Step into the shoes of an aspiring actress in The Last Act, an indie mystery otome visual novel by Snowhaven Studios, where her audition for a role at a theatrical play wraps her into more drama than she bargained for. Released for PC on 16 March 2021, this original English language visual novel (OELVN) focuses on Sarah, a young woman who has a passion for the theaters and dreams to be the leading actress of a play one day. And what a one fine day it is when she gets cast as the lead role in a small production play — that is, until she starts experiencing supernatural sightings and even a near-death accident. Along the way, she crosses paths with three male love interests: Joshua the co-star, Gavin the investigator, and Silas the ghost. What happens after, regarding the show and mysterious events surrounding the theater, now rests on Sarah’s shoulders.
Drawn in by its premise of ghostly encounters at the theater, I was quite curious to see what this otome OELVN has to offer. But it eventually left me with disappointment, the reasons for which shall be discussed in the following spoiler-free review.
A vibrant gallery with much room for improvement
Sporting a more cartoonish art style not often seen in visual novels, The Last Act stands out visually with a refreshing look. All its characters look cute, youthful, and energetic, which is befitting of the cast consisting of young adults. Nevertheless, it did take me some time to get used to how Gavin looks as he seems somewhat younger than I thought he is.
While the appeal of the art style depends on individual tastes, there are still technical aspects worth pointing out. In particular, for the character sprites. I love how animated the facial expressions are through well-applied exaggerations of the character’s eyebrows, eyes, and mouth shapes. Although there is no variation in the character’s given pose and outfit, it is not an issue because one, the facial expressions already convey the intended emotions strongly without the need for an added body language, and two, there is nothing in the story that warrants an outfit change.
What I do take issue with is the crude horizontal flips as well as noticeable mismatches in the facial expression with the writing. Whenever a character has to face the opposite side, their character sprite will just be flipped horizontally, so the left button on a shirt is now on the right. Due to how distinct the left side differs from the right in the character designs, a basic horizontal flip of the individual sprite simply results in an awkward-looking visual. Adding on to the awkwardness are instances where the characters’ facial expressions do not quite match the information given in the writing, be it in terms of emotion, intensity, or timing. For example, Sarah has a (what I presume is) seductive smirk that makes me wonder why she is rolling her eyes after agreeing to be Gavin’s romantic partner. Then, there is Joshua’s angry face which sometimes makes him look far more furious than he supposedly sounds in his dialogues. Many times, facial expressions also do not get updated in a timely manner, giving rise to visual cues that conflict with one’s logical expectations, like the moment when Joshua is blushing shyly instead of expressing his shock upon hearing Gavin’s revelation.
Another significant visual aspect observed in The Last Act is animations. These minor animations, which apply to many things other than the character sprites’ eyes or mouths, come in two main forms: one that is timed to the story text, and the other that runs at the beginning of a new text line. The latter is most commonly observed in other visual novels. The former seems nice; imagine a character moving to the side only at the point when the accompanying text states so, which means there is synchronization between what one sees and reads. Or at least, in theory.
When I encountered animations that are timed to the text’s appearance in The Last Act, I was actually left confused and wondering “What was that mishmash of movements and scene change?” At one point, it even made me feel the game had spun out of my control, as if I had used the “Auto” feature when I had not. I thought the timed animations might flow more smoothly if the text message speed is changed from instantaneous to something slower, but trying to keep up with and make sense of both the appearing text and the animations at the same time still proves to be too difficult for me. For these few scenes, I can only read the entire line first then rollback to see the accompanying animations again to manually make the connections. Thus, even though this type of animation is quite novel to see, I find its implementation neither practical nor good here.
Next, background art may look simple at first glance, but they are good in terms of perspective and adhering to the overall cartoon art style. Several venues also feature day and night variants to complement the narrative. Generally, I find the lighting in the indoor background art pretty mesmerizing to look at; I especially enjoy looking at the soft warm glow radiating from the standing lamp in Sarah’s cozy apartment.
Again, as with the character sprites, the problems with the background art lie largely in their usage rather than in themselves. Instead of having one more variant for venues involved in scenes where all indoor lights are switched off, a black semi-transparent layer is laid on top of the original background to lower its brightness. This is an okay workaround but with light sources still visibly lit in the darkened versions, the edited backgrounds do look unnatural.
