The second Operation Rainfall game is finally here, and it's pretty good.
Graphics: The graphics are a mixed bag, much like Xenoblade. On one hand, the artistic design is gorgeous. The world feels real and has some awesome architecture, the characters have solid designs (without super obnoxious features) and the armor designs are pretty neat. Depending on the version of the game you get, you might get an art book, which really shows off the strong designs of the characters and enemies. And, while the game looks good for the Wii, the technical side of things is far from perfect. There are more than a few muddy textures, facial animations are weird (but better than Xenoblade's) and you will experience pop up in certain situations, so severe that entire sections of the map will be invisible. Additionally, there are frame rate issues in quite a few of the battles throughout the game. It's nothing game breaking (I never experienced a crash) but it's insanely distracting, especially when you're trying to fight your way out of a corner filled with enemies. Frame rate issues even persist in some cut scenes, which is disappointing. Still, the strong artistic direction somewhat makes up for these problems, and, like I said, it's not game breaking. 7/ 10
Sound: While the graphics leave something to be desired, the sound is just fine. The main theme is absolutely gorgeous, and put to great use throughout the game during key moments. Other tracks aren't quite as good as you might hope for from the composer of Final Fantasy, but they are still very well done and nice to listen to. The quality extends to the voice acting, which is a pleasant mixture of various European nationalities. It gives the game a good personality, and it also gives a few moments of good humor. There really isn't anything bad to say about any of the audio. 9/ 10
Story: A group of mercenaries are on a mission below a place called Lazulis Island. They are searching for treasure, when one of them, Zael, is spoken to by a mysterious voice. He is given something known as the Power of the Outsider, which allows him to draw his adversaries' attention to him and revive his allies, among other things. Shortly thereafter, Zael runs into a mysterious silver haired girl named Lisa. After dodging royal guards, Zael and Lisa share a tender moment while a meteor shower occurs. I won't spoil anything past there, but I will say that the story comes together rather nicely. It starts out as just another job for the lowly group of mercenaries, but it evolves into something much more epic.
One thing that was really well done was the development of Zael. He is a young man of almost childish ideals. He believes in a world of knights saving princesses, where kings are undoubtedly good and the enemy is undoubtedly bad. He believes that there is no gray, and he hopes to become a royal knight someday so he can protect the weak. We learn all of this in the first hour or so of the game, and we only learn more about him as the game goes on. Other characters aren't quite as well developed, but you will likely come attached to all of them. They are all unique individuals, with unique pasts and problems. The other supporting members of the cast are similar in that they are all developed just enough so that you care about what happens, but not so much that you feel you know useless info about them.
While the story is quite good and intriguing, there are a few flaws. The initial encounter with Lisa comes off as a bit cheesy and almost fairy tale like, which is almost against the message of the game. Additionally, the main romance of the game seems shallow at times. Finally, there is a plot thread about Zael's past with his village that was attacked when he was younger and his relationship with the leader of the mercenaries, Dagran, that I feel could have been more well developed. We get a vague sense of the past, but never really fully understand it.
Despite this, the strong cast of characters and interesting conflicts will keep you invested in the story until its poignant end. 9/ 10
Gameplay: While this game is a JRPG, the way it plays is far from typical. The most immediate change from the norm is the battle system. The way it works is that you only have control over one character, mostly Zael, with a few exceptions in the story. You use the control stick to move the character around the battlefield in real time as your AI enemy and allies do battle. If you are near an enemy and tilt the control stick in their direction, you will automatically attack. The goal is to draw the enemies' attention to you while your other characters cripple your foes with spells and the like. It sounds basic, but you gain a few abilities throughout the game that mix things up. For instance, in the very beginning, you gain The Power of The Outsider, which, as mentioned above, can sometimes draw enemies' attention towards you and can revive fallen allies. This adds an element of strategy to the each battle. There are a lot of things to consider in battle, such as enemy Spell Circles. These are areas on the battlefield that have some sort of effect, such as healing the enemy or poisoning your team. Certain abilities can be used to get rid of these, but only after the Action Gauge fills up.
The battle system sounds complicated, but in practice, it's anything but. The learning curve is very gentle, easing you into the game by giving you new abilities every few levels. By the end of the game, you will have faced just about every conceivable type of battle. There is good variety to the enemies and bosses, which ensures that you never grow bored. Additionally, there are even times where you re- fight old bosses, but with new conditions, which can trip you up. The battle system is fun and addicting overall. The only problems with it are that there can be times where you are just trying to make your way out of a group of enemies only to attack them, and there are the aforementioned frame rate issues.
The way the game is structured is also rather unique. Instead of traveling the world and visiting towns, there is one hub town (Lazulis Island) that you stay at for the bulk of the game. You go to various locations in the town and castle to trigger events or go to new places. The story is broken up into Chapters. Each chapter plays almost like a level in a game such as a platformer. What I mean by this is that instead of just constantly fighting in the same places, each Chapter is a linear area with a fixed amount of battles. You constantly press forward until you reach the end to fight the boss. This is an interesting way to approach the game, as it's a far cry from what other JRPG's usually do. However, JRPG's are typically linear, so the structure isn't really bothersome.
Outside of main story missions, you can explore Lazluis to your heart's content. And exploration is quite rewarding. You are bound to find random items lying on the ground, or find an NPC that will give you a sidequest to do. Rather than having basic quests like "Find this item", quests are usually more unique. For instance, in one of them, you must find and trade different items with different people until you ultimately obtain a powerful sword. In another, you take on a challenger that ambushes you out of revenge. The quests are fun and rewarding, often times leading to rare items that can help you upgrade your weapons and equipment.
The way armor is handled in the game is also quite different. Instead of constantly finding new armor, there are only a few different types of sets. To get better defense, you upgrade these pieces of armor using gold and certain items you can find in battle. The same thing applies with weapons. Instead of constantly getting new weapons (although there is a steady stream of new types) you upgrade them to unlock their full potential. The upgrade system gives you good reasons to take on challenges such as the Arena and replay some chapters in order to gain new and better weapons and upgrade your equipment.
The battle system and formula of finding new quests to do and new battles to fight remains addicting throughout the game, despite any flaws. 8/ 10
The Last Story is a fun JRPG for the Wii. The battle system is a lot of fun, the hub world is fun to explore, and the game tells a compelling story. If you enjoyed Xenoblade, you will likely enjoy this game, even though it's not quite of the same caliber. So long and thanks for reading!