on typical administrative duties, he soon witnesses the wokou raze a village. Now alone in hostile territory, he'll have to deal with the pirates all by himself or die trying.
The Kingdom of Ryukyu was an independent domain centered in Okinawa that eventually ruled all of the Ryukyuan islands.
The Last Soldier of the Ming Dynasty is a third-person action game focused primarily on melee combat, but it's not a hack-and-slash affair. The player is fragile compared to his enemies, and winning fights means employing finesse.
The player has access to three basic attacks - a quick thrust, vertical strike, and horizontal strike - along with a handful of special attacks unlocked throughout the game. Opponents have the same set of moves, but as mentioned above, they hit relatively harder. To survive, the player must read the opponent's attacks, then parry with the same attack, opening up an opportunity for a counterattack. Early enemies tend to have simple attack combos that can be memorized and read easily, but they get faster and more complex as the game goes on.
The system is intuitive and makes for interesting combat, though it isn't without its flaws. The character controls are tight but the camera is completely manual and frequently requires adjustment during combat. A game so focused on duels would really benefit from a lock-on camera, particularly during the more technical boss fights. Your ability to cope with this oversight will determine how much you enjoy the game.
The character controls are tight but the camera is completely manual and frequently requires adjustment during combat. A game so focused on duels would really benefit from a lock-on camera, particularly during the more technical boss fights.
The Last Soldier of the Ming Dynasty has some light RPG elements; the player can select from different weapons (including a bow and a musket for ranged combat) and armor is upgradeable. There are also some hidden upgrades, though the game is overall quite linear. These elements are secondary, as this is an action game at heart and it is mechanical skill that will determine success.
The graphics of The Last Soldier of the Ming Dynasty are meant to recall Chinese inks, with heavy lines and a muted color palette. While the visuals aren't the game's strong point, they are at least very distinct and offer a special feel to the whole game.
Overall, The Last Soldier of the Ming Dynasty is a rough ride, but one that should appeal to anyone looking for a technically challenging action game.
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