A flawed, but respectable addition to the Wii's library.
Directed by Hironobu Sakaguchi, the father of the Final Fantasy series, and featuring music composed by the equally revered Nobuo Uematsu, it’s not surprising that The Last Story’s localization garnered so much attention from the gaming media. However, too much attention is never a good thing, especially when a game fails to live it up to its expectations. I don’t think The Last Story is a bad game, but it suffers from a number of technical flaws that diminish what is otherwise a notable addition to the Wii library.
The Last Story follows Zael and his mercenary companions as they struggle to find work on Lazulis Island. Early on in the game, Zael and fellow mercenary Syrenne find themselves trapped by a group of seemingly immortal skeletons. As the situation grows hopeless, a mysterious voice grants Zael the Triforce-esque Outsider’s power. Initially, Zael’s newfound power doesn’t receive much attention from the others, but as the game progresses, the ability serves as a catalyst for an interesting story of deceit, political intrigue, and environmental catastrophe. It also helps that the main characters are likeable—each has an interesting past and personality.
Yet, it’s not the game’s story, characters, or setting I have issues with. Overall, they actually serve as the greatest reason to buy The Last Story. The combat, camera, and missed opportunities, on the other hand, provide enough frustration early on that I hated the game by the two-hour mark. My first problem came with the brevity of enemy encounters early on, as most fights ended before I could personally dispatch a single enemy. This later changed as enemies became too strong for my allies to kill within the first minute, but for a game with such an involved real-time combat system, it’s a bit counterintuitive to limit its use within the first few hours. Additionally, the game’s most unique aspect, the Gears of War-inspired cover mechanic, is criminally underused. Taking cover and sniping an enemy from afar with your crossbow feels great, and the amount of strategy it adds to combat is worthwhile. However, it’s mostly a missed opportunity: with the exception of several great sets, many battles devolve into chaotic messes that involve little strategy or stealth—especially with the help of the game’s finicky camera that often gets stuck on obstacles in the environment. It’s a pity too, as the battles that rely on stealth and strategy are perhaps the most fun I’ve had with a JRPG’s battle system. Boss battles and online play tend to be much better in this regard, though. In fact, I had a blast playing the game’s online versus mode.
That said, the combat system is one of the more distinctive I’ve encountered in a JRPG, and as I passed the two-hour mark my opinion of the game began to greatly improve. The real-time combat is reminiscent of third-person action games, to the point that I’d be willing to call The Last Story an action game with RPG elements, rather than a fully fledged RPG. During battles, you have direct control over Zael, using either the Wii Remote and Nunchuck or the Classic controller. By default, attacks are set to occur automatically, similar to Xenoblade, but you do have the option to map them to the A button. Later in the game you also gain the ability to order your allies to use certain powers or spells. And like Tales of the Abyss’ Field of Fonons system, each spell leaves an elemental circle that provides additional effects to attacks.
With the game’s mechanics aside, The Last Story does have quite a bit going for it, not the least of which is its presentation. While the art style and graphics aren’t exactly the most outstanding, the attention to detail is impressive. Every weapon you equip looks different, as does your armor. When you upgrade your weapons via The Last Story’s Monster Hunter-esque upgrade system, the weapons gain particle effects or auras around them. The town that acts for the game’s hub world is richly detailed, and includes plenty of small secrets to find. Likewise, the music is superb and sets the game’s tone perfectly. It’s exactly what you would expect from Nobuo Uematsu.
While my review may seem overly positive, the game’s small number of flaws are incredibly frustrating at times. That said, if you feel you can look past a few missed opportunities and a flawed but fun combat system, I can’t see why you wouldn’t enjoy The Last Story. Just don’t expect it to be as genre defining as previous Sakaguchi titles.