Much like Xenoblade Chronicles, Mistwalker’s latest RPG, The Last Story, had a bit of a rocky road to release here in North America. The game was released over a year and a half ago in Japan, and earlier this year in Europe. There were no plans to even bring the game to North America, but thanks to Xseed Games we finally get the chance to experience what could be, pardon the pun, the last great story on the Wii.
What You Need to Know
The Last Story is the latest game from famed Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi. He teamed up with long time collaborator, Nobuo Uematsu, to create an RPG for the Wii ; a system in desperate need of a good game late in its life. You play as Zael, a member of a band of mercenaries who are looking to better their lot in life. You get swept up in war, political intrigue, romance and more as you try to decide who the good guys really are and if what Zaer really wanted in life was what he thought. The game will take you just over 20 hours to complete, but there is a decent multiplayer component for those players wanting to take the game just a little bit further.
You’ve seen this kind of story before. A group of people just wanting to make a living get inadvertently swept up into a war they didn’t want to get involved in. Your leaders motives aren’t always genuine and you’re not entirely sure who to trust.
The story is told with a mix of live-action cutscenes, talking heads and even black-screened voice overs from a narrator which really sets the game apart. You’ll always find yourself wanting to find out a little bit more about what’s going on before you shut the game off.
These characters have been working together and because of that they have a playful banter that really comes across in the dialogue. They flirt with each other, tell sometimes off-color jokes in the heat of battle and even argue with each other while remaining friendly.
At its heart, The Last Story is a JRPG. You play as a spiky-haired character who teams up with other spiky-haired characters to fight other spiky-haired characters. You’ll earn experience points to level up, gain new skills and weapons. The biggest difference between other JRPGs and this one is easily the battle system. Not only have the developers created a pretty decent hack-and-slash-style battle system (go into the menus and turn the battle system from automatic to manual, you’ll thank me later) they’ve included a number of other things to keep it fresh.
The first being a cover mechanic. This gives the game a feel of something more like Gears of War than Final Fantasy. You can walk up to a piece of cover, hit a button and pull out a crossbow to take out enemies from a distance, keeping yourself mostly safe in the process. Doing this makes the game feel more like a third-person shooter than an RPG and it’s a nice change of pace from the usual point yourself in a direction and swing your sword. You can use the cover system to scout out different enemies and even scan the environment for things that can be used as an advantage in battle. One thing that’s really nice to see, if you’re standing behind a friendly character, you can move in their direction, hit a button and leap over them to surprise foes. It really makes it seem like these characters have been working together for years, know each other and have a level of trust you don’t always see in RPG characters.
Then there is the ability to diffuse magical circles to boost your friends stats, heal party members or hamper the enemy in some way. These aren’t always going to be necessary to use in combat, but seeing the white glow of a healing circle when you’re about to die is a welcome sight.
You’ve also have options to decide just how you want to go about fighting different battles. The most interesting example of this is fighting a number of skeletons in a hedge maze. You have the ability to rush in headlong and try to take them all out at once, but I found it much more interesting to use a bit of the Metal Gear Solid playbook. You can navigate slowly around the maze using the cover to your advantage and take each skeleton out one at a time making, the encounter much easier to handle.
The inclusion of multiplayer in an RPG is something we’ve seen a few times before, but this isn’t the typical multiplayer you’d find in a game of this genre. You can team up with five other people online to play through boss encounters in a co-operative mode or you can go head-to-head in a death match mode.
The way the battle systems works in The Last Story lends itself pretty well to a competitive multiplayer game, but it doesn’t necessarily feel like the most fleshed out mode. It was nice to try out, but I didn’t find myself compelled to keep coming back after the first couple of times.
The most noticeable distraction in The Last Story is the framerate. The game is absolutely gorgeous to look at, especially in the rendered cutscenes, but it really pushes the Wii to its limits. So much so, in fact, that there are many times throughout the game the framerate will drop significantly, making the game come nearly to a halt. It’s usually not a good thing when you can count the frames of animation on a single hand. Most of the time you’ll find it simply stutters as the game is trying to load something, or if certain spell effects pop up. They do happen very frequently and many times it can be very distracting but they usually go away fairly quickly.
Camera Gets in the Way
Another issue I had was the camera. Most of the time you’re never going to notice it as the action is pretty slow. Just walking around or exploring the world won’t be a problem. In combat however, the camera can be deadly. This issue mostly arose during boss fights. I found the camera would get hung up on a wall or would hit an invisible barrier and I couldn’t move it any more in one direction. I would to have to swing it around nearly 360 degrees in the opposite way in order to see what was going on. There is a button on the classic controller to recenter the view behind Zael, but I didn’t always want that to happen and I would end up dieing numerous times. It was so bad in one boss fight that I almost didn’t want to play the game anymore, but I’m glad I persevered.
The Last Story doesn’t do a lot to move the genre forward like Xenoblade Chronicles did, but it doesn’t have to. There’s still room for a safe story that you’ve seen before and mechanics that feel familiar. How many action movies come out every year that have the same plot, but people still enjoy watching them? This feels more like an extension of the Final Fantasy franchise and where it might have gone if Sakaguchi had remained at the helm. It’s a solid RPG with a wonderful story that comes at the end of a platforms life. It pushes the hardware nearly to breaking and while there are some issues because of that, it’s still a fun experience you really should have.