Hironobu Sakaguchi has a history of naming games he creates as if it will be the ultimate game he has ever created. “Ultimate,” used as an adjective, means final or last. He used “final” when Squaresoft was on its last legs as a video game company and created Final Fantasy. Though his and Mistwalker’s latest release The Last Story isn’t the last game Sakaguchi will ever work on, he went into development with the thought that he needed to work on this game like it was the last game he would ever work on. Though it has a few faults that preclude it from being the greatest RPG ever created, The Last Story definitely shines as the best one available on the Nintendo Wii platform and possibly the best of the generation.
It does have Story in the title after all
The Last Story focuses on Lazulis Island, the last bastion untouched by whatever is destroying the rest of the land controlled by the Empire. As the game begins, Zael and his friends are mercenaries on a constant search for that next paycheck. True mercenaries but with hearts of gold, as the group has other motives. They all want to become knights. Led by Dagran who found the orphan Zael on the streets and took him under his wing, the group gets an assignment to guard Lazulis Castle at the engagement party of the Count’s niece. As you can imagine, all hell breaks loose when a race of humanoids called the Gurak attack the castle.
I won’t go into too much more detail about the story because I want everyone to enjoy it for themselves. Fittingly though, the story is the what truly shines in The Last Story. So far, there hasn’t been a single dull moment as this story really moves. It’s actually hard to find a good stopping point because I’m constantly wondering what is going to happen next to these characters. With most games, I’m itching to get to either more story when I’ve been fighting a lot, or more fighting after sitting through a ton of story beats. This is not the case with The Last Story. The game flows very well and has such a good balance between the two. This balance is a game design feature that I will be looking for in future RPGs.
My personal excitement aside, The Last Story is far from perfect. Noticeable frame rate issues constantly plague the battlefield when multiple actions are being carried out. Plus, the colors are muddy and feature a lot of grey and browns. The graphics are obviously held back by the limitations of the Wii console but for the Wii, it’s not bad; I just hate having to qualify statements with “for the Wii.” I know graphics aren’t everything but it would have been nice to see this game look as wonderful as the story. The characters, though voiced well, look like your typical JRPG teenagers with spiky hair. But again, these characters are written well enough that the look of each one doesn’t detract from the experience.
The different details
As of this writing, I’m about halfway through The Last Story and I can unequivocally say that it is my favorite Japanese RPG released on the current generation of consoles. Though it is technically a JRPG, not all of the normal tropes associated with the genre are included. It avoids the turn based combat that is so prelavent in the Final Fantasy series and replaces it with a rather engaging action RPG-like style. There have been some complaints about the automatic fighting because your character will auto-fight as soon as you get near an enemy, unless you change it to manual control in the options. It isn’t ideal to have to change an option to make a game better, but believe me, in this case, changing it improves the experience for the better.
One surprising mechanic that The Last Story introduces to the RPG is a cover system. I know it’s cliché to have a cover system in every 3rd person action game but for an RPG it is a first. It works fairly well, especially when faced with enemies who shoot crossbows or fling magic your direction. Once you become comfortable with the cover system, the difficult battles will be easier and you will be well on your way to becoming a knight and saving Lazulis Island from the Gurak.
I know for a 20-30 hour game this is a fairly brief writeup, but I want everyone to discover how great The Last Story is on their own. Right from the start, I connected with Zael as he was granted the power of Gathering by a mysterious force known as the Outsider. From that point on, I just had to see the rest of the game play, out warts and all. Don’t let the graphics or JRPG clichés keep you from playing this game. If they do, you’ll be missing out on what could potentially be the greatest RPG of this generation if not certainly the best game on the Wii not developed by Nintendo.
Reflex Review – Like a memorable meal, some games make a big enough impression that you’ve got to tell other people about them before they’re fully digested.
Giant Bomb (images)