Title: The Last Story
System(s): Nintendo Wii
Release Date: August 14, 2012
Publisher (Developer): Xseed (Mistwalker)
ESRB Rating: “Teen” for Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol, Violence
Pros: Great use of character and story, innovative and engaging battle system, solid graphics, fantastic music, proper use of sidequests, manages to avoid some annoying JRPG tropes.
Cons: Camera placement can interfere with battle, auto-attack can’t tell when you’re retreating, no sidequest journal.
Overall Score: Two thumbs up, 96/100, A, ****1/2 out of 5
The Last Story loves its battle system. The story opens with a fight, after all; you and a few members of your band of mercenaries battling Reptids in a cave system worthy of The Lord of the Rings. In fact, your first boss battle ends quite similar to a familiar battle in Fellowship of the Ring.
I’m drawing the comparison for a reason. Many reviewers are content to compare/contrast The Last Story with another Wii game: Xenoblade Chronicles. I don’t want to do that, because The Last Story looks well beyond the JRPG audience. It doesn’t center on level grinding, side quests and armor upgrades. Those elements remain, but the game’s attention is focused squarely at the story and fighting system, making The Last Story appealing to anyone who enjoys fantasy and combat.
The story focuses around Zael, a young (but not the usual JRPG young) mercenary who dreams of becoming knight so he can get some respect for basically doing the same thing he does as a mercenary. Orphaned after the destruction of his village, he’s pretty much raised by his mercenary partner, Zael. Some nice elements of their relationship center around reminiscing on how long they’ve been at this, and how many friends they’ve lost along the way. You quickly grow to like these two, and that brief snippet of dialogue makes you fear for the safety of their current group, all of whom have their own reasons for joining the band and who share unique relationships with the other characters.
Syrenne, for example, is the foul-mouthed partier with an odd affinity for bathing with other women, but it’s she who best understands Zael’s complicated relationship with Lady Calista. Mirania seems the most distant, but she often knows what Zael is feeling before he does. Yurick seems angry and aloof until we learn his backstory and he finally warms up to the others.
I point all of this out because these people are very important to each other and to the game. More so than any JRPG I’ve played, I really got that sense that they know each other—that they fought together and drank together before this particular story in which we’re now engaged. And that made the combat segments much more fun.
It’s also important that The Last Story forgoes the usual JRPG tropes. First, there are no annoying talking animals or stupid creatures there specifically for comic effect (i.e., to annoy the player). Although the characters are young, they’re not 12, and are therefore believable when fighting orcs with giant spiked hammers. And finally, they’re not trying to save the universe by defeating their gods. The plot is centered around two warring races, and although it does have some preposterous elements that I won’t spoil here, it remains firmly centered around its protagonists and what they (think they) want out of life. When the game kicks into the third act we’re left wondering who the enemy really is, as usual. Well, more accurately, we’re left wondering wondering when the characters will figure it out, as the game is a bit too obvious with its reveals, but it still works because of the level at which we’re able to identify with these people.
But okay, enough with the touch-feely crap, right? How about the fighting? It’s handled in real time, with some reconnaissance in certain instances to help you plan. Most battles give you an overview of what you’re fighting and provide hints on how best to handle the situation. Zael has the ability to target not just the enemy, but also his surroundings in some cases. He can tell others to take out walls or bridges, for example, to crush his opponents. He can draw enemy attention to himself to allow others time to cast their spells. He can tell Mirania, for example, to cast a healing circle, then use his own special capabilities to diffuse its effects to his entire party.
The combat system gets more complex as the game progresses, and it’s easy to forget some of the more basic features (guarding and blocking, for example) when you’re concentrating on running up walls to deliver attacks from above. But the game forces you to use all capabilities throughout, based on the enemy you’re fighting, so talents are never completely lost.
Thankfully, the weapon/equipment modifications aren’t as complicated. Equipment provides only basic upgrades, and there are few styles with which to concern yourself. You get more upgrade opportunities on weapons, and will want to level up quite a few to keep handy for specific opponents (the game is good about telling you which weapons are good for fighting spiders, orcs, Reptids, etc.).
The developers thought enough of this combat system to give it its own multiplayer component: deathmatch and boss battle co-op with up to five other players. It’s fine, but you won’t want the game specifically for that. Best to occupy yourself with the side quests, which include everything from basic fetch quests to entire chapters that provide additional background on the characters. They’re never cumbersome and they never center around rare item drops that take forever to obtain, allowing you to complete them without killing the flow of the story.
The whole package comes together, then, in what I consider to be not only one of the best JRPGs I’ve ever played, but one of the best Wii games. The innovative combat and the fresh look at traditional JPRG storytelling combine for a game that feels unique while remaining firmly rooted in its genre. It doesn’t hurt that the graphics are great (once you get used to the wash of browns, grays, and blues) and that the soundtrack is worthy of standing on its own (pre-orders and early purchases come with a bonus audio disc, as well as an art book).
In my interview with lead designer Takuya Matsumoto at E3 2012, I asked if when he saw the Wii U announcement if he considered moving the project to that system. The conversation went like this:
Matsumoto: Out of my imagination and from my own personal opinion, just the visual aspect of what The Last Story has and the game’s strategic aspect, it could’ve done really well with the Wii U. There’s a screen and there’s a game pad in your hand, so there’s a lot of strategic movement you could’ve done. There’s a possibility we could’ve stopped and started for the Wii U.
Gamertell: Maybe a sequel, then.
Matsumoto: That sounds great.
Indeed it does.
Site [The Last Story]