What makes a good story? It’s the ubiquitous question in the minds of role-playing game developers, and was certainly forefront in the mind of legendary Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi as he produced his similarly-named title The Last Story. Under criticism from a growing amount of Western gamers, who tend to prefer gray morality, choice and consequence, and branching storylines, some Japanese developers have attempted to implement changes in order to freshen the stagnant “white knights save the world” plot. However, the morally righteous characters and the evil tyrants certainly haven’t disappeared. This is the case with Hironobu Sakaguchi’s latest game, his answer to the original question a diffident “stick to the usual, but add new elements.” There is much for a Western audience to enjoy, but the fact that it’s a JRPG will never quite leave your mind.
The game begins with youthful adventurers on a quest, trademark within the genre. They’re mercenaries who fight for a living and hope to one day improve their standing in the world. Upon obtaining a mysterious power and meeting an equally mysterious girl, main character Zael and company find a chance to become the lofty figures they wish to be. The storyline immediately becomes straightforward, a tale of knights and princesses, evil tyrants and war, betrayals and godly powers. This is a missed opportunity because there was much potential for gray conflicts and ambiguous decisions as the characters attempted to make a living as mercenaries. Instead, the story devolves into a series of the most predictable of plot twists, all of which are sure to shock the characters in-game far more than the person holding the controller.
It’s especially disappointing because this is a likeable cast of characters whose story you would truly want to invest in if it were more captivating. Lisa is the endearing sort of female lead that few games capture correctly, similar to Yuna from Final Fantasy X. Dagran is in charge and decisive, and his presence meshes well with that of Zael. Syrenne likes to drink and brawl, and she adds an amusing hint of mature humor. There are many others, but the obvious weak-link of them all is Zael. He is the white knight who could easily be replaced by the male lead of virtually every JRPG ever made, complete with the never-ending altruism and JRPG tropes. You’re never caught off-guard by anything he says or does because you’ve seen it all many times before. Consequently, you make no choices in the game. You can select answers, but only one is ever correct. Once again, I’m left to wonder why you can even answer in the first place. At the very least, some of the choice and consequence similar to what was present way back in Final Fantasy VI (but has since disappeared) could’ve been implemented.
But, regardless of the weaknesses to the plot and the main character, the game’s dialogue is noticeably strong. This is in contrast to other recent big-name JRPGs like Xenoblade Chronicles, in which the writing varied from fairly good to shoddy. Unsurprisingly, we’re hit with plenty of JRPG clichés and tropes from the beginning, but the dialogue is usually sensible, relevant, and even emotional. This allows for some great moments without the constant urge to turn and snicker at some overly corny line. There’s plenty of talk amongst the characters between battles as well, and some of it actually goes far in developing their personalities. Each character is quite unique, and yet none of them ever feel whiny or annoying, a breath of fresh air in the genre. Between the more serious words of Dagran and Yurick lies the mature banter of Syrenne and Lowell, and all of it coalesces very well to make a superb script.
The Last Story, of course, tries to separate itself from its JRPG cousins in more ways than just story. Gone is the traditional turn-based style of combat seen in past Sakaguchi games like Final Fantasy and Blue Dragon, replaced by real-time action that includes elements of strategy and stealth. Unlike the storyline, this is where Sakaguchi truly succeeds. The combat is frantically-paced from the very beginning and offers some of the best boss battles the genre has seen in years. According to producer Takuya Matsumoto, Gears of War was a primary influence on the game, and this is evident as you dive from cover to cover and jump over hurdles to get to your foes. While you may need to tamper with the combat controls from time to time, such as turning off auto-attack if it’s giving you problems, there are few flaws to be seen here.
The combat is simple: simply thumbing your joystick in the direction of an enemy results in an attack. A press of a button (which varies on the control method you use, Classic Controller being by far the best) allows Zael to use his special Gathering attack to draw enemy attention and revive unconscious allies. Zael can use a crossbow for long-distance attacks and a limited amount of special moves as well. Learning how to effectively use these moves is important for you to progress in the game. Furthermore, equipment upgrades are also crucial. You can find (and purchase) weapons, armor, and items that allow for upgrades. These upgrades can be the difference between defeating a boss and seeing the “game over” screen, especially later on. Various other items can also be acquired to give your team the edge in battle. Money is therefore highly important in the game, making the game’s plentiful side quests extra useful. And the side quests are very strong in their own right, with neat storylines that offer a great distraction from the main plot.