Unnatural-looking edits aside, there are visual bugs concerning the background art. First up, there is a part where the scene begins in a darkened apartment, and after Sarah does a lot of things except switching on the lights at any point, a brightly lit room is displayed at the end anyway. Another glaring mistake is seen when Silas begins talking at the theater and out of nowhere, Silas and Sarah are teleported to Sarah’s apartment then yanked back to the theater after a while. In yet another Silas’ scene, the black overlay meant for the background art also covers two CGs that appear in that segment. These visual bugs, while seemingly minor, ultimately break the narrative flow, and more so when there is a huge discrepancy between what is shown visually and through the story.
The Last Act features twenty unlockable CGs, with five being variations of their corresponding main CGs. Typical for a short title, the majority of the CGs illustrate the main endings. Lamentably, love interests do not get equal focus; Silas takes up the biggest proportion of CGs while Joshua has the least. And though these CGs convey various moods adequately through thoughtful use of colors and lighting, they are lacking in range of composition for stronger, more lasting impressions.
Apart from the unimpressive main menu and minimalistic history log screen, the User Interface (UI) design of The Last Act is on the whole a delight to see. Not surprisingly, the design follows a theater theme. Yet surprisingly, design elements are implemented pretty cleverly throughout: the textbox resembles a stapled stack of manuscript papers; the quick functions look like typewriter text on a manuscript; the game menu is styled as a classy program insert and playfully titled as “Intermission”; the choice boxes become pieces of paper; the gallery screen is set atop a study desk.
Clearly, thought has been put into the UI design but The Last Act could do better on the accessibility front. One improvement would be an added option to change font sizes, particularly since this game is made with Unity-based Naninovel that does not seem to have a built-in accessibility menu. Another point is to rethink the strategy of relying only on color coding for distinguishing the speaker. Assigning different colors to different characters’ names is a nice touch, but I do find Sarah’s red coded name close in hue to Joshua’s orange coded name and therefore not actually immediately distinguishable by text color. It would likely be easier to follow the changes in speakers if additional visual cues were used on top of color coding. Finally, a dedicated Help screen explaining the available keyboard and mouse controls would be appreciated.
Loose script with untended details and overambitious branchings
Sharing a fate similar to the art, the writing, despite its decent foundation, falls apart when weaved into the game. Noteworthy qualities of comfortable pacing and witty dialogues are unfortunately buried under several issues, the most offending being The Last Act’s overambitious branchings.
Providing twenty-eight choice points even in the shortest route possible, this visual novel offers players plenty of opportunities to direct how its entire show will go. And most of these choices really do matter, thereby strengthening the game’s replay value. Certain dialogues and choice points will go differently depending on the player’s previous decisions made. There an is effort in ensuring various choices are accounted for but perhaps due to the sheer amount of choice points available, not all grounds are covered.
My main fuss with the branching logic in The Last Act is with Sarah’s belief in the supernatural. There are some overlooked loopholes that result in contradictory conversations. For example, after Sarah declares that she truly believes in the existence of ghosts in front of Joshua, she can later still say, in earnest, that she shares skepticism regarding the supernatural without rousing Joshua’s skepticism of her. In another mind-boggling case, Sarah choosing to believe in ghosts but think the supernatural encounter to be a mere dream opens up a serious “I don’t believe in ghosts” dialogue option down the road.
Something else that irked me is the wholesale copy and paste of Silas’ endings. Because of this, I find the variant ending CGs for this love interest totally not worth the time to unlock. Fueling my irritation is noticing that even the obvious difference in venue is not accounted for in his copy and pasted romance ending. On the positive side, seeing the silly man confidently stating “here” without realizing they were at a different location made me chuckle. Luckily, Sarah could understand him perfectly or else he would probably be regretting his careless words for a long time.
In an attempt to spice up its storytelling, The Last Act occasionally makes use of the delayed text effect, where parts of a single dialogue line are shown only after a short delay. Similar effects have been utilized in other games to varying degrees of success but not in this game. Due to the text’s center alignment, when the delayed effect is applied, one can observe the first words getting pushed roughly to the side to make space for the rest of the line that is going to appear next. Rather than successfully emulating a nuanced pause in speech, the effect hence becomes unsightly and distracting.
