Not having the opportunity to play Lost Odyssey, I was stoked about having the chance to play a new game by Hironobu Sakaguchi. And while Operation Rainfall's efforts made this whole thing possible, I still think that The Last Story would have been localized in North America without their actions, but that's a whole different tale for another day.
With a game that brings the creative minds of Sakaguchi and Nobuo Uematsu together, The Last Story sounded like a combination that's too good to be true. However, The Last Story falls short as a game that's suppose to be Mistwalker's next big RPG, due to a few issues that hinder its great potential.
Reach out for your swords and spells, because we are taking a dive into the next adventure by the father of Final Fantasy.
The Last Story (Wii)
With so many games starting off with a cutscene or narration, it felt great to see The Last Story take players into the middle of a dungeon. While it's nice to have a breathtaking scene that bring us into the story, the gameplay is also an important factor to consider for any game that will eat away your precious time. Once we begin the first dungeon, we start off playing as a mercenary known as Dagran, who's in the middle of a mission with his other mercenary buddies. As players start to figure out the mechanics of the early battles, we then begin to control Zael, the game's true protagonist. We then continue the mission, which involves the group clearing out a cave from these reptile-like creatures called Reptids. Zael then experiences a tragic event that gets resolved through an ancient power that will change his entire life.
I am going to be honest here, as a main character for a story, Zael fails to hold up the potential that lies within The Last Story. Sure, he has a big dream about becoming a knight, but his attitude and reaction to things feel like your average protagonist that we have seen a million times. To some extent, he almost feels like Vaan from Final Fantasy XII, except that Zael is involved with the story; whereas Vaan was only tagging along for the ride. While he has the ambitions and dreams to push the story, Zael lacks that feeling that draws players into his story. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast falls in a similar case as Zael. While their characteristics are more interesting, they still lack that impact that makes them stand out. However, what makes each character shine in the story is their actions and decisions, which contribute to the story's theme that revolves around the price that comes from accomplishing certain goals.
Among the main cast, we have Dagran, Zael's closest comrade and go-to guy that helps Zael get out of trouble. Then we have Yurick and Mirania, who tend to keep to themselves, but are opposite in their personalities. We also have Syrenne and Lowell, who fall into the category of the fierce drunk and womanizer. And last but not least, we have Calista, the princess that's caught in the conspiracy that Zael drags himself into. Though I will admit that a good chunk of the main cast has some deep backstories, but their performance keeps them from making this tale into a true masterpiece.
Luckily, the plot of The Last Story takes us into a series of conflicts that reign from an ongoing war between the people of Lazulis Island and a reptilian race known as the Guraks, to a tale of conspiracies that will bring out the tale's true colors. And at the center of this story is the power that Zael inherited in the beginning of the game, which brings out a sense of mystery in regards to the history behind the island. In fact, the war is the least of your concerns, since the current ruler of Lazulis is connected to a history that is filled with murders and betrayal. As Zael's powers is used to aid the kingdom, you begin to realize that he is only a tool that's being used in a bigger picture.
While this story would feel great at home with any of Sakaguchi's previous works, it lacks the emotion and substance that we adored from titles such as Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger. One thing that made both games very memorable was the emphasis placed into the cast, which results in the players caring for each hero. And yet for some reason, Sakaguchi's charm is lost in The Last Story. Either Sakaguchi has lost his touch in storytelling, or he wanted to experiment with a story that's dominated by the events and actions that unfold. However, Sakaguchi did a good job in laying down the pieces for a story that focuses on the different shades of gray, since I found myself getting surprised when certain outcomes defy the laws of black and white.
Despite my complaints about the story, The Last Story's battles feels rather chaotic in an intense and enjoyable way. The fights feel similar to Uncharted, if Uncharted focused on swords, crossbows, and magic. In this battlefield, you have to make do with what you have, because the environment is an important factor in winning each fights. Players can have Zael hide behind walls and structures, run up walls for a Vertical Slash, or use a Horizontal Slash on nearby foes after jumping out of a hiding spot. While you are able to do normal combos, it's best to take advantage of every special skills, since enemies tend to hit really hard. You also have a crossbow, but its purpose is to draw attention, destroy certain objects, or take out mages and other archers from a distance. If you come across any objects that you can't destroy, then you could use your handy spell casters to cast their magic, which can cause environmental damage to most foes. Another great thing that makes The Last Story's battles different, is that you will eventually get to use up to six people in your party. In other words, you won't have to worry about investing time on trying to balance out your party's levels, which is something that I would love to see in more RPG games.
