Now this is a game that has been a long time coming. Long before Operation Rainfall was a thing, I had been hoping that one day this would make its way to North America. It didn’t even matter to me that it was a Wii title. The developer Mistwalker, helmed by the infamous Hironobu Sakaguchi (best known for his work on the Final Fantasy series), had crafted a couple of RPGs for the Xbox 360 that I really enjoyed. Both Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey had their ups and downs, though the latter in particular I still regard as one of my favorite JRPG’ of this generation. In company like that, it’s hard not to get excited.
Then as time went by without a formal announcement from Nintendo that The Last Story would be getting an official North American localization, I was preparing myself for disappointment. Eventually, it was announced that Europe would be receiving it, which was exciting news for English speaking audiences everywhere, though given the region locking on the Wii console, this meant it would be a pain to obtain and play. Enter XSEED Games, who snatched up the rights to publish the game in this region and without the retail exclusivity that Xenoblade Chronicles had. Now that the wait is over, how did it do?
The Last Story begins on a rather straightforward note, as the main protagonist, Zael, lives merely as a hired hand in a mercenary group. Mercenaries are generally looked down upon in Lazulis Island, though it is Zael’s dream to be recognized for his talents and someday become a knight. After a routine mission for Count Arganan, he encounters a mysterious girl on the run that he can’t help himself but to become enamored with. As a result of this chance encounter, Zael and his mercenary friends become embroiled in a political struggle that leads to conflict both within Lazulis and that with a foreign race of Gurak.
I have some mixed feelings on the way the plot plays out. On the one hand, I like the characters a great deal, particularly that of the supporting cast, as they lend some welcome personality to the adventure. Zael himself is something of a reserved character, as despite the internal monologues he has, he doesn’t project much emotion aside from when there’s danger. Characters like Syrenne more than make up for that, as her constant chatter about booze and how proper people suck are thoroughly entertaining. The slick talking Lowell I also enjoyed very much, as his actions usually end in him getting hit in the groin or having something thrown at him. Mirania and Yurrick are also very reserved characters, though their back stories can be explored over the course of the game and will begin to open up as the story progresses. The cast is rounded out by the leaderly type, Dagran, as he keeps everything together and works towards a better life for all of them.
Aside from the likable characters, the plot suffers from poor pacing. The story is told by chapters, and if you’re not paying attention, the chapter numbers tend to skip around. This is because not every chapter is required for the completion of the game. While it was nice that The Last Story tries to integrate side quest chapters into the plot in such a way where things are seamless, it doesn’t quite work out that smoothly. Instead, you’ll ask yourself things like “Um, why am I exploring a haunted house when there are more pressing concerns going on at the moment?”Â You’ll also wonder why you suddenly skipped ahead five chapters without realizing it, as each optional chapter is not always obvious in how it unlocks. If you miss one, you can’t go back and do it unless you play a New Game+, which is quite frustrating. Especially since the backstories of many of your characters are explored during optional sequences, so if you aren’t using a walkthrough, you could miss out on valuable information.
When you strip out all of the optional material, then you begin to realize that there isn’t a whole lot that actually happens in The Last Story. And the stuff that does occur seems to spring on you out of nowhere. An entire race that exists within the world of the game, the Gurak, is not mentioned until your first confrontation with them, yet there is supposedly an entire history with them. It doesn’t help that things take a long time to get off the ground. The game does begin on an exciting note, much like Xenoblade Chronicles, but then things grind to a halt for several chapters before slowly building up momentum again. Luckily, the gameplay keeps players engaged during the slow bits.
Despite my criticisms of the story, I did like it overall as it is leaps and bounds better than most JRPGs that come out these days. I think I was just a bit disappointed that I wasn’t as engaged as I was with Lost Odyssey, though I could definitely get into it more than Blue Dragon. Outside of the main adventure, there are several multiplayer modes that enhance the experience (which I’ll get into later) and offer much more than I originally anticipated that I was signing up for.
Story/Modes Rating: Enjoyable
I really enjoyed the visual style of The Last Story. While it doesn’t have the sweeping landscapes and impressive draw distance that Xenoblade Chronicles does, the characters animate much better and the character models look a bit more modern. Zael looks a bit goofy when he tries to smile in comparison to other characters, but otherwise the game does a better job of conveying emotion than most Wii titles. Some of the clothing designs look kind of funny to me, particularly that of Dagran’s starting outfit as it can best be described as underwear and a pair of chaps, but fortunately you can find new equipment that changes their appearance. Even more impessive is that upgraded gear will slowly transform as it improves and you can even purchase dyes to adjust the color of any currently equipped armor.
These nice looking character models come at a bit of a cost, as having too much happening on screen will lead to a bit of slowdown. You’ll generally have six characters in your party at any given time, plus an army of enemies to fight and any currently active spells getting thrown around. When this happens, the Wii tends to chug along, though when you start defeating foes it will slowly improve. Aside from that, things generally perform just fine.
