Many complain over the staleness of genres in gaming, especially the now more generic first person shooters. Role playing games are suffering a similar fate, JRPGs specifically for many years. In 2004 Hironobu Sakaguchi founded Mistwalker, a new game studio after he left Square Enix, where he had directed a majority of the Final Fantasy games. His first two games with the company were Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey, which were fun, but didn’t manage to shake the stale unchanging ways of the genre. The Last Story, Mistwalker’s fourth game, tries to freshen up the genre and rejuvenate peoples waining love and to some degree it succeeds, even if it does falter along the way.
It is refreshing to see a new take on Japanese role playing gameplay, as usually they are either turn-based, turn-based tactical, or real time hack and slash. The Last Story mixes the later two with some relatively interesting results, but often fails to live up to the full potential that it possesses. At the very start you acquire a power called “Gathering” which draws enemies towards you, taking agro off of your allies, allowing them to cast magic without taking damage and stopping. As you progress this power develops unlocking new abilities that add more depth to the combat. An example of this is a power called “Gale”, which pushes back enemies from where you use the ability, whilst also adding other traits to magic spells that have been cast. Spells in The Last Story leave large rings on the floor that can be dispersed, spreading buffs or debuffs to enemies (or friendlies if it is a healing spell) nearby. Overall these abilities, as well as the others that you gain as you make your way through the game are great assets to your arsenal and make combat engaging and enjoyable.
However, most of the time, you are just flailing your sword at the nearest enemy, who happens to slip past you thanks to the lack of good camera control. There are two control options for swordplay here. One allows you to just run up to enemies and the computer will just start swinging, or you can change it so you have to press the “A” button to swing. I chose the manual combat option, as the computer doesn’t swing as fast as you can tap the button, giving you a slight edge in combat. I chose the standard Wii remote, but you have the option to use the Wii Classic Controller. Unfortunately when using the manual controls the camera is moved using the directional pad above the “A” button, meaning you have to quickly switch between the two, allowing your prey to escape as you fumble between the buttons. The “Z” button can be used, but that just puts the camera behind your character, still allowing your prey to escape. It is a shame that most scenarios come down to hitting your enemy over and over until they die, not requiring you to use your special abilities, unless you go out of your way to use them.
The only encounters in The Last Story that require any strategy or skill are the boss battles, which a the highlight of the experience. Early boss battles just require the hack and slash of the normal battles, as you haven’t unlocked the abilities that add variety to the combat. Later, though it is a different story and many of the battles near the end require your full attention and quick reactions to survive. That is unless you have over leveled your character. As there are no random encounters in the game, you are unable to grind in the normal manner, that most JRPG’s require. Summon Circles take up this roll, as most dungeons you encounter through the game will have one or two of these grinding points, including some before the harder bosses, which, disappointingly can trivialize a lot of them.
The majority of the The Last Story takes place on Lazilus Island and its main city, where you will spend most of your time, similar to Dragon Age 2, venturing out from time to time to complete story missions. However, like Dragon Age 2, there isn’t much to do within the city, except for the odd shops and a combat arena. The world feels slightly empty, though there are a few side quests here and there within the city. It seems more focused on the main story than anything else, which encourages a good pace for the proceedings once things pick up. A new game plus feature is also available if you are interested in playing the story again with high level characters. Multi-player death match and co-op is also available, but neither mode feel particularly robust. Especially the co-op as you only fight bosses from throughout the single-player game who don’t scale to the amount of players in the match, making these fights rather one sided in the enemies favour and making them almost unbeatable without a good amount of players..
The presentation is probably this games weakest part, with very mixed results at best. Colours feel very washed out, with very few parts in the game actually peeking your attention, with the occasional section having a more vivid pallet. Character models aren’t particularly detailed and don’t emote well, even though a lot of the character design is extremely good. It is neat that every weapon and piece of clothing and armor you equip can be coloured, interchanged and once improved they gain more visual flair with more pieces added to them. Texture work on characters can be blurry or downright pixelated, but environments do hold up better. Frame rate issues also plague the experience. You’d expect this when battles heat up with spell effect and a large amount of enemies on screen. They also occur during smaller battles, though less frequently, and oddly while running around town. While for the most part it doesn’t harm the experience too badly, harder, larger battles become very tedious thanks to this. Most of this is due to the lacking power of the Wii, and could have easily been mitigated on more powerful hardware.
A rousing and exciting soundtrack lifts up the experience, combining classical, electronic synth in parts and rock music to create a wonderful treat for your ears. It is a travesty that this is let down by some of the most ear wrenching voice acting since Two Worlds. There are the occasional voice actors that really sell the roles and draw you in, but then there are characters like Syrenne who makes you want to turn off the sound and just read the subtitles (which I did from time to time). The problem is that most of the accents are stereotypes rather than quality acting, which is disappointing more than anything. Hopefully an American localisation will occur, re-doing all of the voice acting.
The story is a bit of a let down, and not one of Sakaguchi’s best. You begin your tale in a mercenary group, on a mission by the royalty of the land. You play as Zael, who dreams of becoming an honorable Knight, however things turn bad fast when a war breaks out between two civilizations and you are stuck in the middle. The story has many twists and turns, but it is unfortunate that they are easily seen early on, leaving you waiting for a pay off on plot points that you figured out quickly. It doesn’t help that the pace doesn’t pick up much until a good chunk of time has been put in, though the smaller character plots do weave themselves in later, but only in minor ways. The game also involves a love story which I was please about, until I found that it isn’t well developed at all, as the characters barely seem to interact or converse outside of a couple of major scenes and rounded up as a rather unbelievable romance.
By the end it can be hard to care, even if the plot is far more interesting. Couple the mediocre story with the less than fulfilling gameplay, and you have an experience that drags to begin with in both story and gameplay, discouraging you from progressing, but once it picks up pace it is far more enjoyable and worth the trudge.