If there's one thing that can hinder your combat style, it's that the default controls can feel very awkward. As an action RPG, having the option on auto-attack feels out of place, since you have no control of when you want to strike or dodge. And even with the controls on manual, the attacks will be the least of your concerns. With the lack of a good tactical system, your party members are acting beyond your control, which can get a bit worrisome in most battles. However, you can assign commands to them when your SP gauge is full, which can also be used to trigger the stronger skills you get later on. Other than that, players will have to utilize Zael's Gathering ability to the fullest.
Gathering allows Zael to resurrect allies, draw all enemies towards him, and regenerate health as he hits enemies. Even though your allies can revive on their own, if Zael revives them, then they are rewarded with temporary buffs. In a way, the Gathering system is there to keep Zael's party members from becoming the center of attention in battle. Since you can turn your Gathering ability on and off, players can manage the way how enemies target certain characters.
For a game that features battle system that requires players to be on high alert, The Last Story is actually quite forgiving when it comes to deaths. Characters are given five lives before they are considered fully dead, and their lives go back to five at the end of each battle. This may sound like the game is holding the player's hands, but you'll be thankful when realize how these lives will come in handy. Besides your save point, there are checkpoints scattered across the game, which eliminates the frustration of losing countless hours to one annoyingly cheap enemy strike. In the end, these elements makes up for the fragility present in your entire team.
When Zael is not battling people, you can take the chance to explore the kingdom as you discover new quests that expand the game's story. Since each quest is given the narration treatment of the main quest, it manages to give an illusion of importance to the players. You can also upgrade your weapons and equipment with materials, which is more essential in combat than your actual level. One neat thing about the equipment is that you can obtain special abilities within each category of gear, which allows players to their preferred setup for each character. And for those who love to color code their characters, The Last Story grants players the option to change the color of the equipment that you wear, which is a nice little novelty that you don't see much in JRPGs. And to those that find crafting systems to be time consuming, The Last Story keeps it simple by using one or two materials that can easily be found by replaying dungeons.
You can also test your skills online to battle other players, or team up with others to fight most of the bosses from the main story. Other than obtaining exclusive online gear and materials to upgrade them, the online mode in The Last Story feels like it was tacked on there for the sake of having a multiplayer option. The combat system is too simple to be used in a competitive match, and the stages don't feel big enough to allow players to exploit their opponent's actions. Perhaps if there were some stages where you could inflict environmental damage on your opponents, the deathmatches would be more entertaining.
For a Wii game, Mistwalker did a good job with the graphics in The Last Story, since each area manages to shine well. The waters have the shiny ripple effects, the lighting illuminates each area with different shades, and the characters have a unique smooth-like texture applied to them. During the cinematic cutscenes, you can see the areas, ships, and fortresses grace the scene with each actions that takes place on screen. In fact, The Last Story takes the cake in regards to being one of the best looking RPGs on the Wii.
Fans of Nobuo Uematsu's work might be a little disappointed with the soundtrack present, since none of the songs in The Last Story stand out as much as his previous works. It's not that they are terrible, it's that they lack that special touch that makes each Uematsu song a glorious orchestrated spectacle. Considering that the man has done a lot of good songs, there might be a chance that he was experimenting with a new style as well.
Since XSEED's localization of the game is based off of Nintendo of Europe's release, The Last Story features the British voice acting from NoE's version of the game. Even though it goes well with The Last Story's fantasy setting, the voice acting lacks that emphasis on emotions that would normally make each line an engaging piece of dialogue. Not to say that the voices are bad, it's just that they feel a bit empty at times. And on the side of the English text, don't let the spelling throw you off, since the game uses the grammar of old English. So expect words like colour and armour to appear throughout the game.
The Last Story may not be the next big hit by the great Hironobu Sakaguchi, since it looks like Mistwalker was experimenting with a beast that they have yet to tame. Folks that are looking for a story that takes different turns might find something to look forward to. As long as you don't mind the typical characters, you might find The Last Story's plot to be rather enjoyable. Otherwise, there are better RPG games for players to explore on the Wii, such as Xenoblade. Hopefully, the team has learned their lesson from this title, since Mistwalker has the potential to make their next big game into a wondrous treasure.
6.5 -- Alright (6s may be slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy them a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.)
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