The Last Story is not difficult, however. As long as you pay attention to the tutorials (of which there are plenty) and get an understanding of how the characters can work together, you should have few problems progressing. Level-grinding is not required, especially if you complete side quests. And as for the characters working together, that’s where much of the strategy comes in. When your command bar fills, you can order your characters around, choosing from several different commands each. You can then use Zael’s attacks in combination with the commands you chose. For instance, using Zael’s Gale attack on Mirania’s Heal Circle will fully heal your entire team. Completing such combos will not only ensure your victory, but they’re incredibly fun as well. As you learn more moves and master the command system, battles will become a flurry of magic and flying bodies sure to entertain even the most easily bored of gamers, though frame rate issues become more noticeable the bigger the battle. Both the entertaining action and stuttering frame rate are most evident during the boss battles, but these are highly impressive nonetheless. In addition, stealth is occasionally required as you sometimes need to move through areas without being seen, and at times you need to sneak around and flank large groups of enemies as well. While the gameplay is mostly astounding, however, poor camera control keeps it from being perfect. It’s only a minor annoyance, as long as you use the Classic Controller, but it really should’ve been cleaned up before release. You also get to play as different characters on occasion, which is highly entertaining, though ultimately a missed opportunity. Playing as a mage or the dual-wielding Syrenne is exhilarating, so why not allow it more often?
Despite the minor camera and frame rate issues though, the combat is very impressive. What’s even more impressive is how easily it translates to the realm of online gaming. It’s definitely rare to face off against other players online in a JRPG that doesn’t have “Souls” in the title, but The Last Story accomplishes this shockingly well. That’s not to say that the online interface rivals the Souls games in any way, and it’s fairly bare-bones as one would expect from a Wii game online, but what The Last Story delivers in this department is still worthy of your time. The biggest negative, in fact, is simply the lack of players online. You can choose Deathmatch (further broken down to Free-For-All and Team Deathmatch) and Co-op, the former of which lets you choose from a plethora of characters (both the good and bad guys) to take on other players with the equipment you earned in-game. The combat here is hectic, with items thrown in to even the odds between higher and lower level opponents, though the amount of stages is very limited. Co-op allows you to take on bosses with other players, which is definitely a lot of fun when you’re teaming up with friends or players who know what they’re doing. When your allies don’t know what to do, it becomes a drag. The lack of voice support once again pulls our pants down; pre-set messages simply don’t get the job done. We do get a score system and leaderboards, but it almost seems comical with the lack of players.
The Last Story backs up its strong gameplay with great visuals, especially for the Wii. The character models are possibly the best the Wii system has ever offered, with a surprising amount of detail that almost belongs on an HD console. The facial expressions and animations complement them very well, and the cut-scenes are especially well-honed and impressive. The environments aren’t quite as great, with heavy blur at a distance and sometimes-noticeable pop-in in the more open areas. This varies greatly though, an example being that Lazilus City looks wonderful while the interior of Lazilus Castle is a blur. The lighting effects are almost as impressive as the character models, resulting in beautiful battles when the magic goes flying. The inevitable problem is the frame rate, which slows down often, especially during battles with many enemies on-screen. Regardless, The Last Story is one of the best-looking games ever released on the Wii system.
The audio perhaps goes even a step better. Sticking out instantly are the British vocalists, whose voices match the fantasy theme and their specific characters very well. It’s hard to find fault in this area, especially due to the excellent script the voice actors had to work with. The game’s sound effects go a long way in immersing its players in the world of The Last Story as well. The chirping of birds, the chatter of people, and other simple sounds like the flow of water and wind are well-done in a subtle manner to build ambiance. It would just be nice if random people you walked past didn’t say the same things over and over again. Also, it would’ve been great if different weapons made different sounds when striking enemies, but that might be nitpicking a bit. The soundtrack is phenomenal at all times, and the main theme is very engrossing. It matches the tone of the storyline perfectly and accentuates the emotionally-charged moments. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the music makes the storyline seem a lot better than it actually is.
While The Last Story certainly isn’t a complete departure from the traditional JRPG, Hironobu Sakaguchi has changed just enough to move the genre forward, albeit only slightly. The storyline is basically that of every other JRPG, and the plot twists can be seen coming from miles away. More interesting is the cast of characters, with a great script that allows the more lewd among them to chime in with mature-oriented humor. Outside of the banal Zael, they’re characters you’ll truly come to empathize with. But it’s the combat that really excels: fast-paced battling with plenty of strategy and a hint of stealth that’ll keep you on the edge of your seat whether you’re beating the story or fighting it out online. It’s unfortunate that the game only lasts in the proximity of twenty-five hours including the deep side quests, but you’re guaranteed to be entertained during that time. And with great visuals, splendid music, and entertaining cut-scenes that never seem to drag on too long, it’s hard not to give a nod toThe Last Story as one of the best JRPGs of this generation. If you’re a fan of JRPGs or RPGs in general, then Hironobu Sakaguchi’s latest offering is definitely worth a look.
Fun and innovative combat | Excellent visuals and audio | Highly likeable cast of characters | Strong side quests
Predictable plot | Frame rate problems
First introduced to gaming with Wolfenstein 3D, Daniel has never looked back. He still returns to the old classics while enjoying the current generation, and beats every game he can get his hands on. In addition, he loves to read and write and is an avid follower of sports and martial arts.
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What makes a good story? It’s the ubiquitous question in the minds of role-playing game developers, and was certainly forefront in the mind of legendary Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi as he produced his similarly-named title The Last Story. Under criticism from a growing amount of Western gamers, who tend to prefer