Being a child of the early 90s, I grew up on classic JRPGS like the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series. With Final Fantasy’s quality slowly degrading with every new release (and re-release) and the newest Dragon Quest going the way of the MMO, it really seemed like the once proud genre was all but dead. Until recently that is. Earlier this year, Xenoblade was released to showers of praise. Now, it’s famed developer, and creator of the Final Fantasy series, Hironobo Sakaguchi’s turn with The Last Story. Created by Sakaguchi’s own company, Mistwalker Studios, The Last Story hopes to end the Wii’s life with a bang.
Last Story doesn’t break any new grounds in the story department and the characters aren’t exactly original either. The game focuses on Zael, a young orphaned boy, on his quest to become a knight. Along with his merry band of mercenaries that include the group’s leader, Dagran; the tough loner with a heart, Yurick; a shy book worm, Mirania; the womanizer, Lowell; and my personal favorite, Syrenne, the drunk thief who loves money and sexual innuendos. The Last Story overcomes the clichés by making us care about the individual characters through major back-story missions. The overall world, which is ripe with political corruption and themes of loss, also has some unique lore such as mercenaries being looked down upon as a job that only commoners will take.
Like Xenoblade, the presentation is the first thing that will catch your attention. No doubt about it, The Last Story is the Wii’s best looking game. However, this is the game’s greatest double edged sword. While it looks absolutely gorgeous, the Wii definitely struggles against its own weight. There were times when I felt the Wii was going to explode. I didn’t want to say this, but this game should have been on an HD console.
Going along with the presentation, The Last Story also features robust customization options. When you equip armor, not only can you change the color of each piece but you can also remove parts of the armor. If you so desire, you can even make your characters walk around naked with the effects of a full suite of armor. These changes are reflected in the cutscenes which can be quite humorous if you used the invisible dye.
Like Xenoblade, The Last Story features some delightfully British accents thanks to its original English localization. While I didn’t recognize any of the voice actors, they all do a great job. Syrenne and Lowell were definitely the standouts. At first, Zael and Mirania bugged me but, as the game progressed, both of their voice actors grew one me.
While its presentation is certainly breathtaking, the combat is what really makes The Last Story stand out from the rest. Sakaguchi has introduced a combat system that is unlike anything he’s done before and, as a result, created one of the most unique combat systems to grace not only JRPGs but RPGs in general. All of the action takes place in real time and battles incorporate your typical action RPG fare such as guarding, countering, dodge rolling and even a cover system. However, the game quickly introduces many mechanics which turn the combat into tense and fast paced affairs. The biggest hurdle of the combat is that it can be very intimidating at first glance. You may want to quit the game at first but if you keep with it, you’ll soon fall in love like I did.
Early on in the game, Zael gains a taunt skill called Gathering which forms the base for many of the combat’s complexities. In The Last Story, magic can be interrupted with a single use of Gathering, making wit an essential skill to master.
Speaking of magic, it works a bit differently than in other games. Casting magic not only activates its basic effect (such as damage and healing), but it also leaves a magic circle that will give you enhanced abilities if you stand in them. Standing in healing circles will heal you over time, while standing in offensive magic circles will imbue your melee attacks with elements such as fire and ice. Adding further complexity to this is Zael’s other ability, Gale, which allows him to diffuse the circles. By doing this, even more effects are activated such as healing your entire group or hitting enemies with status effects like reduced armor. You also learn Vertical Slash which is simply a more powerful version of Gale.
My absolute favorite part of the combat is how abilities are activated. With the exception of the Battlefield Control ability, there is no “hud” that lets you choose abilities. Besides Gathering, which you use by pushing C on the nunchuck, and Gale, which you use by holding down A, abilities are activated by meeting certain conditions. For example, to use vertical slash, you simply run into a wall and Zael will run up it and you choose where he will land. What this does is keep you engaged in the action at hand, instead of forcing you to pay attention to ability lists.
Despite the gorgeous graphics and engaging combat, The Last Story does have a few major issues. As noted earlier, the framerate will drop to unbearable lows at times and this is especially true during some more effects intensive battles. While I never died because of framerate issues, it is noticeable. The game also has a truly lackluster sidequest system. There is no way to track your quests so you’re forced to either memorize locations or just forget about sidequests altogether.
The music, composed by genre veteran Nobuo Uematsu, is, with a few exceptions, phenomenal. The final boss theme, in particular, has some oddities. About halfway through the song, it sounds like someone is screaming and burping into the mic at the same time. Besides that, the game has many fantastic tracks that range from orchestral pieces to themes that are reminiscent of Uematsu-San’s past work.
The Last Story truly is a landmark title in the genre. While the questing system and framerate issues leave something to be desired, I still highly recommend this game. Not only is the innovative combat system one of the best in the genre that sets new standards for JRPGs and WRPGs alike but the soundtrack is up there with Uematsu-San’s best work.