The Last Story is a game that I really wanted to like a lot more than I did. That’s not to say that I didn’t like it, but my expectations were a lot higher than the game managed to live up to. Perhaps it was the fact that this game is the Wii’s swansong, and almost certainly the last game that I will ever purchase for the system. The Last Story has some impressive pedigree behind it, most notably Hironobu Sakaguchi, who played a key role in what was considered as the golden age of Final Fantasy games, resigning from Square after the release of Final Fantasy IX. Considering the undeniable downturn that Final Fantasy has taken lately, with the disappointing Final Fantasy XIII and the downright disastrous Final Fantasy XIV, Sakaguchi’s name is certainly a big draw. Interestingly, The Last Story actually has a lot in common with Final Fantasy XIII, although The Last Story at times feeling like the game that Final Fantasy XIII should have been.
The Last Story is primarily set on Lazulis Island, a previously important but now relatively forgotten backwater of a much vaster Empire. Although there are hints of a huge, broad setting, we don’t really see much of it. The land is dying. Of course, there are very few really signs of this, we’re just sort of…told that it is. The underlying principle of the world of The Last Story seems to be ‘tell not show’, which is actually a real shame because there are hints that a potentially interesting setting lies behind it all.
The Last Story tells the story of Zael, a young mercenary with dreams of gaining legitimacy as a Knight of Lazulis. Zael and his oldest friend Dagran had founded a mercenary company in the hope of gaining the combat skills necessary to become Knights, and over time a small team of interesting and lively characters joined their company. At the beginning of the game, whilst undertaking a mission from Count Arganan of Lazulis Island, Zael inadvertently comes into a mysterious power which throws him and his squad into the Machiavellian schemes of the court nobles and into war with the mysterious ‘Gurak.’ Although it’s a nice enough story, nothing of real surprise takes place, and I can’t say that the game brings anything to the table which I hadn’t already seen elsewhere. Luckily, Zael’s squad are incredibly likeable, possibly one of the most charming JRPG parties in any that I’ve played, and their personal stories, trials and tribulations are what kept me interested. It’s just a shame that the broader conflicts facing the world never manage to be as interesting.
The Last Story has one of the most interesting battle systems I’ve played in a JRPG. All of the fights are in real time, and there is a clear Western influence whilst still retaining a distinctive Japanese flavour. There’s even a cover system. A cover system! In a JRPG! Although the player only has direct control over Zael, wailing away with his sword or popping out from cover to deliver shots from his crossbow, you still have a measure of influence over your entire party. As a gauge fills up, Zael can activate ‘command mode’ and set out orders for his party. This system isn’t particularly complicated, but it really doesn’t need to be, as too much faffing around with menus would have damaged to cracking pace that the battles of The Last Story have. When a party member casts a spell it leaves a ring that has an effect upon the battle, such as steadily regenerating the health of the party or raising attack, but these can be ‘dispersed’ by Zael to create an instantaneous single larger effect. Deciding which rings to keep and which to disperse gives the battles an interesting strategic element. Zael also has the ability to ‘gather’, and attract the attention of all the enemies in the field, acting as a tank to protect the more vulnerable mages. The combination of JRPG strategy with Western action works remarkable well.
Sadly, outside of battle, things don’t fare quite so well. A key similarity that this game has to Final Fantasy XIII is it’s linearity, although it is much better handled here than in FFXIII. Although there is little room for exploration, there is a central town which is surprisingly vibrant and engaging. This isn’t your typical JRPG town in which people stand around waiting to be spoken to; there is hustle, there is bustle, you can even walk into people! Although this wouldn’t be the slightest bit impressive in a Western RPG, it is this sort of immersion which has been so absent from the JRPG genre, which is one of the main reasons that JRPG creativity has so fallen behind Western RPG creativity in recent years. Sadly, there’s really not a lot to do when not fighting. There’s a rudimentary item upgrade system, but it’s very simplistic. JRPGs need to come up with more interesting things to do outside of battles, with the only JRPGs I can think of which achieve this are Nintendo’s Mario RPGs such as Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga.
Like the wonderful Xenoblade Chronicles before it, The Last Story has absolutely no reason to be on the Wii. There are no motion controls, and I played the entire game with the Classic Controller. What we’re left with is a game that looks downright ugly. Don’t get me wrong; the Wii IS capable of beautiful graphics, just look at Super Mario Galaxy, Skyward Sword and Xenoblade, but these games all looked so wonderful because they adopted a stylised visual style which actually turned the lack of HD into a visual advantage. This is not the case with The Last Story, which looks perhaps slightly better than a Gamecube game, and indeed not as nice as JRPGs from that period such as Baten Kaitos. I understand why this game was a Wii exclusive; it’s aiming for a primarily Japanese audience and the Wii still reigns supreme over there in a way that it hasn’t over here in the West for a few years now. There are hints of some visual greatness in this game which just isn’t able to live up to its potential, particularly the generally excellent character designs which are let down by some incredibly stiff and awkward animations. The voice acting is something of a mixed bag. Zael is likeable yet bland, with some of the background characters sounding utterly ridiculous. However, when it’s good it’s really good. The clear highlight is the hard drinking, fight loving, possibly bisexual Yorkshire accented Syrenne, who is easily the funniest character, yet also manages to carry the most poignant and emotional scenes of the game. Honestly, Syrenne may be one my favourite JRPG characters ever, I absolutely adored her. The Scottish accented ladies man Lowell is excellent as well, with the quiet intensity of the tormented mage Yurick being another highlight. The entirely British voice cast reminded me favourably of Xenoblade Chronicles, and whoever it is at Nintendo who has been spearheading these British casts for the localisation deserves a medal. American accents will always sound ridiculous in fantasy settings, and I’m very glad that Nintendo seem to have cottoned on to this. A quick mention should be given to the music, from Final Fantasy stalwart Nobuo Uematsu, but the sheer genius of Mr Uematsu sadly only occasionally shines through. Boss fights and cutscenes tend to have the best music, but for the majority of the game the music is pleasant but forgettable.
The Last Story, as the final game of any note to be released on the Wii, had a lot riding on its shoulders and I’m sad to report that it doesn’t quite manage to carry this weight. It’s almost rather a shame that this game wasn’t delayed for the Wii-U, as a graphical overhaul would benefit the game hugely and the combat system would work really well with the tablet controller. There are some really great ideas in The Last Story; I suspect that this is a game that will be remembered for its creative influence rather than its own quality. If you play one more game for the Wii, or even fancy just playing a damn good JRPG, I highly recommend going for Xenoblade Chronicles over The Last Story. This isn’t a bad game but truly doesn’t live up to the hype.
P.S, quick note if you do decide to play this. Make sure to switch the combat to manual over automatic, it makes things a LOT more fun.