By now you have all heard about how The Last Story is the long awaited directorial return by the creator of Final Fantasy along with the same original composer. However while this may be true, expecting anything like Final Fantasy is a huge mistake with The Last Story. It really isn’t like any JRPG nor is really like any WRPG either, The Last Story takes elements from nearly everywhere and comes out as something totally different. If you can temper your expectations for this you will find a lot to love, but if you are looking for nearly anything traditional then you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
Ever since 1997 the RPG genre has spent an increasing amount of time focusing on graphics and presentation. The Last Story also throws its hat into the mix, providing some jaw dropping character design and art, but sadly the Wii struggles a bit to do it justice. Graphically speaking in game, The Last Story is schizophrenic, some areas look gorgeous and feature amazing lighting while many other areas have disturbingly low resolution textures that either look muddy or super pixilated. Still you can see the developers at least attempting to squeeze every last drop out of the Wii hardware even if it does choke the system at points. One area that is particularly satisfying is the equipment. Not only is every piece of armor rendered uniquely on your characters, but you can at any point go into the menu and literally change the color of every small piece to your liking. This should be industry standard.
Similar to the graphics the music is a bit hit or miss as well. While it never hits the lows that the graphics do, it can often times be simply moody and somewhat forgettable. Now that being said, when it counts Uematsu is on his “A” game and definitely provides some fantastic melodies during the more pivotal moments in the story. The voice acting here is the same as the European release and I must say the actors and localization team did a wonderful job. These ragtag mercenaries are not children and are thankfully not voiced by actors pretending like they are. Also you have the added benefit again of a almost unheard of voice cast rather then the same revolving door of American JRPG voice actors.
To really understand The Last Story is to play it, but in the meantime what you should not expect is anything turn based nor much like Xenoblade either. The Last Story uses a completely real time battle system that takes into account the physical surrounding of fights. This means that the majority of the fighting is in scripted areas. There is a collosuem and dungeons will have small areas devoted to summoning circles for repeat fights, but for the most part The Last Story is about moving forward with the plot and making each fight somewhat unique rather then grinding till your eyes dry up. You can select to attack manually or automatically by pushing the control stick towards an enemy. I stick with Manual myself but the choice is yours, as is playing the the Classic Controller Pro. From the opening minutes to the well into game you are given new abilities and moves that are displayed rather brilliantly with both beautiful illustrations and actual video tutorials in the game. You might be suckerd into believing the battle system is a glorified hack and slash at first, but if you stick with it you will open up many possibilities that include managing your ever changing team roster and giving specific commands. Eventually you will also gain acrobatic abilities that feel like Sakaguichi played a little to much Prince of Persia one weekend. When all is said and done the battle system is one of the best aspects of the game, it feels fresh and intuitive but also more to the point that because of the design of the game, battles feel unique and intense. Boss fights in particular are a big highlight as just about every single one requires some thinking and a bit of puzzle solving to deduce on how to defeat them. Not since Chrono Trigger have boss fights been this well thought out in a JRPG.
As for the rest of the game, you might be crushed to learn that there is no overworld to speak of and outside the giant Assassin’s Creed like city, there really isn’t anything to explore. However what this does open up is the developers ability to craft a really well built central town and really make it feel alive with different districts and lots of various interaction with the NPC and city alike. Also the game is not entirely linear either, there are mulitiple points within the story that include optional chapters. You might only realize this when you suddenly jump from Chapter 22 to 26. Saving with multiple save slots is advantageous here. Besides just help beef up your characters more, the side chapters also let the developers cut loose a bit with the characters and plot and have a little fun. Speaking of plot, The Last Story might have a wholly original and engaging battle system, but the main story is pretty predictable. You have likely seen the twists and character arcs many times before, but to its credit, the story is told well and harkens back an early 90′s era of anime storytelling rather then all the current moe bullshit that’s infested everything else. If you simply focus on the main cutscenes you would be doing the localization effort a disservice. It is clear that areas involving animated lip synching the team did the best they could to match the dialog from the Japanese original, but in other conversations you can see where liberties were taken for the best. The cast really comes alive in dialog sequences outside the main story arc and the team did a wonderful job in making each mercenary feel unique and likable.
The structure of the game usually follows you taking on missions from your home above a pub, in between these you can wander the city and pick up additional chapters and sidequests. You will of course have moments where you are out of the city for long bouts, sometimes at sea or in other parts of the world entirely. You will eventually come to find summon circles for a poor, skiddish, shop owner so you don’t have to worry about selling or buying new items. There is also two entirely different modes of online play, competitive and co-op. Co-op involves you and other players taking down boss monsters, while competitive splits the game world into battle maps for you and five other players to duke it out in. While neither mode is outstanding, and probably won’t be the reason you buy the game, they are well rounded diversions and give you the opportunity to show off your uniquely colored armor and loot with other players.
In the end The Last Story is a lot of fun, but it is probably not what anyone is expecting, especially with the developers behind it. If you go in knowing this you are bound to have a good time. Why Nintendo would pass on this game and instead opt to publish games like The Malgrave Incident or help polish a turd like Ninja Gaiden 3 is beyond me. Hopefully though it becomes XSEED’s gain. The first print of the title comes in an amazing box set that includes a small art book. It really is a wondrous swan song that in its own oddball way is a unique send off for such a oddball gaming system. XSEED has quickly become one of my favorite publishers this generation and games such as The Last Story are exactly the reason why. They have gone out of their way to provide owners of every console, and especially Wii and DS, with unique and different titles that stand out among the crowd. The Last Story truly is a great way to finish out the system, provided you know what you are getting into.
Final Verdict: BUY
The Last Story is not perfect, nor is like any game you would expect from the creator and composer of Final Fantasy, but what it is, is a lot of fun that will give you a perfect bow to the little white box that has provided so much entertainment these past six years with so little under the hood. Don’t miss out on the gorgeous box printing either, this is a game you want to pick up right away.