At least from the beginning, you’ll probably feel like you’ve heard this story before. A ragtag group of young adults has joined together as a group of mercenaries, fighting for fame and fortune around their homeland. Very quickly, their goals change as their world is plunged into the depths of a brutal war with an ancient race that is one of mankind’s oldest enemies. Along the way, our protagonist crosses paths with a strange a beautiful woman, who wields mysterious magical powers.
This particular series of plot devices may seem a little overused, but there are enough twists and turns to keep a player’s attention in The Last Story. Players take control of a young mercenary named Zael. His ultimate goal is to be recognized by the monarchy so they can be made official knights of the court, but the war that breaks out between the humans of Lazulis Island and another ancient race quickly changes the goals of this group of youngsters. While none of this is exceptionally different from RPGs we’ve seen thus far, The Last Story is a game all about shaking up deeply entrenched clichés.
The pace of the storytelling is so fast-paced you will hardly notice how redundant its themes are. It is as if this is the Cliff’s Notes version of a 60 hour RPG, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You will likely relate to a few of the characters in your merry band of mercenaries, but the game happens so quickly a lot of them will just be utilities you use to get the job done, and in fact only one person really gets their back story fleshed out.. You will spend almost as much time working through dialogue and cutscenes as playing the game, but the voice acting by the British localization crew was so well-done that the scenes will seem like more of a treat than the nuisance they usually are.
As you may expect, gameplay in The Last Story is centered around combat, and when compared to its kin under the broad JRPG umbrella, it somehow manages to stand apart from all the rest. It does this by being one of the few games in this genre to offer real-time combat. Even though the fighting happens in real-time, it is automatic – meaning you simply get within range of your foe to begin a barrage of melee attacks. You are given a special ability called Gathering which will aid you during combat in a variety of ways. Mainly, activating Gathering will draw the attention of every single enemy in sight. I know what you’re thinking…”Why the heck would I want to draw their attention?” There are a couple of reasons.
Firstly, certain types of enemies can only be attacked from behind, so by activating Gathering you would allow your party members the opportunity to hit the monster at its weak point, because it would be too busy trying to eat your face to have enough time to attack your teammates. Secondly, magic users in this game take a strangely realistic amount of time to cast a spell, and if they are hit by anything during the casting process they will be interrupted and have to start again. If you want them to be able to get a spell in, you will probably have to use Gathering to keep all of the attention on yourself while magic users’ incantations are uttered.
Once you reach a certain point in the game, you will unlock the ability to pause combat and issue commands to all of your party members. Once all of your teammates have received their orders, they will continue to do the same thing over and over until you issue a new command. Issuing orders is a good way to make sure magic users are exploiting enemies’ elemental weaknesses, and you have a healer that is focused on the task. The AI of your group is actually really good, so there was little reason to issue commands, but it at least offered some peace of mind if going up against a boss or a particularly difficult mob of enemies. In a nutshell, combat is fast-paced and exciting, but still maintains a strong strategical element.
I am certainly no stranger to bragging about the graphical prowess of certain Wii titles, but these statements always get the “it looks good for a Wii game” treatment. When first taking in the visuals of The Last Story, my thoughts were, “Wow, it’s a shame this wasn’t the starting point for graphics on the Wii”. The graphics are about as close to photo-realistic as we’ve seen on the console to-date, with little “jaggies”, or the rough edges often seen due to aliasing. The only real drawback is that the game has the notorious sepia wash that has been so prevalent in this console cycle, but it would be easy to assume that was to make it fit in with the crowd of brown tinted games better. Also, during cutscenes the framerate gets noticeably laggy, and is pretty annoying, but the rest of the game’s visuals counterbalance this shortcoming.
The Last Story also greatly excels in the area of sound. The soundtrack is filled with sweeping, bold melodies that will surely make the adventurer in you want to grab a sword and begin questing. Never did I encounter a song that felt contrived, or was trying to be a cheap emotional manipulation tool. Battle sound effects were like a breath of fresh air, in that they were completely devoid of the annoying vocalizations that often pop up in RPGs. No one was screaming the names of their attacks, or yelling for help, or any other sort of exclamation that do little more than grate on the nerves and make you want to mute the television the entire time while you’re playing.
It is easy to brush off a JRPG because you know what to expect – gruelingly slow, turn-based combat; and cheesy, over-the-top dialogue from characters in the most convoluted and implausible storylines imaginable. Somehow, magically, the team at Mistwalker has broken away from all of these genre clichés and made a game with fast-paced, well-designed combat and characters players can easily relate to in a story that doesn’t take too many neck breaking twists or turns. It’s beautiful to look at, despite its muddy color palate, and it sounds great, and controls well. Just when I was about to give up on RPGs from the East, Mistwalker pumps this one out and leaves me hoping that this story will not be their last.
The Last Story
|Great visuals, good story with characters you can empathize with and relate to, as well as some stunning gameplay innovations in a genre that is typically viewed as being stagnant.||Brown hued color palate is a bit tired, but the rest of the game's strong points more than make up for it, cutscene framerates can slow to a crawl quite often|
|Verdict||If you have the means to play The Last Story now, do it. If not you only have to wait until August to grab a North American copy for your Wii. But you definitely don't want to overlook this one if you enjoy role playing games.|