The Last Story is the second game to come stateside thanks in part to the efforts of “Operation Rainfall.” Trailing on the tails of the brilliant Xenosaga, many RPG fans have eagerly been awaiting a chance to play this game given the reception it received overseas . Spearheaded by none other than the Final Fantasy mastermind himself, Hironobu Sakaguchi, and assembled by the creative minds of Mistwalker Studios, The Last Story has set a high bar for performance and excellence. To sweeten the pot (and ears) of this pedigreed cast, Nobuo Uematsu himself has composed the musical score. Released in the last days of the Wii gaming system, many have hoped that The Last Story will serve as the perfect swan song to a colorful and illustrious console history. Given the rich history of the staff, how does The Last Story measure up?
Immediately noticed upon glancing at this title on store shelves is the craftsmanship that went into the box. Localized by the talented minds of Xseed, the box for The Last Story literally looks like a fairy tale book. Opening the box reveals a treat for gamers in the form of a conceptual art book. While non-essential to the game, it is little touches and craftsmanship such as this that go a long way in pleasing gamers.
The Last Story follows the adventures of Zael and his fellow band of mercenaries in their adventures. In traditional RPG form, Zael is the hero of destiny with a sordid past, He is filled with regret for not being able to save his loved ones. Zael and his best friend and mentor Dagran are set on one one day becoming knights. Along the way, many different characters will join and leave the party. Among these characters include a brash young lady named Syrenne, a playboy type named Lowell, and a tough yet sheltered princess named Calista. While the characters certainly take no extra liberties in smashing traditional RPG standards, there is a certain element of charm to the story. The dialogue is the glue that holds this somewhat cliché story together. It is at times funny, or serious and dark. The voices are fully voice acted by a cast that features English accents. The voices works in creating an atmosphere of whimsy and adventure. You may begin to grow attached to some of the characters, despite the fact they we have seen their likeness in other games. The story itself harkens back to the “Golden Era” RPGs from the SNES generation such as Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy IV – VI. At times, The Last Story feels like it could have been found somewhere along the timeline of Final Fantasy installments. There are numerous allusions and references from the series, and fans of these games will definitely find themselves at home with this game.
The music featured in The Last Story is simply beautiful. The score lives up to the seal of quality we have come to expect from Nobuo Uematsu. For the most part, it is fully orchestrated and features an emphasis on string instruments. There are quite a few beautiful and soulful pieces of music here in addition to raging battle themes and intense moments. The music always fits the occasion, and fans of Nobuo Uematsu will discover little flourishes and nuances from his other works. Once again, part of the enjoyment of The Last Story is appreciating a graceful return to form.
The graphics are almost painful affair. For the most part, the artwork is solid. Environments are interesting, characters unique and varied, and equipment changes with progression. However, no matter how decent the art in this game is, I cannot shake the feeling that this game would have looked so much better on another current generation console. The colors look washed out, and the lack of high-resolution really mars what could have been a more vibrant game. The cinematic sequences feature a rare glimpse of what could have been, featuring quality artwork. The system literally strains under the effort of rendering the graphics. The game also slows down to embarrassing levels at some points during the game, particularly during story moments. Despite the shortcomings and limitations of the hardware, the game still looks passable.
For as many familiar concepts that can be found in The Last Story in story and music, the gameplay can get creative. The combat is difficult to explain, being a mashup of different genres. At times, this can create a sense of confusion and a feeling of being overwhelmed. Thankfully, and surprisingly, the gameplay manages to feel cohesive does not flop like you might expect.
All characters on the battlefield, including Zael, have a total of five lives in each battle. Once all five lives are depleted, that character is gone until the next battle. If Zael loses all lives, then the game ends.The Last Story allows for control by both the classic controller and the Wii mote and nunchuck setup. Thankfully, every mechanism of combat can be accessed through a tutorial from the menu screen. The game features a robust options mode, with different options such as camera control and toggle of targeting lines. One important note for those who like complete control of the combat; the game starts off in auto-attack mode, where you simply move to the enemy and attacking is handled automatically. You can turn this option off for the ability to manually attack your foes, however successive attacking deals less damage.
There is a button for guarding enemy attacks that causes the enemy to deal less damage to the player. Combined with the lock-on feature, blocking is a viable defensive tool. There is also an ability learned later on that will allow Zael to deflect magic if the spell is blocked at the right moment. There is also a button for “diving” that allows Zael to dodge enemy attacks. Numerous additional abilities are learned over the course of the game after Zael reaches new levels. Arguabally the more important skill is Gale, which allows Zael to diffuse a magical circle placed by an ally or an enemy and deal an additional effect. Examples include healing for extra health or inflicting silence upon enemies. Proper placement of magic circles is an important component of the strategy in The Last Story.
