The Last Story Review
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On 10/26/2012 at 02:30 PM by Jon Lewis
Does the Wii’s last epic live up to expectations?
For fans of JRPGs, or those starving for one last great Wii title.
I’ve been excited for The Last Story since I heard about it a few years back. Being helmed by Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of the original Final Fantasy titles, and with work from the brilliant Nobou Uematsu, it seemed like a title that was destined to be great. Previous to the game’s launch, I expected a content rich, traditional JRPG with an epic story and addictive gameplay. After completing the game, I can say that I enjoyed the game a lot, but it didn’t exactly live up to what I imagined it would be.
The Last Story is a JRPG that both defies, yet stays all too close to the conventions of traditional JRPGs. When it comes to characters, the game stays extremely close to what is expected. You have a princess in disguise, an all-powerful arch nemesis, and a power hungry ruler to tie the plot together. When it comes to the core gameplay, it forges its own path with a cover based, real time combat system, a lack of emphasis on grinding, and a linear story progression.
At the beginning of the game, players take control of a band of mercenaries looking to better their lives by completing missions. During the opening mission, the main protagonist Zael obtains a mysterious power known as the "Power of the Outsider.” Zael, who longs to become a knight in order to protect those that he cares about, harnesses this power and eventually ends up getting involved with the royalty of the prosperous Lazulis Island.
The story is full of twists and turns, and is complemented with a swift pace. Unlike your typical JRPG, this game cuts out most of the fluff and you often are only concerned with finishing the mission at hand.
While there are side missions, they are rarely integrated with the story and can be easily missed. The most important of the few actually count as chapters in the story, so players who opt out of doing them may notice chapter skips as they progress. I found that it was a bit annoying while trying to do the small sidequests since the game doesn’t clearly show what NPC’s have quests available. Especially after playing a game like Xenoblade, it feels a bit odd not having an organized system that tracks sidequests. That said, since they aren’t that crucial to the story, it didn’t have a huge effect on my experience.
The story quests are structured very simply. Often you will be transported to an area where the quest is carried out and you will progress through a linear area. These areas range from dungeons and caves to ships and castles. Some players might be turned off by the linear structure of these missions, but I found it to be rather refreshing. The linear progression of the game (as a whole) leads to a fast paced experience that is easy to enjoy. As opposed to some RPG’s whose hour count climbs up to the 60 and 70 hour markings, this one rests at a nice 20 to 25 hours, even after doing most of the side content.
Of course, the 20+ hour quest would be in vain if it didn’t have its own compelling hook. This is where The Last Story becomes a bit of a hard sell. The gameplay gives players control of one character at a time. For a majority of the time, you play as the primary character Zael, though there are sections late in the game that let you play as other supporting characters. When playing as Zael, you are exposed to many of the game’s systems. The “Power of the Outsider” gives Zael an agro effect, drawing enemies to him and taking pressure off of teammates. This allows the healers and mages on your team to cast spells or get a sneak attack on an enemy. Zael can also use this to his advantage through the many skills that he acquires thoughout the game. Eventually, he gains the ability to give orders to his squad, allowing you light control over the battle at hand. He also learns special techniques like a counter, and an aerial slash that does massive damage. The battle system also employs a very clunky cover system. When used with the Power of the Outsider it can be quite useful because enemies who you might have attracted will lose sight of you, giving allies the opening they might need to attack. That said, going in and out of cover is usually a hassle, and partnered with the massive framte rate drop that occurs during most battles, it became annoying to use. However, because it was so useful, I ended up noticing the problems pretty often.
One interesting aspect of the gameplay is the way that you attack in general. Rather than pressing a button (which is available through the options if one prefers) you press in a direction to attack an enemy. This quickly feels like an autopilot tactic, but ends up feeling a lot better in execution than it sounds. Magic circles are also an important aspect. When an ally or enemy casts magic, a circle appears on the battlefield that Zael can either amplify or dispel through use of his abilities. By interacting with these magic circles you create certain effects on the enemies and your own stats as well, which provides some tactic to each encounter.
Zael also comes equipped with a crossbow which comes into play a lot during combat. Unfortunately, its execution is far from perfect. Rather than being able to use the pointer or proper dual-analog controls, you are limited to one analog stick to aim. This greatly limits its appeal, since using it in the middle of combat is nearly impossible (and impractical). It does however come in handy in some situations thanks to the multitude of arrow types available.
Before each battle, there is usually an overhead display of the battlefield that is shown to the player. This overview is meant to give players an idea of the enemies and terrain, and allow them to plan out an appropriate attack. While some players might find it helpful, I found that in most cases, tact wasn’t as necessary as my level. The game is rarely difficult, and there are plenty of areas that allow for level grinding, so most encounters were more about taking out mages and archers who tend to be the most annoying enemy types.
Overall it ended up being quite fun, but that doesn’t mean it was without flaws. The frame rate often drops to a crawl during intense battles. A spectator watching me play the game noticed it too and was surprised that I hadn’t given up on the game already. The worst part is that it persisted throughout the entire game, rather than a specific portion.
Another problem area lies in the plot development. To be clear, I feel that the plot and characters in The Last Story are quite good. The cast is generally likable and the story is clear. The problem lies in traditions that have become easy to predict; I saw all of the game's major plot twists coming a mile away, and I was never shocked at any major development. Character-wise, while I did enjoy the memorable cast, no character truly evolved like I believed they would.
Despite the glaring issues, there are many small nuances that give this game a unique life and personality. As Zael walks and bumps into people, they react. If he walks under a wooden board and bumps his head, he will hunch over and hold his head for a while. If you knock over a box of fruit, Zael (and others close by) will slip and fall. If you are on a ship, the water will cause the ship to rock in an authentic motion. These things made the world feel more interesting to me.
The graphics are decent, with towns and dungeons being quite detailed. The water effects are nice, and the character designs are well done. At a distance, the game looks beautiful, but when you look closely the limitations become a lot more obvious. The limitations are also obvious when it comes to spell effects. Though the character models look decent, the feminine-looking males may make some players groan.
The game also contains a multiplayer component where players match up with friends and take on dungeon areas together. While not the most robust or engaging multiplayer experience, some players might enjoy tackling these challenges as a group rather than alone.
The Last Story's predictable story, lack of gameplay depth and the wealth of technical problems made it hard to enjoy at times. Ultimately though, I think it's an above average game that those starving for one last game to play on the Wii will enjoy--whatever one's expectations might be.