The Last Story|
Well over a year ago, The Last Story came out in Japan. Soon after, a group of fans calling themselves Operation Rainfall started agitating for Nintendo to release it stateside, among other notable RPGs. Now, where Nintendo didn't provide, XSEED stepped in. The most recent game by Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of Final Fantasy has finally arrived in America, and while it might not stand up to over a year's worth of building expectations, it still provides a fascinating experience that crosses genres and provides more innovation in MMORPGs than the last decade of Final Fantasy’s.
The game puts players in the shoes of Zael, an orphan turned mercenary with an eye towards knighthood. Along with his fellow mercenaries, the group works on the island of Lazulis, the gateway to the rest of a fading empire. A chance encounter with a mysterious girl and a fortunate job leads to them getting involved in the politics and machinations of nobles, while dark forces threaten the break the veneer of peace on the island.
The plot doesn't tread much new ground for an RPG, sitting comfortably between the political focus of the Ivalice-based Final Fantasy stories and the less intrigue-based adventure of the rest of the series. The characters aren't extraordinary on their own, fitting comfortably into archetypes that fans of JRPGs and anime will be familiar with. Still, when they interact as a group, they have an undeniable charm that makes them more than the sum of their parts.
The real star of The Last Story is almost certainly the combat. New concepts are introduced fast and furious, and even hours into the game, further wrinkles are added to an already wrinkle-laden combat system. You can take cover and charge out from it, you can shoot with a variety of arrows to disable foes or kill them with a lucky headshot, you can direct party spellcasters to dismantle the terrain. You can highlight weak points of enemies for allies and draw enemy attention onto yourself, giving spellcasters breathing room and letting allies come back to life. You can charge to magic circles to dispel their effects and grant benefits to your allies. You can even command teammates in an real time strategy-inspired style to better coordinate attacks.
There's so much to the combat system that it's a little overwhelming. There were times when I felt like I was playing a game that fell through a hole to another universe where third person shooter/real time strategy Japanese RPGs were a thing that had existed for long enough to build up the huge vocabulary of actions that I was expected to take to fight effectively. Still, the vast number of tutorial screens and paced rollout of mechanics at least eased the burden.
Fights go quickly, and controlling teammates in most fights is unnecessary. Generally, as long as you keep enemies from pounding on the softer members of your team, you'll come out fine. Bosses require more specific tactics; some amount to pounding out the same gimmick to make the boss vulnerable for a good thrashing, but a fair number require more involved – or at least, less repetitive – tactics.
The multiplayer, while good for the Wii, is mostly a novelty, albeit one that has as much weight as the multiplayer in any given 360 or PS3 shooter. Deathmatches are surprising for an RPG, but the horde-styled mode and boss fights were a real surprise. It's worth a trip in to check them out, because they're certainly interesting, but I didn't feel they'd meaningfully extend my time with the game.
The game's graphics are terrific. While it's on the Wii, with everything that entails for graphics, the game's visual design is what sells it. Terrific use of lights and shadows get across the sweeping majesty of the world, the bold colors of the ducal castle contrast brilliantly with the muted earth tones of the tavern that the mercenaries make home. While some details, like Syrenne's tattoos, become muddy, the whole picture is impressive, despite the technical limitations. The game's audio carries its weight as well. Nobuo Uematsu's soundtrack captures the mood well, and the voice acting, intact from the British localization, does a tremendous job of capturing the essence of the characters while adding a little bit of exotic flavor that helps cement the fantastic nature of a game that can be very subdued.
All together, the game's something pretty remarkable. Nearly two years old, it hardly shows its age, and it brings more to the table than vast swathes of games closer to the surface of the mainstream. Any fans of Sakaguchi's days heading Final Fantasy owe it to themselves to try The Last Story. It's a short ride, but it provides more in fun combat, earnest storytelling, and sheer charm than many JRPG's five times its length.