The Last Story. The phrase invokes a feeling that it’s not going to be just some run-of-the-mill plotline. When an author writes his final novel, a band performs their final song, or an artist paints her last piece of artwork, there is a deep sense that it needs to be great. It needs to be captivating. It needs to be a shining highlight of the final days of his/her career. The phrase finds itself as the title of Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi’s latest work. While the game is called The Last Story, it is not Sakaguchi’s last game, but he is writing it like one. Perhaps unintentionally, The Last Story is very likely the Wii’s last notable game in North America before the system enters retirement. Read more!
The Last Story welcomes you to Lazulis Island and its city, the capital of the Empire. You spend most of your time playing a young mercenary named Zael, a swordsman who aspires to be a knight. He and his five mercenary friends are currently on a job for the ruler of the Empire, Count Arganan. Very well aware that the mercenary career is not a very safe nor secure future, the group hopes this job will be a big step out of their scrappy careers. Upon arrival in the city, Zael meets with a lovely young woman who calls herself Lisa. She is actually Lady Calista Arganan, niece to the Count and heir to the Empire. Even with the lowly mercenary image, Zael falls in love with Calista, but both get seriously caught up in a major dilemma involving nobleman deceit, threats from the Gurak continent, the dying land, and Zael’s mysterious power.
The plotline is essentially two major stories in one. The first is the grave danger of the Gurak threat and the crumbling land. The second is the love story between Zael and Calista. On the surface, the story follows the “band of young heroes saving the land with a love plot” structure that is common among JRPGs. The major story concepts may not be new, but execution of this story is near impeccable. The Lazilus Island and Zael-Calista plotlines never overpower one another. The two complement each other very well to create a seamless single story. Character development is life-like. Most characters have very believable personalities that add their unique mark to the world and atmosphere. There are some oddities. During the first few hours, it gets side-tracked a bit to establish the development of two characters that would otherwise get very little for the rest of the game. The Last Story also likes to exaggerate the snobby/spoiled/evil nobleman stereotype. These are minor problems in an otherwise very well-expressed adventure.
The Last Story is a real-time action RPG. The party usually consists of 2-6 people, each usually having five lives at the start of each fight. The standard weapon attacks are automatic; simply walk up to the enemy. Magic has the expected casting times and leave effect circles in addition to damage. These magic circles can be dispersed by Zael’s spin attack for team/enemy effects, or to remove enemy magic circles. Tactics can be employed through the Command Mode, which provides a simple way of managing party member actions. The standout of the combat system is Zael’s special “aggro” ability. When active, Zael grabs the attention of every enemy in range and their attacks are directed towards him. In addition, it boosts party spell casting speeds, slows enemy actions, can perform a burst attack, and revive downed team members.
Now, the combat certainly has potential, but it is marred by a few major problems, chief among which is a really high BS factor. Seriously, in many of the regular and boss fights I experienced, they employ tactics that are annoying or make success seem difficult. It simply adds frustration. The frustration continues in boss fights until the “magic trick” is found. When Zael’s “aggro” ability is not active, teammates would drop like flies quite easily. This is apparent when you turn off the ability to aim the crossbow without getting hit. While the fighting certainly has its major problems, it is strangely exciting. I think it may be the frantic pace of events. It definitely adds to the “group in danger” feeling and keeps me alert.
The RPG mechanics are simple. This makes the gameplay easy to learn, but shallow. In addition to the somewhat simplistic combat, equipment variety is limited. Upgrades are usually how to get better stuff. Leveling in the game happens very quickly, as the game’s single player lasts 20 hours, by which I was level 70. The multiplayer is also simple. You either work with random people or with friends, and rooms support up to six players. Communication is through preset voice messages, and does not have a way to stop message spamming. There are two battle modes. The free-for-all/team deathmatch stuff is rather bland and doesn’t bring anything to comment. The cooperative mode matches you with other players against a boss fight. These fights maintain the battle intensity from the single-player, making this mode quite a lot of fun.
The story is very enticing, and so are the visuals. The art is some of the best I have seen in the last couple years. Consistency of the art between the full-motion video and in-game scenes was well-maintained. Environments are spacious and distinct. Color was expertly used. Modeling is not blocky when important. Combat and spell effects have a lot of style and flare. Animation is good during gameplay but incredible during most cutscenes. Seriously, some of the cutscenes are so well created that I would be asking myself, “Why would I ever need high-definition?” Now, there is a price to play for all of this beauty. That price is frame rate problems. There are a lot of graphically intense scenes where the frame rate drops down some levels. It’s not I would call unplayable or broken, but it’s bad enough that PC elitists will fall off their chairs laughing.
The British voice acting is pretty much perfect, with no awkward sentences, strange laughter, or any of the other problems associated with Japanese-to-English translations. The sound effects are average. The soundtrack is a highlight. Famous Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu’s ability at music remains unfazed with The Last Story. The range of emotions through the music matches just about every mood in the story, and very well. I don’t think this soundtrack will find its way onto the gaming orchestra highlights, but there are enough standouts that will be remembered with the rest of the presentation. Only small picky complaint I have is occasionally the music would not feel specialized for a scene.
When the enticing story, beautiful visuals, and complementing soundtrack are together, the Last Story shows its greatest strength: The ability to captivate. How the music was used, how the cutscenes were directed, the gorgeous art, the excellent voice acting, the seamless flow of events, they all combine to create a captivating tale. I wanted to believe that The Last Story existed in the real-world and actually happened. The attention to detail is immaculate.
The Last Story is truly something special. It is a case of the artistically driven game, a great example of how a well-crafted tale, art, and music can be used together with gameplay to deliver an experience matched by no one else. It certainly has its major flaws within the gameplay. This is a video game, and narration and beauty can only do so much. Even so, I found the combat exciting, and I was drawn by the game’s ability to create something believable. When I finished, I felt that I will not experience anything quite like The Last Story anywhere else, for a very long time. Only very few games are able to leave such an impression.
Final Score: 8.5/10