Developed by AQ Interactive and directed by Hironobu Sakaguchi, The Last Story, one of the swan songs for the Wii console, is an RPG that strays away from the norm of most Japanese-styled games of the same genre. It introduces some interesting elements to its battle system, boasts a lovely visual style, and has a story that can suck you in and lose hours of time.
STORY 8/10: The central premise of the game is a romance story, but its not as arbitrary as most RPGs. In the Last Story, the relationship between Zael and Calista is more than just a means to get to an end in terms of advancing the plot. For instance, despite Final Fantasy VIII’s romance theme, I still don’t know what particular driving force hooked up Squall and Rinoa. It seemed simply because the plot said so, despite the fact that the two had no clear chemistry. In Last Story, Zael has to struggle with very delicate and difficult decisions. He and his band of mercenaries are looking to become knights and attempt to curry favor of Count Arganan, Calista’s step-father and the ruler of Lazulis Island. To keep it spoiler-free, Zael has opportunities to get closer to Calista, but at the expense of betraying the loyalty to his friends.
Instead of an expansive open world to explore, Last Story’s tale is broken into linear chapters. This keeps the game moving at a pretty fluid pace, with most of the action taking place within Lazulis Island and the castle. The story flows at very credible pace, it isn’t riddled with a lot of filler or needless cut scenes, and character development does not break the flow of the game’s central plot. Nothing feels forced or tacked on, and some of the character building side-quests pay big dividends, like secret, character-specific weapons.
SOUND and MUSIC 8.5/10: Last Story’s soundtrack is produced by Nobuo Uematsu, composer of most of the Final Fantasy themes, so there will be moments throughout gameplay where some string scores and soft chords will hearken back to those classics. The voice acting is pretty impressive as well. While I never thought voice acting in RPGs was ever a good idea (I’m still apprehensive towards it. I think they shake you out of the RPG element and it just feels like you are playing an anime or a TV show), they can be impressive. It may not be a star-studded cast of familiars, but everyone does a great job. Perhaps Syrenne sounds a bit hammy, but it added more to her charm in my eyes. The limited edition came with a soundtrack containing some of the game’s harmonious pieces, and it’s a real treat.
VISUALS and ANIMATION 8/10:
Last Story really pushes the limits of the Wii’s aging hardware to put together a vivid, beautiful, and detailed environment. The cinemas are fantastic, and thankfully the game doesn’t chuck them at you at every turn. Similar to several generations of technology ago, a cut scene rewarded your playing patience with about 30 seconds to a minute of gorgeous CGI, and that’s how Last Story treats its cinemas. The in-game models move fluidly and all look pretty good. Given how much activity is going on in the bustling city and town, there is surprisingly little slowdown and clipping frame rate.
During the battles, the animation can drop a little bit when the action gets really intense. This happens mostly in the fights with a large group of enemies. With the larger bosses, everything remains in tact. You central base of operations is Lazulis City, and again, the sheer amount of detail in this place is tremendous. Townsfolk seem to go about their lives with their businesses or fellowship. Children run about, smiths can be heard pounding on metals. Zael can bump into citizens, who scold him for his rudeness, and you can even whack your head on store signs as Zael emits a wincing “Owh!”. There’s a lot of life in this place and it feels really organic, not like a bunch of numbers walking back and forth in predestined patterns.
GAMEPLAY 7.9/10: The game’s battle engine feels unlike anything else I’ve ever played on a home console, as far as RPGs go. The very first thing I noticed was the lack of an attack button. Pressing forward towards the enemy initiates your primary attack, and I have to say, this felt very strange at first. Also, you do not immediately have a command HUD early in the game, so your party members, for the most part, act on their own accord. Zael utilizes his two abilities, starting with Gathering, which becomes a strong focal point in dictating how you will plan for your battles throughout the game. Alternate magic spells, status boosts and effects, and healing are all linked to how Gathering works. Using Zael’s Slash attack, you can set off magic circles that disperse after one of your allies cast a spell. For instance, Slashing a white circle will heal all party members as well as removing status effects for your team. The true beauty of the Gathering’s seemingly simplistic engine is that it opens up a new way to engage in battle strategy without all of the micromanaging that comes with having to sort through item lists and pages of weapon spells that slow down combat, and I think that is pretty amazing!
Zael also uses his crossbow, which can be used to snipe Team Leaders, like a Gurak general, which weakens the team. Aim your crosshairs over a structure, like a pillar, and your magic-using party members will literally bring down the house on a group of enemies. this can also be used to attack sorcerers from afar by yourself or commanding a teammate. Speaking of teamwork, the A.I. is pretty intelligent in terms of battle strategy. Magic users Calista, Yurick, Mirania, and Lowell retreat to a safe distance and cast magic from afar, only engaging in melee combat when absolutely necessary, while Syrenne, Dagran, and yourself are frontline soldiers, attacking head on. Seldom did I have to stick my neck out to save someone who bit off more than thy could chew, and any casualties I suffered were a result of my own poor planning. This makes the defeats you suffer in this game justified, as you have to take it upon yourself to improve you decision-making. The battle system is not without its flaws. Too many times, I found myself crouching behind an obstruction when I wanted to roll out of danger, or running up a wall when I wanted to simply get out of the corner