The Last Story is a good role-play game from Mistwalker with beautiful visuals, good localization, and shallow combat.
(-) shallow combat / arbitrary search missions / copy-pasted main villain
Well if it isn't The Last Story, the second of the Japanese role play games that the highly emphatic fans at Operation Rainfall begged and pleaded to be released over here in the United States. The reviews it has received so far have been good, though lukewarm in comparison to its predecessor to the throne Xenoblade Chronicles. And as it turns out, those reviews are just about on the money. The Last Story is a solid role play adventure and one of the last few good Wii games to buy before the fancy tablet based console comes out later this year, but its doomed to hide behind the shadows of the far superior RPG that got the green light here just months before it. With that said, the good still outways the bad in The Last Story, and there's still a fun, captivating adventure to be had for the role play game fan or someone looking for something to play on Nintendo's aging system.
Developed by Mistwalker, best known for the Final Fantasy franchise, The Last Story is a Wii-exclusive RPG that uses real time combat to create more of a hack-n-slash action game experience for the player. You play as Zael, a humble young man of lowly status who dreams of one day becoming a night, all the while lusting over an impossibly high-maintenance lady he meets during a random escapade around town. He goes on a quest with a band of fellow swordsman and magic using mages across castles, cruise ships, caved, and other locations in a long-scale adventure. The characters and environments, feeling like they got ripped straight from a fantasy book, do a good job in making you feel like your playing the part of a legendary warrior with a story retold for generations to come. There's moments of suspense when Zael's once in a lifetime chance at becoming a night emerges, feelings of heartache shared between you and the on-screen character when Calista experiences difficulty with Zeal's emotions, and feelings of blind hatred over the bastardizing actions of some of the characters. It occasionally falters in originality though, which is clear by the time the game introduces a new antagonist race of strange cat people. Zangurak looks so similar to Ganondorph that causal players looking at screen shots might be lead to believe that Link will make a cameo appearance or something. Good thing that doesn't distract from the overall good narrative though. The main job of any narrative in video game entertainment is to pull the player in, and The Last Story does an admirable job. It's nothing you've never seen before, but its still high quality stuff.
This is partially because of the game's storytelling, done in the form of cut-scenes, dialog snippets, and narrated text with words that could only be chosen by a best selling novel. The voice acting is also joyfully ideal, retaining the Engrish touch from Nintendo of Europe to give The Last Story some distinction from other releases here in the states. And for the most part, the performances of the characters are good. At the beginning of the game, when Syrenne, the drunk of the clan, appears to be defeated by an ongoing enemy moments after the tutorial, you'd be forgiven for not being impressed by Zael's idea of a cry in desperation "I'm sick of it! Sick of all the pain!" But the voice acting does improve later on, particularly through the insane ramblings of Jirral. The soundtrack doesn't disappoint neither, feeling perfectly suited for the mythical world with thumping piano and melancholic melodies intertwined with the coming events to increase their overall impact.
You'll be struck in awe at first sight by the game's beautiful graphics and animation, which are easily some of the best you'll see on Wii. Carefully detailed characters and environments full of shading light and other special effects never seize to amaze, without the plentiful jags which haunted Xenoblade. While the game's presentation is fully polished, the combat lacks some of that polish. But it at least makes sense with the scale of the game. The Last Story incorporates a hack-n-slash system where you swing your sword at enemies (without motion functionality) with the aid of AI controlled team mates. At default, this is all automated, you walk up to an enemy and the game does the rest. If you can't get behind this method, need not worry, because you can opt to attack manually with the A button. You can block attacks, dodge, or use a cross bow to snipe from long distance, which often costs vital moments in a chaotic fight but it can be fun to waste targets from the distance when the time is needed. The game also tries some unconventional events like stealth sequences, where you hide behind cover to escape a castle undetected, or slowly beat down the security one-by-one.
These innovations brighten up the experience somewhat, but it's still nothing that can escape the situation that the combat itself, especially for an RPG, is lacking in nuance. The only special ability Zael possesses is a "gather" magic, which draws enemy aggro to himself giving your team mates a chance to perform their spells. You can use this same power to use a stunning attack, but its still a sad excuse compared to other Japanese role play heroes. Zael can also use his Gale technique to diffuse circles to cancel enemy effects and enhance team mates skills, for example, diffusing a leaf circle inflicts silence, which renders an enemy's magic unusable for a short period of time, or an ice circle, which causes enemies to slip around and fall instead of defending against your attacks. But because you have to wait for these spells to be activated first, you're not given the opportunity to fully utilize every ability unless the game allows you. The only exception to this rule are chain attacks, where you can take appropriate course of action, such as create or going to healing circles, or use powerful special attacks on enemies with devastating consequences. But these occasions are so few and far between, it does little to remedy the issue.
While the combat may not be up to snuff, that doesn't stop the player from experiencing some awesomely challenging boss encounters where you really need to think of a strategy to take down a large enemy, as opposed to blindly hammering at the attack button left and right. Most of the tactics needed are relatively easy to figure out, like where you fight a gigantic porcupine turtle thing that rolls around all over the place and fires out needles with every spin. The trick is to hide behind cover before you can be paralyzed by the needle blast, the beast will tire itself out, then with an opening, you attack, then climb on top of him and stab your sword multiple times like you're riding at a Nashville rodeo. There's often only one viable strategy for defeating these foes, but at least it changes for each one. These creates are tough, with fearsome attacks and loaded HP points, which makes for long fights which leave you feeling triumphant when you emerge victorious. But on a side note, it might have been nice if your ignorant team members didn't repeat the method to destroy the enemy over and over and over again, even when you're clearly up to the task.
Other frustrations crop up outside of combat, in the form of a seek ability. At points of the story, Zael is told to look around the area for a key object, for example, a wall that could use a good smashing to get them where they need to go. These intrusions add little to the experience, and they appear far too often, almost every time something is needed to further advance the story. What's also strange, is if you fail to find the object for whatever reason, Zael will snap out and automatically locate the object himself, leaving you wondering why these pop up in the first place to interrupt the rest of the game. It's a minor complaint, but its still jarring nonetheless.
The combat also allows the game to have an unexpected surprise in the form of online multiplayer modes. They're pretty basic overall, showdowns for six players to either beat the crap out of each other in a free for all match or take on one of six bosses with the reward of a rare item usable in single player mode. They're nothing that anyone should purchase the game just to experience, but they make a fine addition to go along with the single player adventure. It also allows people who are struggling to get better equipment as well as refine their skill in combat once they actually have to face one of those bosses on their own. It's a shame that there's no real way to communicate with the other characters though. The game allows you to pick voice commands from any of the spoken lines in the game's audio, which can make for some laughs, but it doesn't replace the complete lack of voice chat when it'd be much easier to just tell the other people to come to your aid with their healing abilities.
Being so commonly placed on the same pedestal as Xenoblade Chronicles, its sobering that The Last Story, while a worthy game in its own right with a rich new experience and fantastic visual design, doesn't seem to keep up very well with the aforementioned epic released by Monoloft Soft. And even if you look at The Last Story as it is, blocking that other game out of your mind, there's still a good number of noteworthy conventions leaning against it that keep it from being an immediately recommendable purchase. Still, it should be reiterated that the good overlaps the bad in the Last Story, and its a great purchase for Wii owners still passionate about new games and want to see more titles like it in the near future.