The Last Story (Wii Import Review) by Carl B.
The Last Story
Release Date: January 27, 2011 (Japan); EU release rumored
July 13, 2011, by Carl B. - Japanese role-playing games – also known as JRPGs – ruled the video game industry during the 16-bit era, which is often considered the Golden Age of gaming. At the time Square and Enix were two separate companies, each trying to top the other in the battle of JRPG dominance. Squaresoft provided SNES owners with top of the line games including Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy III, while Enix continued its super-popular Dragon Warrior series in Japan; due to the success of these titles more JRPGs were created by other publishers, spawning classics such as Breath of Fire II and Lufia II. In recent years, though, the JRPG genre has relied too heavily on old school mechanics. There have been evolutions to the gameplay made so popular in the 90s, but for the most part, new gameplay mechanics have either been poorly executed or were terrible ideas to begin with. Every now and then a game will come along that breathes life into the fledging genre; the most recent game to do this was Atlus' Radiant Historia. Only one man can perfectly recreate that long lost JRPG magic, however: the father of Final Fantasy himself.
It seems that everything wrong with today's JRPGs was present in Final Fantasy 13, a game that Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of Final Fantasy, had nothing to do with. Final Fantasy 13 was plagued with linearity, awful characters, and an over simplified combat system that essentially took control out of the player's hands. The worst part about the game was the way its story was presented to the player, and how it unfolded as the adventure progressed. Final Fantasy 13 did nothing to make players feel for the characters' struggles, thus negating any motivation players had to help them succeed. Square Enix's latest Final Fantasy title may be an extreme example of the mold JRPGs are trapped in, but it holds true for other recent titles in the genre – Dragon Quest 9, White Knight Chronicles, and Trails in the Sky, just to name a few.
Pictured: Concept art for The Last Story.
Nintendo and Sakaguchi's studio, Mistwalker, have taken everything that worked in the 90s, the few mechanics that work for the genre today, and have added plenty of new innovations to create a JRPG that will bring players back to the fabled Golden Age of gaming: The Last Story.
The Last Story follows Elza and his group of mercenary friends as they make their way to the bustling Ruli City, the capital of Ruli Island. As they make their trek through the dangerous Lizard's Cave, the group stumble upon ancient ruins that bestow Elza with a supernatural power known as Gathering. Once in Ruli City, Elza has a chance encounter with Kanan, daughter of the deceased royal family and niece of Earl Arganan, ruler of the island. As the two become close, the group of mercenaries is thrown into a war with a race called the Gurg. The entirety of The Last Story's narrative is filled with action, romance, and betrayal, making for one of the most cinematic experiences available on Wii. The Last Story has full voice acting, and even though the voices and sub-titles are in Japanese, it's easy to understand the relationship characters have with one another, thanks to amazing cut-scenes that never drag on longer than they should.
The narrative in the game is so well executed that I found myself genuinely caring for the various characters as the adventure carried on. The Last Story's ending is so beautifully crafted that I'm still thinking about it, wishing the game didn't have to conclude.
Pictured: The group of mercenaries.
Like so many JRPGs, The Last Story is a linear adventure, but not to the extent of Final Fantasy 13. Event A is always the same, and Event B is always the same, but the route players take to get to each event in the game can differ as there are numerous side quests throughout the 20-plus hour title. Every major event in the game is marked with a chapter number and name, similar to Chrono Trigger on Nintendo DS.
Side quests in The Last Story are either large tasks that take players to a new chapter, or are small tasks that require a simple solution to complete. I only did one side quest on my playthrough of the game, mostly since I can't read Japanese, and my play time was still at a whopping 20 hours. Completing every quest – which do reward players with rare weapons – will easily double the amount of hours played.
Although the main adventure is linear, Ruli City itself is a large, open sandbox to explore. There are tons of shops, houses, quests and people around the city that it truly feels like a living world. Walking around the city and taking in the sights is fun itself. Other regions in the game aren't as open as Ruli City, but are equally as detailed and beautiful. The only problem is that players aren't able to walk from one end of the game's world to the other, like in Zelda or Oblivion; the game's various events will send Elza to different areas across the world, and although players can warp to these locations after they're discovered, there isn't any real overworld exploration in The Last Story.
Pictured: Elza walking around Ruli City.
Two tiresome JRPG mechanics have been done away with in The Last Story: turn based battles and random encounters. The Last Story is an action RPG that plays very similarly to The Legend of Zelda; players have complete control over Elza in the midst of a battle, and are able to auto attack by getting close to an enemy, guard by holding B, and perform various special attacks. Elza will have anywhere from one to six additional members in his party – sometimes they're his mercenary friends, Kanan, or even Ruli City knights that join for a short period.