Progression is typical in The Last Story, where netting enough experience levels a character up. All battles in are scripted events that can require strategy and planning. The exception of the occasional “summoning circle” that allows enemies to be summoned for an extra battle. Prior to each battle, there is an overhead view of the enemy placement. Your allies typically give you a few pieces of advice before stepping into the fray. There are numerous pieces of rubble and debris that Zael can hide behind and use cover with. Additionally, the placement of Zael during combat is important due to the fact that if three or more enemies surround an ally, then they deal extra damage to them. The same logic can be used on enemies for an advantage, however.
Acquired early in the game is a mode called “Gathering Mode.” In this mode, Zael activates his gauntlet and becomes the focal point of all enemy attacks. At the same time, the casting time is reduced for Zael’s allies. Zael is also able to revive incapacitated allies in this mode For those familiar with typical RPG roles, it effectively turns Zael into a sort of tank for the team. It a refreshing idea, as many times the only tanking options for RPGs are designated for players that the player is unable to control.
There is an interesting, and sometimes frustrating mode called “Sneak Mode” in The Last Story. In this mode, Zael produces a crossbow and enters a first-person view. In this mode, Zael can shoot enemies with a variety of different crossbow bolts to inflict damage or, more importantly, divert attention to Zael. It fits in well with the tanking role that Zael fills. Zael can also identify enemy weak points in this mode, and you are often times forced into it to locate objects of interest to progress the story. It could have used a little refinement as the movement isn’t completely smooth (despite an option to adjust the sensitivity) but it adds an interesting element to this game.
In sum, the combat adds a few unique and new features to the RPG genre. It incorporates many different elements that, surprisingly, work as a cohesive whole. The downfall is that the game is so easy that many times these cool features are not needed. Most of the game can be completed by simply mashing the attack button and diffusing all magic circles that pop up. Still, the combat is to be praised for innovation.
Outside of combat, there are a few things to do. There are side quests, but there is no tracking system. This makes doing them a chore, and it’s hard to believe that in a game with this much polish there is no tracking system. Equipment can be purchased in the form of weapons, items, and armor. Weapons can be upgraded, with some upgrades requiring rare materials. Most weapons are unique when upgraded to a certain level, doing things such as dealing additional damage to the undead, or increasing critical hit rate. Weapons also change appearance as they are improved. Equipment shows up on all characters, and can be customized through the use of different dyes. Dyes can be traded for with certain items found along the way. While it seems like a a rather minor feature, being able to customize your character’s equipment adds a little flair to the game. Color sets can be saved for your favorite looks as well.
The Last Story is relatively short by RPG standards. The main quest will likely take most players 20-25 hours to complete. The game is broken into chapters, with autosaving at certain points as well as save points to record your progress. There are 40 main story chapters, with an additional 4 chapters of epilogue after the main story ends. Thankfully, there is a new game plus feature that increases the difficulty of bosses and allows items to be upgraded all the way to level 99.
You may be surprised to learn that there is a multiplayer option in addition the main story. Multiplayer modes include death match and cooperative mode. In death match, you can play with five other players as a variety of characters and enemies. There is a point scoring system, with double points for kills offered in the last sixty seconds. There is also a tag team mode for playing with an ally. In cooperative mode, up to six players can team up to fight strengthened bosses found in the main story. It is recommended for players that have already beaten the game once, as the bosses are high level. Players can win rare items and weapons from these cooperative battles and use them in new game plus.
It is important to review the flaws associated with this game. First, the game is a little too easy most of the time, and many of the abilities are not needed, except for in multiplayer modes. The only control the player has over allies comes in the form of a rudimentary command system that shows up about a third of the way through the game. Also, being forced into sneak mode at all times during the story can seem quite forced. Perhaps my biggest complaint with the game is the seemingly inflexible camera. Although the camera is completely unhinged outside of battle, it twists and contorts in battle and has been the source of much frustration. Why they did not simply make it easy to control inside battle I do not know, but it can actually hinder gameplay at times.
The Last Story stands as a reminder of RPG games from the past as well as a hope for the future. They can at the same time borrow from their heritage and test out new concepts and ideas in their gameplay While The Last Story is not perfect, it does do a very good job of creating that sort of nostalgic experience that is somewhat intangible. The game should be praised for the innovations it has taken, and I hope to see more risks being taken inside of the genre in the future. At the same time, there are numerous flaws. The game really is too easy. The story, while nostalgic, is also predictable and already recycled. Finally, the hardware limits the game from realizing it’s full potential. Despite the shortcomings, The Last Story is worth a play from fans of the genre, and is also accessible enough for fans outside of the genre.