A Classic Fantasy For Modern Gamers
Operation Rainfall supporters can rejoice, for The Last Story has finally made it to American shores. It’s thanks to the efforts of XSEED Games, which worked with Nintendo to publish the game here. Now, the question is whether this stylish, classic fantasy by Mistwalker Games has been worth the wait.
As the second of two highly-demanded Wii RPGs to land in North America this year, The Last Story will inevitably be compared to Xenoblade Chronicles, which arrived in April. This is problematic, because other than being on the Wii and featuring British voice actors, the games are almost nothing alike. While Xenoblade is a vast, sprawling adventure set in a very unique world, The Last Story is a more narrowly focused, narrative-driven affair, most of which takes place on a single island. While Xenoblade evokes epic fantasy, The Last Story has more of the feeling of a fairy tale, complete with dastardly royals and star-crossed lovers.
One half of our star-crossed pair is the game’s main character, Zael, a young man who became a mercenary after being orphaned by the conflict that has been destroying his world. He and his companions have come to Lazulis Island, the last bastion of prosperity in a land that is not only full of conflict, but actually withering and dying. During their first mission, Zael is gifted a mysterious power by a strange being, which he later learns is called the Power of the Outsider. Power in hand and determined to become a knight instead of a lowly mercenary, Zael soon becomes entangled in court politics when he falls for the Count’s niece Calista, who is of course engaged to a powerful, nasty, cowardly noble (just once I’d like to see the princess engaged to a prince who is actually a pretty nice guy).
From there, the story moves swiftly, with each of its 40+ chapters moving Zael, Calista, and the mercenaries through a bite-sized segment of their adventure. This storybook style of gameplay helps emphasize the game’s classic fairy tale nature, as well as making it easy for today’s busy, distracted gamers to play through. The only storytelling device I found objectionable is the game’s narrator, who intrudes clumsily on the game during transitions. Although having a narrator was probably the most convenient way to present exposition, his lines tend to come across as corny and frequently seem unnecessary.
The plot itself features many twists and turns, some predictable and some less so, but the best feature of the story is its likeable cast of characters, made particularly so by a strong localization and excellent voice work. With Zael and Calista as the serious romantic leads, the drunken Syrenne, womanizing Lowell, and sarcastic Yurick steal a lot of the scenes with their smart remarks. Although not the most deep, complex cast in the realm of RPGs, the whole mercenary company is put together well, with a nice sense of camaraderie and just the right amount of battle quips.
Speaking of battle, The Last Story’s combat system starts off as a very simple affair, in which the main character simply walks up to enemies in order to auto-attack them, and all other party members are controlled by the A.I. Throughout the game, however, Zael acquires more and more abilities that allow for different strategies in combat. He can hide behind objects in order to snipe enemies with his crossbow or ambush them with a powerful strike. He’ll also need to dodge-roll away from attacks, position himself behind enemies whenever possible, and use environmental tools like bombs. As he learns to master it, he can use the Power of the Outsider to perform a large number of feats, from interacting with the magic circles that his caster teammates place on the ground to issuing orders strategically to his teammates.
It’s a fast-paced, fresh system that is hampered a bit by the game’s lack of difficulty and a few control issues. Most normal fights are quite easy, and a fair number can be won by Zael’s companions while he taunts the enemies and blocks their attacks, or even runs around picking up loot. Boss fights can be difficult until the player figures out their particular gimmick, which almost always involves Zael using his powers in some manner. Even figuring out the gimmick is easy in most fights, with the game directly telling the player what to do. In addition, each party member can be knocked out and revived up to five times before incapacitated, and all health and lives are restored after every battle. While these are generally positive design choices that make the game less frustrating, they also make it a bit too simple to avoid using strategy in many battles.
The main enemies the player will battle in some fights are the game’s camera and collision detection. During chaotic fights in small spaces, it can be easy to get trapped in the corner by an enemy, environmental barrier, or even an ally. While Zael has the tools to dodge-roll from enemies or vault over obstacles and teammates, the camera can make it difficult to see what, exactly, is in the way. Still, the general ease of battles often makes these non-issues. The combat system is still rather fun to use; it’s just that it will be appreciated more by players who predominantly enjoy going through the story than those who are looking for a hardcore combat challenge.
Several extra activities round out The Last Story’s gameplay. There are a number of varied side quests that help the player gain extra money and feel a better connection to the people of Lazulis Island. A few optional chapters help establish the relationships of the main characters—the haunted mansion mission is particularly fun. Finally, an extensive weapon and armor upgrade system includes visual changes when equipment is improved. The player can even collect and use dyes to customize the appearance of the characters. The game includes just the right number of extra activities to flesh out the world without overwhelming the player.
Graphically, The Last Story does a great job with the Wii’s sub-HD capabilities. Notably, both the world and the characters are about as smoothly detailed as one could expect for a Wii game with a realistic style, giving the game a consistent look and feel between the characters and the scenery. The frame rate is relatively smooth, with occasional slowdowns in combat (though thanks to the nature of the combat system, the slowdowns aren’t usually a problem). The graphical designers have done a wonderful job presenting the world to the player, from the bustling medieval town on the island to the massive ruins in which many of the game’s battles take place.
The sound design is one of the best aspects of The Last Story, with a wide variety of attractive musical tracks that set the mood for the game’s scenes quite nicely. The voice acting is excellent as well—between this game and Xenoblade, the Brits are providing a serious challenge to their American voice-acting counterparts.
In the end, if I must compare Xenoblade (to which I awarded my first and only 5.0 score) to The Last Story, I will say that Xenoblade is more tightly designed, has a deeper cast, and surpasses The Last Story as an overall work. On the other hand, The Last Story will appeal more strongly to some gamers, especially those turned off by Xenoblade’s MMORPG-style world and side quests. Both games have strong stories to tell, and which one a player prefers depends on personal taste. The Last Story is a shorter, more focused game, and does what it sets out to do very well. It’s most certainly a must-buy for RPG fans, especially those who will appreciate the game’s callbacks to classic fairy tales and folklore.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.3 Graphics
The Last Story does quite well within the graphical constraints of the Wii, especially with character details. 3.5 Control
Battles are quick and engaging, with some minor control issues relating to the camera and collision detection./div> 4.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Excellent music and voice acting bring life to the game. 4.5 Play Value
A strong story that doesn’t drag on too long makes for a satisfying RPG experience. 4.5 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|