The Last Story Review
This game was reviewed on the Nintendo Wii
A band of mercenaries seeking fame and fortune find themselves on their greatest adventure yet. While gaining the favor of an archduke in their quest to become knights, Zael, Dagran, and their band of mercenaries find themselves fighting for their lives as they try to save the Empire from a looming war with the brutal Gurak and solve the mystery behind the slowly dying lands before it’s too late!
The Last Story is a third-person Japanese Action RPG created from the mind of the JRPG grand master, Hironobu Sakaguchi. Originally set to only be released in Japan and Europe, this game from Mistwalker was picked up by publisher XSEED Games and brought to the shores of North America. So, was Mr. Sakaguchi’s The Last Story worth the wait? Let’s find out!
Like many of Sakaguchi’s epic RPG sagas (Final Fantasy, Blue Dragon, Lost Odyssey), The Last Story might start a bit slow to begin with, but, like a freight train, it doesn’t easily slow down once it gets up to speed. The game is broken up quite tidily into a number of chapters (over 40, actually) that tell a magical, if not formulaic tale of love, betrayal, mystery, and heroism. The game shifts gears fairly quickly from the tutorial chapters and gets right into the nitty-gritty of the story, allowing the player to really enjoy the depth of the writing early on. The Last Story opts for a more linear game style than the open-world methods prominently featured in past Sakaguchi creations, such as Final Fantasy or Blue Dragon, however, it doesn’t confine you to tight corridors like other “on-the-rail” RPGs, allowing you to free roam environments in a localized manner.
The tutorials in the game consist of a mixture of text and movies that walk you through an example of a particular function. And while it does break the player out of the game to do so, these tutorials aren’t forced on you, meaning that if you wish to keep on playing, you can simply decline watching the tutorial. One excellent feature of these tutorials is the use of diagrams that show you what buttons you need to push on the controller, giving you an example for both the Wii-mote as well as the Classic Controller.
Combat is fairly simple, using a dynamic attack system as opposed to the more traditional turn-based combat system associated with JRPGs. During a battle, Zael will automatically attack an enemy as long as he is in proximity. However, Zael does have a few tricks up his sleeve beyond swinging his sword around, with the Focus and Gathering abilities. Focus works in real-time while you’re zoomed in on a target, giving Zael the ability to determine an enemy’s weaknesses along with being able to make highly accurate long-range attacks. The Gathering ability has a little more purpose, as it allows Zael to draw the attention of attacking monsters on him and away from his allies, as well as gives him the capability of raising any downed comrades on the battlefield simply by walking over them.
Along with the Focus and Gathering abilities, Zael can also command the other members in his party using Command Mode. Command Mode stops the gameplay momentarily, allowing the player to take time to strategize and pick the actions of party members. This also gives you and your allies a perk, as spells that normally would take 10-15 seconds for a member to cast will only take three seconds instead. However, using the Command Mode will completely deplete your skill bar, so use it sparingly.
The skill bar, which builds up over time during battle, can also be used to initiate Zael’s Gale attack, which disperses magic circles initiated by enemies and allies alike. By dissolving the enemy magic circles, you get the obvious benefit of dispelling their attacks or breaking their healing abilities until they can recast the spell, while breaking your own allies’ magic circles can buff your group, or inflict statuses such as Break Armor or Silence on surrounding enemies.
An interesting aspect to battles in The Last Story is with the use of lives. At the start of each battle, Zael will have a maximum of five lives, allowing him to be resurrected in the event that his life gauge is depleted. Of course, if all five lives have been used up, the game is over and you’ll have to start at the last checkpoint or save. Luckily, checkpoints are frequent, and the game’s save-anywhere system allows you to get right back to where you left off relatively quickly.
The game also uses a cover system that works pretty well, but it does nag a bit as you have to hit the A button to break from cover too, instead of just toggling the analog stick. This can be somewhat annoying for those used to playing shooters with a cover system, such as Uncharted or Gears of War, especially in tense situations where you instinctively go to break cover quickly and find yourself stuck until you hit the button. On a positive note, the ability to launch special attacks from cover can do some serious damage to a number of enemies and is very much welcome.
When you’re not battling, you can use items dropped by enemies to assist in the upgrading of weapons and armor. These items can be taken to any upgrade dealer and, with a little money in exchange for the service, can be applied to level up your equipment. The higher the level, the more costly the upgrade and the rarer an item needed to complete it, of course. Weapons and armor each have their own appearance characters as well, with some customizability available to tweak characters to your liking.
While The Last Story is very obviously limited by the graphical capabilities of the Wii, it’s also obvious that the development team at Mistwalker packed as much detail into the game as they could. Simply put, the game looks gorgeous for the console it was created for. The art and design of the environments and characters gives the fantastical feel of a pre-modern world bordering on a renaissance built on magic, reminiscent of earlier Final Fantasy games, or even Chrono Trigger.