Elza will eventually gain the command ability, allowing players to issue specific commands to their party members. This adds a nice layer of strategy to the game's combat, especially during battles with ten or more enemies. Using commands with mages is particularly useful, as Elza can tell them to cast healing magic if they're a healer, or tell them to cast their attack magic at specific targets. Each mage in the game is of a different element – Kanan is light, and Yuris and Manamia, two of Elza's mercenary companions, are fire and plant, respectively. Enemies will be weak to different types of elemental damage, so exploiting that weakness is paramount. To help do this, after a mage casts an elemental attack magic, a colored circle will appear on the ground. The circle won't hurt the enemy if it steps on it, but if Elza or any of his sword-wielding friends do, their blades will receive elemental powers for a short time.
Some environments are also destructible by magic. Holding the Z button will have Elza pull out his crossbow – a weapon that can be used to attack enemies from afar – letting him find targets that can be destroyed. Once the target it marked, a mage In Elza's party will attack it with magic, but it isn't that simple – whenever a mage casts magic, friend or foe, there's a countdown. If the mage is attacked either by melee, magic, or projectile, their countdown will be broken and they'll have to start over. This is displayed very early in the game, and it is solved with the first ability Elza receives: Gathering. By pressing the C button Elza will activate Gathering, an ability with multiple uses; Gathering can revive a downed ally, refill Elza's health with each attack, and most importantly, draw the attention of every single enemy in battle. Doing this will allow a mage to use magic without being reset, but it also leaves Elza more prone to damage as every enemy will be coming after him.
Pictured: Elza using Gathering.
One of the most ingenious additions to The Last Story's combat is its dynamic cover system. It works similar to the cover system seen in the Uncharted series: various obstacles, walls, and outcroppings can be hidden behind simply by pressing the A button next to it. Elza can roll to nearby cover and shoot with his crossbow from behind cover as well, giving players a tactical advantage if they want to take a group of enemies by surprise.
Boss battles in most JRPGs have never been riveting, mostly because only so much can be done with a turn based system. The same strategy is practically universal: have three party members attack while one heals everyone else every few turns. The Last Story has some fantastic boss battles, by JRPG standards and by action game standards. Bosses are massive, right from the first boss to the final boss. Each one has a specific strategy to defeat it, so having everyone attack at once won't do players any good. One of the harder bosses in the game is a doppelganger that hides behind a mirror, mimicking every move that Elza makes. If Elza attacks the mirror, however, the doppelganger will block the strike and deal Elza with massive amounts of damage. To get past this phase of the boss, I had to command Yuris to cast fire magic at the mirror and have the doppelganger walk onto the fire circle, making him hop up and down since his feet were on fire. This opened up an opportunity for Elza to strike at the doppelganger without taking any return damage.
Adding to the replay ability of the game, The Last Story features online player vs player and co-op matches. Up to six players at a time can participate in PvP matches, and the player with the most kills at the end of the match wins, while co-op has the six players working as a team to take down a challenging boss. Players can carry over their characters from single player to online multiplayer, and all items and weapons received during online matches carries over to single player.
Pictured: Taking cover in The Last Story.
To top off such an amazing title, The Last Story is, by far, the best looking Wii game. Its art style alone sets it apart from the more generic looking JRPGs both today and from the 90s, but it's the texture detail, smooth frame rate, large world scope and amazing character models that truly make the game's visuals a spectacle. The Last Story looks so fantastic that I wish The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword looked just like it, even though the art style for Link's next adventure has started to grow on me.
Music, oftentimes the unsung hero in video games, is just as compelling as every other aspect in The Last Story. The soundtrack is done by Nobuo Uematsu, the same man behind the soundtrack in Final Fantasy III and most Final Fantasy titles. The main battle and boss fight themes are particularly impressive, as the former sounds like a brilliant cross between Final Fantasy and Metal Gear Solid. The main theme of the title, which plays on the title screen and on various parts throughout the adventure, is an excellent precursor to the emotion and immersion found in this title.
15/15 - An amazing soundtrack by Nobuo Uematsu.
20/20 - The best looking game on Wii. Tons of detail in the world with great character models.
25/25 - I completed The Last Story in 20 hours with doing just one side quest. There are numerous optional quests to complete, each with rare items and weapons as rewards.
39/40 - An amazing combat system filled with strategy and an excellent cover system. The only issue with the game is that it doesn't place an emphasis on world exploration, even though Ruli City is huge.
99/100 - The Last Story may not be as open as The Elder Scrolls, but it does have most games beat with a compelling narrative, fantastic combat, and loveable characters. The Last Story has it all: action, romance, and betrayal; It may be the best JRPG since Final Fantasy 7.