I have always been a fan of roleplaying games, going back all the way to the original release of Dragon Warrior (aka Dragon Quest) for the NES. Over time, I have played many more, and one of my absolute favorite game series has always been the Final Fantasy series by Hironobu Sakaguchi. Final Fantasy changed my life, and I would always be looking forward to the next grand installment. For the first ten or so games the series did not disappoint. Each one was be such a significant advancement not only for the genre, but for the industry overall. Any game that uses CGI cutscenes, has end of the world story-lines and even deep character development owes some recognition to Final Fantasy and, more importantly, to director Hironobu Sakaguchi.
The newest title from Sakaguchi and his team at MISTWALKER is The Last Story, distributed in the west by XSeed Games. This game takes place in a world ravaged by war and global conflict, and stars a band of mercenaries working to achieve their dreams of becoming knights. Most of the game takes place on Lazulis Island, and the rag tag crew of mercenaries stay at the local tavern, and do lots of drinking. The main heroes include a diverse cast of mages, womanizers and drunks, with the six of them adding amusement to the epic nature of the story.
The strongest aspect of The Last Story is the characterization of the heroes. They all have their own goals and dreams, and some of them even just want to live for the moment. However, what starts as a mere character study quickly turns into a swashbuckling romance. The affair between Zael and Princess Calista is one of the most realistic portrayals of love I have ever encountered in a video game. If you are looking for a tale about saving the world, The Last Story could disappoint you at first. This game is actually more concerned with its cast than it is with the overall scope of the story. Some may see this as a slow burn, while others will find the story very intimate and down to earth.
The gameplay in The Last Story is something that Sakaguchi designed to help the genre move forward. The game is played in a third person view, but the battle system is real-time, streamlined and well-integrated into the world. When you can see the enemies on the field, the game will pause and transition to an overhead view of the room or area that the battle will take place in. You only control one character (mostly Zael), and you can use the environment to your advantage. The other three to five characters in your party are all controlled by the AI. However, you do have some freedom to getting battles started on the right foot thanks to the ability to sneak up on the enemy.
This battle system, for better or worse, is a true mixture of eastern and western game design. You can take cover behind walls or falling bricks and bunkers, setting up shots with your first-person crossbow to take out some enemies, or at least score some damage before it turns into a sword battle. All of your party members are also talking while fighting and casting spells, making this game like a quasi swords and sorcery Gears of War.
However, the gameplay has some problems. First off, forget how you play any other games, The Last Story was built in order to give newcomers to the genre a level playing field. One of the problems is that you automatically attack enemies within range. It might sound like a good idea, however when trying to run around an enemy and my character began to attack, I quickly started searching for a way to turn the feature off. Thankfully, you can do just that, improving the gameplay. .
The graphics in The Last Story are not bad. The character models are well done and the environment is sufficiently detailed. However, during most of the battles that have many enemies on the screen at the same time, the game’s frame rate takes a major hit and will slow down to a crawl. Most of the environments are very dark and employ lots of browns and grays. This may have been one of the decisions in order to impress western gamers. Why must eastern developers feel the need to mimic western games? Don’t they know that it’s the eastern aesthetic that make their games so appealing? Lastly, the game’s camera can be the worst enemy of them all. At times, the camera will do a 180 degree turn during many of the battles. This makes the already unconventional combat turn into a game of controlled anarchy.
One of the features that genre fans will surely be interested in is the soundtrack composed by the great Nobuo Uematsu (famous for his iconic work on the Final Fantasy games). The music is very mundane compared to Uematsu’s other works. The track selection is mostly made up of violin and piano pieces that are more about conveying an emotional response than a sense of epic scope. The soundtrack is just background music in its purest form, but this could be intentional since the story isn’t a grand epic. Unfortunately, it really came off as being by the numbers, as if Uematsu was simply going through the motions.
Overall, The Last Story is a game that evoked mixed emotions, swinging from hate to pure captivation at the unique approach to storytelling. It’s a game that does many things right and just as many things wrong. MISTWALKER even went through the trouble to create a multiplayer mode using the battle system, however this just felt like an afterthought and another failed attempt to attract a western audience. The Last Story is an unpolished gem for your Nintendo Wii, If you are a hardcore RPG gamer then you might enjoy this, but it isn’t for everyone. Now, about that sequel to Lost Odyssey…
Review copy of game provided by publisher.