The Last Story
  • Genre:
    • Action RPG
  • Platform:
    • Wii
  • Developer:
    • Mistwalker
  • Publisher:
    • Xseed Games
  • Released:
    • JP 01/27/2011
    • UK 02/24/2012
    • US 08/14/2012
Score: 75%

This review was published on 09/25/2012.

The Last Story is an action role-playing game for the Nintendo Wii developed by Mistwalker, the company started by Final Fantasy's creator, Hironobu Sakaguchi. In case you haven't noticed, this game's title is similar to Final Fantasy. I think that was intentional. People were worried that this game would never get localized outside of Japan, but it did. The game took longest to arrive in the United States, where a fan movement by the name of Operation Rainfall tried its best to convince Nintendo of America to bring the game over to U.S. shores. This game did eventually make its way to North America, though whether that was due to Operation Rainfall's involvement isn't certain. What's certain is that this game is worth a look, even for the most jaded Japanese RPG players. It tries to broaden the genre's horizons by featuring the kind of interactive game play normally restricted to action games from the West. Square Enix should take notes and make their future Final Fantasy games more like The Last Story.

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Lazulis Island is the fictional locale that you'll be spending most of your time on in The Last Story. Unlike other Japanese RPG's, you start with a large cast of characters already in your party. This is because the protagonist, Zael, is part of a mercenary group that goes around doing deeds of death for money. The game makes it clear that mercenaries aren't well liked by the general populace. Zael and his best friend, Dagran, wish to become honorable knights someday, so as to clear their reputation from the dark mercenary work. These lofty goals become more than delusions of grandeur when Count Arganan, the venerable leader of Lazulis Island, decides to hire Zael's band of mercenaries to embark on an important mission. Apparently, working for the Count is a good way to eventually become a knight, so the heroes see this as their big break. Of course, things never work out quite like they should, and matters soon become more complicated. You're going to see a lot of similarities to various Final Fantasy games and Chrono Trigger in this game's story. The Last Story's story involves almost every Japanese RPG cliche in the handbook. There is a focus on real time cutscenes, though these rarely work out in the game's favor. The real time cutscenes get interrupted if the player moves too far ahead and triggers a battle or another cutscene, which results in missing out on what the characters were saying. Sometimes you'll miss information that's pertinent to the plot, so this sucks. While the plot can be mildly entertaining, it's overall lacking. The characters are dull and the story is predictable. There's a lot more to this game than the story, but that doesn't change the fact that this is an RPG with a weak tale.

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The combat starts off disgustingly simple, but quickly adds a refreshing amount of variety. It never becomes too complex, but the variety helps overcome the lack of complexity. In the default control scheme, all you have to do to engage in combat with a foe is to walk into them. Yes, that's right; you merely hold the control stick in the direction of the enemy and your character will have at it, no buttons required. This turned me off at first, and I predict it will turn off a lot of people. It does get better, though. Even though what I just described doesn't sound interactive, rest assured that the battles in this game are all action. It's not a turn based system and there are no filling bars that you'll have to wait around for. Your characters can perform combos on enemies and you can guard against enemy attacks. It's also possible to perform a dodging maneuver to get out of harm's way in the nick of time. One very unusual aspect of this game's combat in comparison to other action RPGs is the cover based system. Cover based systems are very common in third-person shooters, but they're an extreme rarity in a genre like this. I dare say this has never been done before, though I'm not sure if that's true. Zael is the only character in the game that can use a crossbow, which comes in handy when hiding behind cover. Another ability Zael learns is a kind of surprise melee attack which can be triggered when hiding behind cover near an unsuspecting foe. This is a very powerful attack that usually kills enemies in one blow. The cover system makes stealthy approaches very beneficial to the player, which increases the amount of choices available in a fight. My favorite move is the one where Zael runs up a wall and does a jumping slash attack that cuts right through an enemy's defenses. I never get tired of that one. Combat is easily the most compelling thing about The Last Story.

