The Last Story is one of those games that really came out of the blue. Here we have a JRPG barren console and all of a sudden three games emerge from nowhere and deliver gamers some of the most refined JRPG experiences we’ve been offered since the original Playstation. The first offering was Xenoblade, the beginning installment of the “Rainfall Three”, with the next game being The Last Story. The Last Story is developed by Mistwalker, which is run by Hironobu Sakaguchi and Nobuo Uematsu (a fraction of the original team behind the renowned Final Fantasy series).
The game follows the story of a boy named Zael, who’s a young mercenary with a troubled past, has a haircut straight out of Japanese animation and, along the way, meets a friendly host of characters who make up a mismatched band of mercenaries. The story is pretty fast paced and revolves around the typical JRPG themes; love, betrayal, loyalty and magical powers. This does all sound pretty cliché, but the main reason they are used is because they’re tried and true themes. Luckily, the plot carries itself with some interesting twists of its own. Without spoiling anything- on a mission to exterminate a bunch of reptilian creatures, the team find themselves in a spot of bother, young Zael gains an unexplained power, the team continue their mission. This all happens in what felt like the first 10 minutes of the game and, sadly, that was my first major problem: having the story rush like this will probably put off JRPG veterans, but after around 2 hours of persisting with the quest things start to slow down slightly so players can catch their breaths.
My next point: the characters. Any RPG worth its salt should have lovable, or at least tangible, characters and The Last Story delivers on this very effectively. The cast really does make up for a lot of lost ground with the pacing, with characters progressing with the story and allowing the player to actually bond with what is a truly fantastic cast of characters. These characters make up your battle squad for pretty much all of the game, with each chapter using a set squad, with team choices opening up for an ‘arena’ style mini-game and some other optional parts of the game.
The most notable feature is the gameplay. The Last Story plays unlike JRPG’s before it, with a very unique combat system. Zael attacks in the direction you point the analogue stick. This feature alone made the game feel unique, due to it’s innovative control scheme and interesting combat. Although there are a few drawbacks with this combat system, mainly problems with targeting and trying to move past enemies without attacking, everything still feels fresh overall. Added to this are a few things like a first person crossbow view and a duck and cover mechanic to allow for stealth and the execution of certain moves within the game.
The other part of the combat is the tactical side of things. This is where the combat spices up and becomes oh-so addictive. The basic thing is defence, Zael’s power he gains at the beginning (It’s like 5 minutes in, don’t worry, this won’t spoil anything) allows him to draw enemies to him and away from his fragile mages. Your mages have to wait X amount of seconds to charge up their attack and cast magic circles which can then be acted upon for extra effects like stat buffs and healing. If the enemies get to your mages, then they have to begin casting again, meaning defence is very key in this game. Magic circles add a lot more to the combat, as you overlap them for a plethora of effects. About a few hours into the game Zael will acquire the power to command his team via an overhead still frame of the battle that is ensuing. Pair this with the aforementioned gameplay features and you have one very deep RPG battle system, that really adds to the games immersion and overall feel.
The Last Story is linear- a design choice dreaded by fans of the genre. The game is broken up into chapter style scenarios and a small hub world in the form of Lazulis Island, where the game will mainly take place. This hub serves as a small world in it’s self; where side quests, upgrades and new gear can all be bought and equipped. In a weird decision, some of the chapters are optional and have to be triggered by certain events found around the hustle and bustle of Lazulis island. This is really what confused me the most, as I went from chapter 21 to 26 suddenly, without the game giving any hint as to what is going on. After going back to finish these quests on my second playthrough, via the ‘new game+’ mode, I still had problems finding some of these optional chapters, which forced me to consult an online walkthrough. If you plan on getting the most of your first playthrough, then prior knowledge of the chapter layout is recommended.
The game’s setting deserves a stroke of admiration; it’s evident that Mistwalker put a lot of time and effort into making the game as varied and beautiful as it is. The main place you get to mess around in is the beautiful Lazulis Island, which has a rather large and ‘living’ community, similar to the likes of Assassins Creed. The majority of the game will have you running around this area to find the next plot point or to activate side quests. Accompanying this are the varied dungeons the game throws at you, the variation of these is excellent and really keeps the game going. These vary from the likes of an abandoned mansion to that of a pirate ship.
Music is always an integral part of any RPG and this game does things right. For starters, legendary composer Nobuo Uematsu heads the score, meaning you will hear a lot of memorable and epic tunes. This is experienced from start to finish- literally. From the beautiful title music right until the final battle is nothing but a masterpiece in the auditory arts. Everything is also complementary to the scenario, battle themes are tense and add to the feel of the battle, whereas the more mellow scenes are accompanied by soft piano melodies. Of course everything is completely orchestrated, something we rarely see on a Nintendo console.
The game is, like Xenoblade, fully voice dubbed in English. This is done aithfully, with a great cast of British voice actors who really suit their roles, whilst sporting a slew of regional accents. Sometimes I noticed some audio syncing problems with the voices, but it was a rare occurrence and mainly happened when you ‘fast forwarded’ a cut-scene.
On the other side of presentation are the graphics and art-style. Aesthetically, the game is above average for the Wii, but it could have been a bit better. Characters have a realistic look to them, which suit the games art-style nicely and complement the tone the game creates for itself.
A strange additional feature is the online mode, yes a JRPG with a competitive multiplayer component is quite rare, but it is a welcome inclusion. This consists of a standard deathmatch mode and a co-op mode. Although deathmatch is pretty mediocre, co-op was the complete opposite. This may actually become a massive crux for people, as this ties in the deep strategy of the single player with a bunch of friends or strangers, I can see many wasted nights playing with buddies, especially if they have the means to communicate vocally . Overall this really adds to the games longevity, with the main game coming in at around twenty hours without side quests. Despite the fact that twenty hours is short for an RPG, the amount of extra content easily makes up for it.
Overall, The Last Story is a great inclusion in the Wii’s slowly stagnating library and possibly the Wii’s last hurrah. It may be a very streamlined JRPG, but it is something fans of action games and RPG gamers alike can enjoy. With the game already out in Europe and it coming out during September in North America, there is absolutely no reason you should pass up on this game, you should be getting ready to pre-order right now, because this is definitely a story you won’t want to miss.