Opening Turn: The Last Story

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The Wii hasn’t really been known for the number of RPGs on it. Most of the time, they are limited to what can be found on the Virtual Console or the growing list of games near the end of the system’s lifespan that weren’t released over here. So when I heard that ‘The Last Story’ was not only finally getting released Stateside but was also one of the best games on the system, I simply had to check it out. And now that I have, and have played about ten hours into it, I can let you all know if it was worth the agonizing wait and gigantic online petition!

What is it?: The Last Story is the latest game by Mistwalker, the studio started by Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi after his departure from SquareSoft. Sakaguchi personally directed the game (a first since Final Fantasy V), and Nobuo Uematsu provided the music. Initially, the game wasn’t even going to be released in the USA, instead being exclusive to Japan and Europe. However, due in part to the efforts of a group of fans called Operation Rainfall, this game was one of the ones that finally received enough interest to justify an American release.

So…. The Last Story, huh? That sounds a bit….: Like ‘Final Fantasy’, and ‘Lost Odyssey’? Yeah, Sakaguchi really doesn’t deviate from a certain theme when he chooses his titles.

But with a pedigree like that, the game’s GOT to be wonderful! What’s the plot like?: Well… look. I’m just going to come out and say it. It’s bad. It’s like they had a list of the most common cliches and said “Yes! Let’s include ALL OF THAT!” In the space of about two hours of gameplay, we find out that the main character, Zael, is an orphan AND a mercenary AND has special powers that he receives from an ancient artifact in a mysterious cave because his friend is attacked and nearly killed right before his eyes, JUST LIKE HIS MOTHER WAS. AND he is the member of a mercenary company led by an idealist who dreams of being a knight someday! In the next two hours he meets a MYSTERIOUS GIRL in a CLOAK who is running away from the guards and who obviously is not who she seems! And that’s just the tip of the cliche-burg. There’s probably even some sort of cliche inception in there somewhere.

Oh. Oh god. That’s….wow. Uh. So. How about the characters themselves?: Luckily, the sheer amount of cheese in the game is solely constrained to the plot itself. The company of mercenaries is made up of very unique and memorable characters, many of whom really break out of established roles, in many ways. Many of them are friends, though not all.. one character in particular states that his relationship with the group is solely business, and just like any real group of people who work together, some of them get on each other’s nerves at times. All in all, they are a great bunch, and each of them drew me in immediately and made me /care/ about them.

What does it play like?: Like Final Fantasy 12 meets Gears of War. No really, hear me out. It has all the trappings of a squad-based shooter: you can duck behind cover, you can either shoot enemies from afar or jump out and slash them for increased damage, and you can go into ‘command mode’ to call backup or specific abilities from your teammates (who will otherwise attack autonomously). The default control scheme gives you an auto-attack that works like FF12’s or Xenoblade’s, but I will tell you right away that this is TERRIBLE, and that you should immediately switch your controls over to manual. You do less damage per strike that way, but you can attack faster (since your attacks are based off of button presses and not your agility stat). Except for a few plot-related switches, you only control Zael, and he is the default group tank due to his ‘Gathering’ ability which, when active (and it should always be active), makes every enemy in the room immediately focus on and attack him. This is actually a good thing because it means you can easily manage when enemies do or do not attack your spellcasters, and you have some pretty effective ways to avoid and recover from damage, so it isn’t like MMO tanking at all.

And how does it /look/? This /is/ a Wii game, after all.: First of all, the Wii is no slouch. Second of all, it really is an example of how to do the best you can with the hardware you’ve got. The game looks absolutely beautiful, just as good as quite a few PS3 or Xbox 360 launch titles. I realize that this still dates the graphics quite a bit, but I don’t care. Mistwalker has taken outdated hardware and worked miracles with it.

What about the soundtrack?: Amazing. Wonderful. No complaints. It’s Nobuo at his absolute finest.

So anything else that impressed you?: I have made the comment before that I cannot stand games that do not respect my time. Well, this is a game that respects my time. The plot moves along at a decent clip, and it split nicely into short episodes. There are places in every dungeon to summon enemies to grind through, and given this, leveling and money-gathering actually goes /very/ quickly. Weapons and armor are upgraded more than they are bought. Actually, now that I think about it, all of these things give the game a very Suikoden-like feel to it. The voice acting is absolutely delightful. It’s all from the European localization, so it’s all done in British accents… but given the medieval setting this really adds to the immersion and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

And anything you didn’t like? Even with manual control, the controls are a little imprecise sometimes. Additionally, the game does checkpoint saves at regular intervals, but these aren’t permanent saves, and they go away if the game is turned off. The only way to /save/ save is at save points. I find this to be a bit ridiculous, as there is really no reason to /not/ make the quicksaves into actual saves. Also, this game actually does break one of my Cardinal Sins of Game Development and DOES NOT LET YOU PAUSE CUTSCENES. It lets you FAST FORWARD them but not PAUSE them. It even disables the use of the Wii ‘home’ button to do a fake-pause. While this does not hamper my enjoyment of the actual game, it /is/ one of the things I will absolutely call out whenever I see it in any game, good or bad, because it is absolutely unacceptable.

Anything else I should know?: Play it with a Classic Controller or Classic Controller Pro. It feels more natural that way than with a Wiimote + Nunchuk.

So what’s your recommendation?: I would recommend this to any fan of RPGs or action RPGs, especially those who have been starved for new RPG content on the Wii. I would also recommend it to anyone who liked Xenoblade or Final Fantasy 12 but felt that each of those were a bit too artificially long.

[This article originally appeared on the gaming website Attack Initiative.]

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