We get some hands-on time with Mistwalker's latest epic.
January 27 marked the day that Mistwalker's latest epic, The Last Story, hit store shelves in Japan. Directed by Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, Japanese gamers and gaming media alike had high expectations for the game. Since released, the title has received nothing but praise from Japanese media outlets, including a score of 38/40 from Famitsu. After playing over ten hours of the game myself, I can confirm that The Last Story is something special and a game that Wii owners should be excited about.
The story centers on Elza, the main hero of the game who is constantly dreaming about becoming a knight. Elza, his pseudo brother Quark, and their rowdy group of friends are mercenaries who are simply looking for work when they make their way to Ruli City. What starts out as a somewhat lighthearted trip into town soon takes an unexpected turn for the worse as Elza and his pals get wrapped up in a wider, broader conflict occurring on Ruli Island. The player controls Elza throughout his adventure on Ruli Island and the surrounding areas and out at sea.
One of the most pleasant and refreshing aspects of The Last Story is the battle system. Even though the battle system is a bit daunting at first, it is pretty easy to get used to after a few battles. During the battle sequences, you are in control of Elza. Battles can take place anywhere on the map. During a battle, you have anywhere from one to five party members fighting alongside you. Elza has a unique skill called Gathering, which draws attention of the enemies to him. This allows your teammates to use magical abilities and other skills without interference from enemies.
As you progress in the game, you unlock various skills for Elza and his teammates. Some of these skills include curing, performing enhanced attacks, and even the ability to command your teammates. Most of these skills are pretty useful and are fairly easy to execute.
Pulling off a basic attack is a simple as walking straight into an enemy. If set on the “normal” control mode, attacks are done automatically. There is, however, a manual mode where the “A” button is used for primary attacks. Some seasoned gamers might write off the auto-attack mode, possibly thinking that it might dumb down the game a bit too much. However, after playing with the auto-attack mode for a number of hours and through hundreds of enemies, the feature works extremely well and is an aspect that makes The Last Story even more accessible and fun.
Even if you choose the auto-attack mode, you still have control over blocking, movement, and the various skills. Blocking can be executed by pressing and holding the B button on the Wii Remote. Using the B button also gives Elza the ability to vault himself over various obstacles (crates, downed pillars, etc.) and his teammates. The A button allows Elza to go into a Hide mode, which is similar to a cover system found in many third-person shooters. When in Hide mode, the player can creep along walls or stay hidden from enemies behind boxes or large rocks. To exit the mode, simply press the A button again. The button, coupled with the control stick, will also allow you to perform a roll, which can be used to avoid attacks from enemies. The control pad on the Wii Remote is also utilized to a certain extent for some of the skills later on in the game.
The Nunchuk is your primary method of moving Elza. The Z button is used to reset the camera directly behind Elza and the C button is used to activate the aforementioned Gathering skill. Elza also has a crossbow that can be used by pressing and holding the Z button to go into an over-the-shoulder aiming mode (referred to as Observation mode in the instruction manual). While in this mode, you use the joystick on the Nunchuk to direct where you want your projectile to go, and then press the A button to fire.
Controlling Elza off of the battlefield is nearly identical. One thing that does play a pretty significant role is the Observation mode. At various points in the story or at different places on the map, a prompt will appear on the screen to let the player know that something important or something story-related can be activated by looking around and finding observation boxes. The boxes are white and semi-transparent, blending easily into the background. This feature is interesting, and used many times throughout the game. While it is a little on the cheesy side, it is an interesting addition nonetheless, and is a way for the player to become more immersed in the gameplay and story.
When it comes to the controller set up, Mistwalker and AQ Interactive allow gamers to choose between using the Wii Remote/Nunchuk combination or the Classic Controller. Both work extremely well. The biggest benefit of using the Classic Controller is the fact that you can have complete control over the camera. Even with that said, pressing the Z button on the Nunchuk resets the camera behind Elza and works pretty well. At this point in the Wii's life cycle, this boils down to a preference issue. Needless to say, it is just great having the ability to choose and not be forced to play one way or the other.
Visually, The Last Story is an impressive game. While there are some muddy, blurry textures here and there, the art direction and overall polish of the game are incredible. The character design is what you would expect from a Japanese RPG, complete with the crazy hair and odd assortment of clothing. The menus are appealing and put together very nicely.
One other cool aspect that has not received much attention pertains to the title screen. Depending on where you last saved, the title screen will feature some active, in-game background of a location near to where you saved. For instance, Elza was watching a gorgeous meteor shower with one of the other characters at an early point in the game. When I booted it back up, I saw Elza and that character looking up at the meteor shower. It was not a static picture either, but basically the game engine running behind the main menu. It is a very subtle addition, but just goes to show the amount of detail and hard work that was put into making this game look and feel great. Not only that, but the killer soundtrack, voice acting, and even the sounds from the battles show how serious Mistwalker was with their Wii outing.
Ten hours with The Last Story is just enough time to scratch the surface. This epic game is a complete blast to play and has a story interesting enough to keep you coming back. While there is currently no word whether or not Nintendo will release The Last Story outside of Japan, gamers in the West can only cross their fingers and hope for a localization from the Big N.