Sakaguchi and company frequently use color in The Last Story to convey the tone of a given area or cinematic. For more emotional moments, colors are often muted and dulled, giving it an almost old cinema feel; while some environments can contain a lot of vibrance in their color palette, especially during big action sequences. Even many of the colors available to you for customizing your characters (using dyes that you can collect throughout the story) refrain from being lively, so as not to stand out overwhelmingly from the rest of the game’s motif. It’s a system that works very well with bringing a level of seriousness, foreboding, or loss for a given scenario in the game.
While gorgeous, these environments can at times play havoc with the player, especially in the area of camera controls. Oftentimes when obstructed, the game does well to adjust the transparency of the obscuring object, such as a wall or pillar. However, where the problem occurs is in Command Mode, when you’re in a multilevel environment, as the game seems to fail to bring transparency to the ceiling above, obstructing your view and making it difficult to get a lay of the land when providing your team with orders.
In creating this wondrous world of The Last Story, Sakaguchi draws a lot from themes that he’s used in the past: a lonely hero on his adventure meets a beautiful woman who carries the secret of her royal heritage and desires nothing more than to break away from the walls of the castle to see the world, and the impending love triangle that ensues. These are all elements that have been seen in Sakaguchi’s previous works, but it’s a formula that still manages to do the job of creating a fascinating story that’s easy to get lost in. Sakaguchi, together with writers Masaru Hatano and Takatoshi Aoki, show their prowess with a pen in creating a script with loveable characters, powerful villains, and a world that you can really sink your teeth into.
Mistwalker and XSEED have also managed to put together an exceptional team of voice actors for the main characters to deliver their powerful script. Veteran voice actress Alix Wilton Regan (Mass Effect 3, Dragon Age Origins) portrays Calista, the niece of Count Arganan, who wishes to see the world and is the love interest of Zael, the male lead. Zael is voiced by British theatre and television actor Jack Ryder. Regan and Ryder display fantastic chemistry that brings a lot of life to both characters as they adventure together and grow closer, bringing with them an emotional conflict: Being unable to openly show their affections for one each other, as Calista is betrothed to the Lord Jirall at the behest of Arganan to further strengthen his position politically.
The supporting cast also does an excellent job in their roles, at times taking a bit of the limelight to add some lightheartedness to an otherwise emotionally-heavy story. Some of the more notable characters are Syrenne (voiced by Kelly Wenham), a loudmouthed braggart with a penchant for alcohol, who enjoys riling up the rest of her mercenary family any way that she can; Dagran, the leader of the group (voiced by Nico Lennon), brings a sense of nobility to an otherwise rowdy bunch of mercenaries as he works to fulfill his promise to the band to make knights out of each one of them; however, the most interesting of the secondary characters in my opinion is that of Miriana, performed by British TV actress Montserrat Lombard. Miriana’s role as the group’s healer is almost whimsical. Having grown up in a forest with its guardian as her surrogate parent, Miriana is at times naive in the ways of humans. This is best shown in moments such as when she openly talks about Zael and Calista’s growing affections for each other, causing awkward moments in the group and dashing the couple’s hopes of concealing their feelings for each other.
Unfortunately, the voice acting for the rest of the NPCs could have been better. Many of them sound as though they’re reading aloud from a book in a high school English class rather than in a professional setting. The selection of voice actors used for the NPCs is rather odd, considering the high-caliber acting quality of the lead and secondary roles, and at times detracts greatly from an otherwise quality game.
The sound mixing in the game can get weird at times during action sequences, and it seems that there are situations where the effects wash out dialogue and music; however, when it does balance, it sounds superb. Fellow Final Fantasy veteran Nobuo Uematsu’s distinct and masterful hand has crafted a beautiful soundtrack to match the world that Sakaguchi has created, leaving you yet again to wonder why Square Enix ever let go of this duo. Uematsu’s ability to enhance the tone of each moment in the game really shines in The Last Story.
There are two multiplayer modes in the game as well; Co-Op and Deathmatch. Co-op is, as the name implies, a co-operative multiplayer effort, where your team must defeat the selected level boss, while Deathmatch pits two teams against each other in battle similar to that of the single player game, sans the command abilities. Deathmatch works exceptionally well in The Last Story, and I was quite surprised to see exactly how quickly I could get into a game considering not many people play RPGs or ARPGs for the multiplayer element. However, the gameplay is limited to a fairly small number of maps for each mode, and doesn’t include the ability to add friends to your list, which is a little disappointing. It’s something novel in an Action Role-Playing Game, but really gets old fairly quickly.
Sakaguchi once again shows off his masterful art of storytelling in The Last Story. Exceptional writing, beautiful (albeit hindered) artwork, and a phenomenal soundtrack make this one of the best games that you’ll find on the Wii. However, one has to wonder how much further the game could have gone on more advanced hardware like the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. In the meantime, if you’re a Wii owner waiting for something to fill the gap before the Wii U launches, then this is most certainly a game that should be at the top of your list.
The Last Story receives a 4.25/5.0.
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