I’ve been rather eagerly anticipating Mistwalker’s The Last Story since last year. Between hearing about it on multiple podcasts (8-4 Play, I lay the blame mostly on you) and seeing impressions of it from importers, Mistwalker’s latest effort had me wanting to dust off my Wii for well over a year. Thanks to XSEED Games, The Last Story has finally landed on the shores of North America.
The Last Story focuses on a Zael, a young man who has aspirations of being a knight, and the mercenary band he is a part of. Early on, Zael stumbles upon a power that only he can wield (of course, this is still a JRPG after all) that allows him to Gather, which causes any enemies your party is in combat with to target him. Shortly after that, you meet the princess in disguise, Calista, who you’ll meet as Lisa, who not only serves as Zael’s love interest, but also has a power that supplements his new found ability that will ultimately help him confront the dangers that are to come (yup, JRPG). A foe long forgotten suddenly invades Lazulis Island, which serves as the game’s main location, and, with your new found ability, are tasked with repelling the attacking force. There’s a fair amount of political intrigue and two-faced characters to contend with in the otherwise straightforward story.
The main story line, which is interesting despite itself, almost seems like an afterthought when the characters take the scene. The game is more about putting them in situations and seeing how they interact with them and each other. Seeing how the characters relationships develop and watching them grow as the story develops adds a level of involvement in their lives that you just don’t get frequently enough.
The character interactions are compelling enough that passing over the additional chapters, essentially the game’s sidequests, would be doing yourself a disservice. While you have to actively seek them out by speaking with both random NPC’s and your party members, they’re fairly brief and add some interesting backstory to your party members. Yurick’s, which occurs fairly early in the game, is particularly endearing and really fills out his character nicely. It helped make him much more interesting and moved him beyond the anti-social brooder of the group. As a reward for completing these extra chapters, you’ll also get some exclusive items and equipment for your time. Some of the equipment you gain is strong enough to carry you through nearly to the end game with some upgrades. The extra chapters are not only worth your time for adding more depth to your party members, but the items gained as well.
Zael’s Gathering ability not only serves as a plot device, but also acts as a major factor in the mostly real time battles. Having the ability to turn the enemy’s attention solely on you so that your magic users can cast their spells uninterrupted can quickly turn the tide in your favor. While Gathering is active, you can revive any characters that get knocked out during battle with the some added status buffs by running over to them. If you can’t make it to them in time, they’ll revive on their own, as long as they haven’t used up their five “lives” they get in each battle, but without the helpful stat bonuses. Having five chances per battle to revive for each member of your party, which can be made up of up to six characters, and having your party totally recover after each battle does make the game a touch easy.
Unless you’re a true masochist, the relative ease of the game won’t take away from the fun of the combat system. You can have a fair amount of success by just charging head first and wailing on your enemies, but the fast pacing hides a surprising amount of depth. Your AI controlled party members are able to handle themselves in combat without you watching their backs through the entire battle. Keeping an eye on them will help make battles smoothly as turning Gathering on or off will not only keep them alive, but leave some of the enemies wide open to your party. You’ll also gain the ability to pause the action and select an action for each party member, which allows you to wreak serious havoc on any weaknesses your foes have if timed correctly.
Adding a cover mechanic that lets you launch a powerful sneak attack on enemies will have you shifting in out of Gathering mode to turn the tide in your favor quickly. You can also look around the battlefield’s environment for spots that you or a party member can interact with that can cause some massive damage to your foes. You might notice a weak pillar that can be attacked and brought down to bring a battle to an end before it even begins. While not necessary, it definitely keeps you on alert to your surroundings so you can take advantage of them.
There aren’t many RPG’s that have enough of an interesting combat system to warrant a multiplayer mode, but The Last Story actually manages it surprisingly well. You can attack bosses from the single player cooperatively or have a six player deathmatch or team deathmatch. While not densely populated, I can potentially see the servers having a fair sized, loyal user base for at least a couple of months post launch. If nothing else, this should speak volumes as to how solid the combat system is.
There’s a fair amount of customization to your characters. Not only does equipping pieces of armor reflect in the characters appearance throughout the game, but you can also change the colors of them. As I’m not a fan of the all black clothed ensemble, I started doing this early on. The color options expand as you collect items and exchange them for dye. Once you trade for the dye, the color is unlocked indefinitely. Coloring the various pieces of armor was not only a nice touch but also allowed me to color characters in a specific way more attuned to their role (if you go by Final Fantasy class types, which I did). The inventory system is blessedly easy to navigate. While there are a fair amount of items that you use for upgrading your equipment, you won’t be spending any serious amount of time digging through trying to find what you need.
The graphics are beautiful, and I won’t qualify them by saying “for a Wii game” either. The hardware limitations show through when the action onscreen gets heavy, as the frame rate will chug heavily. Some of the character models are a bit lifeless during the normal dialogue but have a fair amount of believability during cut scenes. The hardware limitations show on occasion as you look more closely at some of the environments, but the rather beautiful aesthetic of the game makes it easy to look beyond that.
The voice acting is really top notch. Not only are the voices well suited to the setting (I’ve always been a fan of using the various accents of the United Kingdom for fantasy settings), but the actors do a marvelous job of selling the characters. The actress that handles Syrenne stole the show for me. While she’s far from the most pivotal character in your party, Kelly Wenham’s performance assured her a place in my party whenever she was available.
While I wasn’t much of a fan of Uematsu’s work in Blue Dragon, The Last Story’s soundtrack is simply wonderful. I wish I was more of a music snob so I could speak more authoritatively about his work, but it really sets the mood wonderfully throughout the various areas. It also puts a bow on selling the characters in some of their more pivotal moments. The score is in your face when it needs to be, but Uematsu also pulls back and lets the music supplement some of the more touching moments in the game.
The Last Story had a lot to live up to, spawning a well-organized fan movement that also helped bring over Xenoblade Chronicles. I could go into this likely being the swan song for the Wii. I could compare it to Xenoblade Chronicles as another JRPG that tries to shake things up in what’s sometimes viewed as a stagnant genre. Doing so would be a disservice to it though, as The Last Story stands on its own as one of the finest releases this year. The journey with the cast through the world is a well-paced ride that reaches its conclusion before it wears out its welcome. If this turns out to be the Wii’s last hurrah in North America, you’d be hard pressed to ask for a better close to its story.