A game that both experiments with new ideas and clings steadfastly to others, The Last Story is a mixed bag. Those who don't mind some badly written jRPG tropes will find quite a bit to love in combat, but the game is generally too linear and plodding to earn anything above the praise of "decent."
- Combat is frenetic, fun, and varied, utilizing the unique environments extremely well
- Banter and interplay between characters is charming and effective
- Production values and voice acting are top-notch, regardless of system
- Poor plotting and one-dimensional characters weigh down the proceedings
- Excessively linear, the player has very little choice in their actions
- RPG accoutrements are missing entirely, or generally subpar
The Last Story Review:
The Last Story is a game that has no forebear on the Nintendo Wii: relatively high budget, replete with talented voice acting and full CG cutscenes, willing to delve into the occasional bit of adult material. One of the primary characters is a borderline alcoholic, and makes no attempt to hide that from the player.
An interesting dynamic between characters is one of the bright spots of the Last Story, along with some interesting innovations over in combat. But Mistwalker seemed unwilling to leave behind those tired tropes of jRPG’s past, and the game’s story suffers significantly for it. Linear and dreary, lazy and poorly paced, The Last Story falters in that most important area. . .its namesake.
The Glass Story
First, credit where credit’s due: though the individual characters in the Last Story are generally one-note, the group shares a dynamic rarely seen in gaming: adult camaraderie. The player’s group, a mercenary band, is extremely well acquainted even at the game’s onset. That relationship makes itself known via playful banter and more meaningful conversation, both in and out of battle. There are literally hours of well-voiced, relatively well written dialogue between characters, and the cumulative positive effect (especially after Xenoblade: Chronicles’ horribly repetitious one-liners) is remarkable.
Still, shortcomings overwhelm. As mentioned, only a handful of the main cast have any sort of complex motivation, the worst offender being the protagonist himself, Zael. He is as generic as he is mindless, the unthinking idealist of a thousand jRPGs past. And when that generic character is thrown into a generic forbidden-love-for-the-princess plotline, the problem escalates. Localization is solid, but the first sixty percent of the game feels like nothing so much as a beat-by-beat checklist of events that tested well with eleven-year-olds in 1993.
The game breaks out of its rut in its latter half, throwing in one genuine twist and largely removing itself from the lukewarm political climate of the early stages. Still, it fails to dazzle.
Role Playing Gears
The player generally feels the same level of control out of cutscenes as in them: they are ferried from one setpiece to the next, as linear as anything found in recent years. The game feels like a strange blend of role playing game and Epic’s Gears of War, both mechanically and in general structure. For instance, cover systems play a relatively large role in battle, which thankfully, takes place seamlessly within the environments of the game.
While it does become tedious, that utter lack of control or choice in direction, the game’s true saving grace is its combat: by and large, quite enjoyable. While the player only controls one of up to six party members (usually Zael), there’s never a lack of actionable commands. He can use a “Gathering” effect to draw enemies to his location, utilize and take advantage of area-of-effect circles of magic, take down long-range sorcerers with his crossbow, vault over obstacles and other party members, run up walls to come crashing down with exceptional force, and surprise enemies out of cover. In addition, the developers did a fantastic job creating unique scenarios for many of the game’s higher profile battles: Zael might direct his teammates to take down a far-off balcony with a fire spell, or set bombs to slow down a blazing quick enemy.
The one aspect I have trouble with is the “Command Mode”, where Zael freeze-frames the screen to direct each of his party members into a particular action. Unfortunately, each member only has a few options. Moreover, this style of command completely breaks the frenetic flow of battle, and removes the player from its immediacy. Unfortunately, from a tactical perspective, it becomes more and more necessary as the game progresses, forcing its use upon the player. A minor nitpick, all things considered.
Outside of battle, standard RPG fare comes into play: merchants, frequent level ups, equipment upgrades, appraisals, and so forth. None of it is unappealing, but neither does any of it add much to the experience. One nice touch is the inclusion of customizable dies to color one’s equipment, equipment that shows up in essentially all cutscenes and areas. There are a few side missions, but only a single town to explore in the party’s downtime, and not much contained therein.
The Sights and Sounds of Lazulis
If you’re at all interested in The Last Story, you are certainly aware it is for the Nintendo Wii, and you are certainly aware of that hardware’s inherent limitations…they need not be repeated. Within those restrictions the graphics are impressive, even featuring frequent prerendered cinematics, though low resolution textures and framerate drops into the single digits are extremely common. They do their job, and rarely were they a point of negative concern.
Mistwalker managed to land the legendary Nobuo Uematsu for the score, and yet his work here goes somehow unnoticed…an odd quirk, considering his status as one of the most well-known composers in gaming history. He largely abandons his traditional hyper-melodic style for a more cinematic flair, moving his notework to the far background of scenes and action. Most of it ranges from solid to fantastic, but you won’t find yourself humming any themes after you leave the game behind.
Difficulty is a little uneasy: as you can only rarely direct your teammates, the A.I. has to be (and succeeds in being) rather intelligent. As a consequence, it often feels as though your own performance matters little in the outcome of battles, provided you activate your “Gathering” ability appropriately. There are no selectable levels of difficulty, though a New Game+ option does make certain boss battles quite challenging.
Finally, there are online cooperative and competitive modes, limited as they might be. Cooperative arena play is a simple boss rush, while competition is slightly more varied: you play against a number of opponents, one-on-one, gaining and losing points as one player defeats another. It’s interesting, though as no stats or levels can be brought in from the single-player campaign in this mode, its lasting appeal is questionable.
The Last Story is indeed a bit of a swansong for the Nintendo Wii, its successor arriving in mere months. It has its moments, but also does it slip; personal preference here will swing the game largely in one direction or another. If you’re okay with things you’ve seen before, with being shuttled from one location to the next, you’ll weather the story and enjoy the dynamic battles on display. If not, well…the Wii U is just around the corner.