Regarding the writing itself, one weak point of this succinctly written story is its side characters. Without enough attention given to them, they feel like inconsequential fluff in the grand scheme of things. Scenes involving these side characters are oftentimes entertaining and intriguing, and it is precisely because of this that it is so infuriating to realize they are quite neglected on the whole.
The writing could also do better with respect to mood setting. I could feel pain and sadness when reading some parts, but ironically could feel nothing reading the supposedly “dark truth of the theater” that the game description promised. In addition, one of the recollections always throws me off no matter where I encounter it because of how abruptly its opening sentence cuts in every single time.
Otherwise, the quality of the writing in The Last Act is decent. Grammar and typo mistakes are minimal, storytelling is smooth and straight to the point, and there is a noticeable build-up of narrative tension to keep players hooked. Plot twists may not be extraordinary but there are no major loose ends in this compact mystery story.
Loveable characters, unsatisfying love
Romance in The Last Act is minimal. There is not much relationship development but there are sweet, albeit brief, confessions and romantic epilogues. If one could find the love interest(s) agreeable from the get-go, it would probably be easier to soak in those few fleeting romantic moments; if not, one may find it hard to get a kick out of the romance in this otome game.
Personality-wise, the protagonist and love interests have distinct traits. Sarah is a hardworking lady who is not afraid to speak her mind, Joshua is a genial guy who can be rather shy, Gavin seems laid-back but is serious in his profession, and Silas is an enigmatic but friendly spirit. Character development, however, is practically nonexistent for all of them. Most are happier than they were at the start and that’s about it.
The Last Act features four broad endings: a romance ending for each of the three love interests and a non-romance default ending. Not counting the multiple possibilities for the mystery plot, there are generally at least two possible paths, some three, leading to each romance ending. Both Joshua’s and Gavin’s alternate paths are worth playing as they show different scenes and choices, unlike Silas’ paths that are filled with copy and pasting.
Even though the game has plenty of choice points, it is not that tough to figure out how to obtain each character’s romance ending. Even if one does fail to get the romance ending, there is no particularly bad ending to worry about. Well, there is one distressing scene with agonizing screams, but the player would have to consistently make coldhearted choices despite Gavin’s repeated warning hints in order to get it. Other sad scenes are milder in comparison and the default ending always ends on a positive note.
A hauntingly beautiful soundtrack
Twelve unique music tracks are composed for The Last Act and they form the biggest highlight of this visual novel. Be it mood pieces or character themes, every track turns out to be a wonderful treat with its largely orchestral arrangement that is a perfect fit with the theatrical theme of the game. From foreboding eerie music to calm delightful melody to chilling melancholic tune to fun mischievous groove, there is no uninteresting piece to be heard in this soundtrack. Truly, props to the composer!
On top of providing a richer audio experience to accompany the story, sound effects (SFX) are also sometimes used to create jump scares in this visual novel. Perhaps the jump scares are actually unintended as this is not a horror game, but I have been spooked by some of the sudden loud sounds, in particular by that accursed hairspray bottle. Still, I find the SFX library quite limited as there are several instances where I was expecting some SFX but hear none, leading me to even wrongly think there is no SFX at all at first.
Notes on functions and PC controls
Arrow keys for highlighting choices are not supported so there is a need for a mouse or touchpad.
There are ninety-nine save slots and eighteen quick-save slots. On my laptop, there is some visible lag in loading the occupied save slots’ thumbnail images upon a page change. But otherwise, they work as intended.
Amazing music, vibrant visuals, likable cast, high replayability, okay mystery, and sweet romance — all these qualities are unfortunately overshadowed by many more issues and bugs plaguing The Last Act. Nonetheless, I would recommend this game to those who like short stories involving the supernatural and do not mind a lack of relationship development in their otome games. Until the visual and branching bugs are patched, I say:
WAIT FOR SALE FOR THE LAST ACT
Many thanks go to Snowhaven Studios for a PC review code for this title.
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A person with many hobbies (and even more WIPs), KuroKairin plays, playtests, and reviews PC games. She loves games with good stories that bring her on an emotional and thought-provoking journey. Her favourite genres include otome visual novel, point and click, puzzle, and RPG. Follow her @KuroKairin.