Graphics Rating: Good
The music selection in The Last Story was composed by none other than Nobuo Uematsu, so it’s hardly a surprise that I enjoyed the compositions a lot. The game’s theme song is thematically very fitting, and I loved the way that it was integrated into the game in the same way that Melodies of Life was in Final Fantasy IX. The battle music is played quite a bit throughout your adventure, but it was so well done and so catchy, that I didn’t mind it at all. In fact, the only piece that I thought was a bit odd was the song that acts as the final boss theme of sorts. The core of the music was just fine, but then there were these screeching noises that you’d hear at random intervals, like a raptor was singing the lyrics. Aside from that, if you managed to get a copy of the game’s soundtrack, you’re in for a treat.
There doesn’t appear to be an option for the Japanese language track, so purists may find themselves disappointed. I personally don’t mind, as the British voice actors did a stellar job in The Last Story, perhaps even better than the dub for Xenoblade Chronicles (not to mention they don’t say Monado every other sentence). You might recognize a few of them from both games, such as Blade Ritson who voices both Jirall from this game and Alvis from Xenoblade. I was surprised to learn that Alix Wilton Regan, who voices Calista, also does Lt. Samantha Traynor from Mass Effect 3.
Sound Rating: Amazing
It’s hard to describe what kind of game The Last Story is exactly. Not really a turn based RPG, but not a full fledged action RPG either – its roots lie somewhere in the middle. The best comparison I can think of is something along the lines of Final Fantasy XII or the Dragon Age titles, but with far more strategic elements to it. It’s incredibly unique and the absolute star of the show.
While the game can be played with a Wii remote/nunchuk combo, if you own a Classic Controller Pro, it is by far the better option. In both instances, the thumbstick will move your main character around and simply moving towards an enemy will cause them to attack. It seems a bit simplistic not mashing a button to attack, but once you get used to it you don’t even notice. The only downside to this is if you’re trying to move past an enemy, you character may attack without you even meaning to. If you prefer, you can adjust the controls so that the A button is your attack button, so it’s more like a traditional action RPG game that way. Another advantage of the Classic Controller Pro is having the camera mapped to the right analogue stick, though I was disappointed that I had to fight the camera as much as I did. Sometimes things that are happening are completely out of your view and the screen will absolutely refuse to turn to see what’s going on.
What makes The Last Story so strategic is when you encounter an enemy party, you are given an overhead view to assess the situation. Certainly, you can just run in and bash heads in, though more often than not you will die from doing so. Instead, you can take cover behind objects with A and sneak around to get a better position against the enemies. Using Z, you can take out your crossbow and either pick off an enemy or lead them towards you so you can defeat them when they are alone. You gain more experience when defeating someone that you separate from the rest. Not to mention, it makes engaging the rest of the group much easier. There are different kinds of arrows at your disposal as well, including ones that explode or are effective against magic users. There’s even a prank banana that will cause enemies to slip and fall and is probably one of the single most amusing items ever conceived for a game like this. The Z button can also be used to guard, and when used at the correct time, can counterattack foes.
Your fellow party members will generally act on their own according to the role they are given, though the directional pad allows you to issue orders if your skill gauge is full. This is also the only way to activate Spirit attacks when your party is high enough in level to utilize the ability, which act as their ultimate attacks in a way. Zael has a unique ability called Gathering, which will draw enemy fire towards him, making him the most effective tank (though other characters can be commanded to fill this role). Gathering is also used to revive fallen party members by walking over them when it is active. Each character has five lives, and when they are spent, that character is knocked out for the remainder of the battle and can’t be revived anymore (and when it happens to Zael, it’s game over).
Another ability that Zael acquires, called Gale, can be used to diffuse magic circles found on the ground. When a spell is cast, a circle is left behind that may offer beneficial effects if you stand in it. The effect changes if you use Gale to diffuse this circle and thus disperse its benefit to everybody, regardless of distance. Enemy circles can be diffused too, which negate their benefits and is practically a requirement in preventing them from healing themselves. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. More abilities open up as you go along, including being able to run up walls and drop down on foes, destroy environments in order to efficiently deal with monsters, or Gathering Bursts that hit all enemies within range.
Control/Gameplay Rating: Classic
If you thought Xenoblade Chronicles was an exhausting journey, worry not as The Last Story can be completed in about 20 hours. There are a number of sidequests and optional chapters that can be accepted, as well as a New Game+ mode that will let you play through the main story again with your levels and gear intact. I know some people cry foul when not every title is Skyrim levels of epic, but I personally enjoy the 20-30 hour range, as it keeps the experience more focused.
Outside of the story, you can go online with the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection for some multiplayer. There is a standard Deathmatch mode for six players, that will let you pick a character from the game (including enemies) and throw down inside of an arena. Defeating other players will net you points, though falling in battle will subtract them, and whomever has the most at the end of a match wins. I didn’t really enjoy this mode all that much, as the gameplay doesn’t lend itself well to competitive play, but it’s there all the same.
