Hopefully not really the last story
Hironobu Sakaguchi. It’s a name that carries a lot of weight with any fan of JRPGs, or really just RPGs in general. He is the father of Final Fantasy, the founder of Mistwalker and, with The Last Story, he hopes to start what could be the next timeless series of great titles for Nintendo. It took some time and effort by a community of dedicated fans, but the game has finally arrived on North American shores and it appears to have been worth the wait.
I’d be lying if I said the story was groundbreaking. It follows Zael, an orphaned mercenary with dreams of becoming a knight and serving the kingdom. As with most JRPGs, this is the setup for a much larger story to be played out over the course of the game, but where The Last Story sets itself apart is the way it tells the story. It’s all about the characters. There is no huge narrative told through large blocks of text or narrated cutscenes and no world-shattering evil to be dispelled to save humanity. Instead you experience the story in the same way your party members do, through small interactions, conversations and events. It’s about helping the characters discover themselves and what they want to do with their lives. Also, it makes the big reveals so much more captivating because you are as surprised as the characters you are controlling.
Since the story is told in this way, a strong voice cast is a must and The Last Story delivers big time. Similar to Xenoblade Chronicles, the all British cast really brings some life to the characters. There are a lot of different accents and when its a group conversation it can feel like a tour of the British Isles. Character types range from the stoic, quiet magic user to the drunken party girl who just wants to have a good time. Honestly, all of them feel like people you might know and you care about them instantly.
Also, the relationships between the characters are actually far more complex and developed than most JRPGs. Unlike most games, the love interest is defined quite early in the game and it’s not the pre-teen, awkward interactions that we have come to expect. There is also the pseudo family dynamic of Zael and his mercenary friends. They bicker, laugh and interact like any group of friends who have been together for a while. You could spend all day with the people of Lazulis Island just hanging out and have a great time.
The other place The Last Story attempts to set itself apart is with the combat system. It’s a mix between action, strategy and cover-based systems, all happening in real time. The player enters combat and attacks and defends by pushing the analog stick towards the enemy. There is no attack button, just head towards the foe and attacking happens on its own. It’s strange at first, but you get the feel for it quickly and then it works flawlessly. The player controls the flow of the battle using the Gathering system, which allows you to draw the enemy’s attention, and by pausing the action to direct magical attacks by your party members. Also, the field of battle has many obstacles and hiding places, which allows you to take cover, launch sneak attacks and generally wreak havoc on unsuspecting baddies.
With all of that going on you would think the system would be complicated and cumbersome, but I assure you it’s not at all, in fact it’s so much fun I was hunting for battles constantly. There is so much satisfaction in sneaking up on a group of enemies, launching an all out attack, performing a backflip, pausing the action to have a party member rain fire on an area and then rushing in to deliver the final blow that I could have done it forever. Every battle feels new and some of the boss battles are epic in scale and strategy. The Last Story’s system is unlike any battle system I have ever played and it is glorious.
On the graphical front the game looks great but, similar to Xenoblade Chronicles, it’s great for a Wii game. Compared to other titles of this generation it doesn’t stack up. The color palette is more muted, with everything having a kind of washed out feel and the music is pretty standard orchestration. It’s not bad, but it’s not mind blowing either. The environments are varied from bustling towns, to mountains and even some really cool boat areas. The game accomplished a lot with what the Wii has to offer.
The Last Story will always be compared and contrasted with the other Operation Rainfall title, Xenoblade Chronicles and for me it is the superior of the two. The story is told in a unique way, the characters are fun and engaging and the battle system is actually a revolution. The only real drawbacks here are a relatively short campaign for a RPG (25-30 hours with everything) and not a lot outside of the main quest. But I found myself drawn to it over and over again, even after I was finished I wanted to start over just to spend time with my new British friends. When the only complaint is that there isn’t enough, then a game has succeeded, hopefully there are other stories to tell.
Tested on Wii