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What really shines about The Last Story is how it chooses to change up the formula of combat throughout the entire game. Before a lot of fights, the player is given a bird's eye view of the battlefield, allowing them to assess the situation. The player can halt a battle at any time to issue commands to nearby party members, lending the game a tactical feel. There are times when completing special objectives in battle can give you the upper hand. For example, your party members might direct your attention to a large boulder that's hanging neatly over the enemy battalion's heads. Issuing a command to one of your casters to hit the boulder with a fire spell will knock it loose and crush all foes underneath it. You could also ignore this opportunity and merely fight enemies the normal way, but where's the fun in that? Spells casted by party members will leave behind magic circles enchanted with various benefits. The fire spell's magic circle ignites the weapons of nearby allies, heal spells will leave behind an aura of health regeneration, and much more. Zael learns a technique early on called Gale Slash which can garner further effects from magic circles. If the Gale Slash technique is performed by a nearby fire circle, it causes a huge fire wave to erupt that harms nearby foes, and similar effects are obtained from the other magic circles. In this way, a single spell will have many uses. It's for this reason that every caster in your entourage only has one or two spells total; that's all they really need. The combination of varied combat situations and the magic system prevents from the battles in this game from ever getting old.

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Weapons and armor are of utmost importance in The Last Story, like in any other RPG. You'll notice right off the bat that armor worn by characters will visibly show up on them in normal game play and even in cutscenes. I know that might not seem like a big deal in this day and age, but Japanese RPG's rarely do this. It's a nice attention to detail. The many spoils in dungeons will be your primary means of acquiring armaments, as the weapons and armor sold in shops vastly pale in comparison to what's found in caves. Every weapon and armor can be upgraded a number of times. Players must pay a fee to upgrade gear, though sometimes it takes additional materials to perform the upgrade. Weapons are easily the most fun to upgrade, because they sometimes transform into entirely new ones if upgraded enough. The strongest swords in the game are obtained through this way. Armor is also fun to upgrade, because any upgrades are immediately visible on the character's avatar. There's not much complexity involved in upgrading gear, but the simplicity helps keep players from spending too much time in upgrade menus. What I like is that you can usually fully upgrade a weapon before getting a new one, so you'll rarely be encouraged to hold onto outdated pieces of equipment.

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Exploration takes place on Lazulis Island, in Lazulis City. The city acts as your home base or hub area, as it's the only town you'll be visiting throughout the game. That might sound disappointing, but this is one big town with plenty to do. There are a ton of shops, townsfolk, and side quests that all become accessible as you progress through the game. The town's size will seem overwhelming at first, but players will no doubt get the hang of things after a few visits. It's a well designed, quaint looking town bustling with activity, even if that activity is just an illusion to simulate atmosphere. This town definitely excels in generating atmosphere. There are also secret items to be found in shady alleyways. The items seem to be randomly generated, so there's always something new to find. One of the town's main attractions is the coliseum. The unique coliseum matches have an announcer or two in the background commentating on what goes on in the ring. These commentators make the coliseum matches fun, but the fun is only on the first time around. They repeat the same spiel if you revisit the same match over and over, so the announcers are a double-edged sword. This is a good place to grind for additional experience and money, if you can tolerate the repetition. The coliseum is also where you can play in online multiplayer matches in either cooperative or competitive game play. Complete with the coliseum, Lazulis City is one fun place to be in.

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The Last Story is an ambitious game. It aims to take the Japanese RPG genre into new heights, defying genre conventions to provide a more enjoyable experience. In some ways, it's too ambitious; despite all that this game does, it doesn't do as much as it purports. Games with such ambition rarely realize all of that ambition, but the fact that they tried is a good thing. The Last Story is a game that tries to realize its ambitions, and for that, it should be commended. It may not be the definitive game to bring the Japanese RPG genre out of its mediocrity, but it does provide good entertainment for those with realistic expectations.

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