There’s also a cooperative mode for six people to team up and take down one of the game’s bosses in an MMO style encounter. You choose from one of the playable characters in the game, though everybody doesn’t necessarily need to be different. The gear that you used in the story mode carries over to this mode as well, so that sweet gear you spent all that time acquiring is usable here too. The encounters are generally pretty challenging, though certainly the more people you have in your group, the easier of a time it’s going to be. It also helps to have a diverse group of people rather than having everyone play as Zael. Success will net you items that can be used in the story mode and you’ll also gain ranks that do little outside of showing others how much you play. The co-op is an absolute blast, despite its lack of longevity, since killing the same handful of bosses over and over will wear down on even the most dedicated players. Dropping the competitive mode in favor of a more fleshed out cooperative experience would’ve been more favorable in my opinion, but seeing as I purchased the game for the single player experience, it’s all just icing on the cake anyway.
Replayability Rating: Good
While there are only a few games out there that I’m willing to throw myself into a world of frustration over, it’s nice to have at least some resistance when playing a game. The Last Story, I found, was a bit on the easy side. Certainly if you skip all optional material and try to avoid battles as much as possible, the ones that count will be far more strategic. Otherwise, levels are incredibly easy to gain if you are underleveled in an area. When I couldn’t beat the final boss (with which I met failure after a 30 minute long fight), I spent some time gaining levels right outside. I was able to gain ten levels in a matter of minutes and things went much smoother the next time around. In some cases, I was able to gain multiple levels in just one battle. I love that I didn’t have to grind for long, but on the other hand, the value of strategy plummets a bit when I can spend little time building levels and then brute force my way through an encounter.
This isn’t to say I didn’t run into some challenging battles along the way. On the contrary, there were many where the sheer volume of enemies forced me to think of my options carefully rather than just storming in. The boss battles in particular are incredibly well done and make excellent use of the environment. It’s just that a slight bit of more pushback would have been welcome.
Balance Rating: Above Average
While the plot in The Last Story doesn’t break any new ground, the combat system is one of the most unique things to come along in a long time. Not only does it mix the best elements of strategy games and RPGs, but even the environment comes into play as well. Monsters will knock over pillars and the ensuing debris will cause damage to you. Likewise, you can command your teammates to blow up bridges above or below enemies, or you can simply run up and kick people off of balconies or over cliffs. There are a ton of ways to deal with any given situation and despite the linearity of the adventure, I enjoyed the freedom of choice I was given within battle.
Originality Rating: Great
Despite an otherwise slow start, this is a hard title to put down. New gameplay elements are introduced and taught to you at regular intervals which are then followed by battles that force you to utilize everything that you’ve learned. Normally I skip optional material in games because the majority of it strikes me as filler material, but I just couldn’t get enough of the combat on display here. There’s a stark contrast between games that make you say “Man, this is a long game”Â versus ones that would have you exclaim “Holy crap, where did the time go?”Â The Last Story is definitely one of the latter.
Addictiveness Rating: Classic
As someone who enjoys JRPGs, one would think that the Wii would be the worst system in order to get that fix. Despite that, there was a huge campaign orchestrated by Operation Rainfall to bring over The Last Story and two other RPGs to a system perceived as being strictly for a casual audience. The first of these to release, Xenoblade Chronicles, allegedly sold somewhere in the neighborhood of 200,000 copies. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to games that are expected to move millions before turning a profit, but that is some significant interest coming from a game that even Nintendo themselves didn’t think would sell in North America.
Even so, by all indications, this is a niche game. People who like JRPGs are going to enjoy it, but that isn’t a dominant genre anymore like it was the last couple of generations. I certainly hope it does well so that we may see localizations from Mistwalker’s future projects. But this is a game that will have a limited print run, so if you have any interest at all, best pick it up as soon as you can.
Appeal Rating: Above Average
I absolutely love the packaging for The Last Story. First print run copies will come in a box that looks very much like a book, especially when looked at from the side. The cover looks very nice and has embossed lettering that sticks up much like the old Working Designs releases. When you open it up, you’ll find the copy of the game in its standard plastic case, along with an art book. I enjoyed the artwork of the game more than the actual in-game graphics, so this was a nice addition to the package. If you lucky enough to pre-order prior to release, there’s also a soundtrack that while not specifically packaged with the game, fits neatly inside the box along with everything else. XSEED generally handles boxed sets and swag very well, but what they’ve done with this game in particular is just phenomenal.
Miscellaneous Rating: Amazing
Balance: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Final Score: Great Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
After much anticipation, the North American release of The Last Story is finally here. While the story suffers from some pacing issues in places, it’s still an enjoyable plot with a cast of very likable characters. The gameplay is some of the best to come out of a JRPG in a long time and despite how easy the game is for the majority of it, I still found it hard to put down. It blends together elements of some of the more modern RPGs like the Dragon Age titles, while integrating a healthy dose of strategy into it. It’s best controlled with a Classic Controller Pro if you have one, though the Wii remote/nunchuk combo is still serviceable. The art direction is great, even if the console can’t always keep up, and the soundtrack is another hit by Nobuo Uematsu. Given the game’s limited print run, if you plan on checking it out, best do it soon. It’s poised to be one of the last worthwhile releases for the Wii.
What Video Game Release for January 2014 are you most excited for?
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