While some JRPGs prove to be grind-heavy time sinks, The Last Story throws out stoic turn-based combat, taking cues from..._Metal Gear_? Mistwalker Studios created a fast-paced, fun-as-heck battle system that has players sneaking around and managing party members rather than monotonously choosing options from a menu.
At the start of battle, the game gives a tactical overhead view of the battlefield, with stats and levels of each monster. Players can then choose to sneak around and get into prime positions for a strong opening, or just hang back and have the party do the hard work. Destructible pillars and overhead bridges can be targeted and brought down on enemies with a simple command, and walls can be vaulted over or spring-boarded off of to unleash powerful attacks. Fights are quick and brutal if you're not careful, though the game gives out plenty of extra lives (but no difficulty options).
In an attempt to further speed up gameplay, The Last Story asks, "Why bother pressing buttons to attack at all?" Attacking enemies is as simple as moving towards them and letting the game do it for you. In fact, it might be too simple–we failed to make more than one speedy retreat because we couldn't break out of an automatic combo. The block button is also the same button as the "vault" button, so if you're trying to guard against an enemy while moving, you might find yourself doing impressive backflips and ruining your strategy. It's not a perfect system, but so fast that we never found ourselves stuck in a tedious, frustrating battle.
Just because the game is the “last” story doesn’t mean it's the last word in storytelling. "On a beautiful and lush medieval island, a band of orphan mercenaries struggle to find their way through life (and acquire riches), until one day they happen to run into a beautiful princess. The band of mercenaries suddenly become the kingdom’s personal saviors." It’s your tried-and-true rags to riches story, but luckily the writing of the characters manages to salvage this otherwise bland tale.
Instead of having four stoic characters that share their backstories every cutscene or so, The Last Story stars seven mercenaries that enter and leave the "main" party at will. Being mercenaries, most of the game's missions start in either a tavern or a majestic castle, where different party members are summoned to go on missions. It is immediately clear that these mercenaries are not lifelong friends. One of our favorite characters, Yurick the magician, storms off after a challenging fight, claiming "this magic stuff takes more out of you than you might think." What a jerk!
Using a narrator to recap and set up chapters trips up the pacing of the story, especially when he sounds like he should be on Thomas the Tank Engine. Still, narration is needed to link seemingly random chapters. One minute, the mercenaries are sailing on the open sea to find one character's father, then the next minute, they're in the middle of a dying forest, trying to find the source of nature's decay. These chapter transitions are certainly jarring, but once you're settled in these levels do a great job at developing characters. In fact, The Last Story might be the world's first playable JRPG montage.
The US publisher chose not to localize voice talent, which equates to many European accents and some very British slang. Really, the leader of a vicious goblin clan is going to call us a git? Japanese audio with English subtitles is sorely missed here.
When you’re not progressing the story through dungeon exploration, you’ll be exploring the rather large hub world of Lazulis City. Though the city is large and full of shops, the hardware limitations of the Wii make the streets feel empty. By talking to the one or two important townsfolk, you can trigger lengthier sidequests that are genuinely enjoyable and provide more innovation than most of the main game. Other than them, you can buy some meat and run it to the other side of town for 3 extra gold pieces. Or chase a cat. Hooray.
A few bright points illuminate the dreary doldrum of Lazulis: There’s a battle arena where you can test your skills on a variety of different battlefield conditions. Shops hold everything from new weapons to dyes for clothing modification, though there isn't much depth to explore, especially once you've found the strongest quest-specific weapons and gear. The city quickly becomes an obstacle that separates the tavern hub from the castle hub.
Nobuo Uematsu, famous for his composition work on the early Final Fantasy games, brings out emotions through music that the game’s narration never could. From the moment the title screen fades into view, somber woodwinds set the stage for events to come. You'll know there will be tragedy, honor, and an adventure to be had. The battle themes aren't as timeless as Uematsu’s famous past works, but they get the blood pumping. "Toberumono, which means "Those Who Fly", is the pinnacle of game's soundtrack. Just listen.
Unfortunately, The Last Story already looks outdated on the Wii’s SD output, and that’s a darn shame. An epic RPG adventure should be complemented with crisp, high-definition graphics rather than muddled textures. Buildings and set-pieces pop into view rather than fade in smoothly, and sometimes textures end up missing completely. Loading screens litter the levels, leaving us alone with nothing but the sound of the Wii’s disc reader click-clacking away. Hopefully this title can live on as a Wii U HD re-release and get the next-gen treatment it deserves.
The Last Story cuts out a lot of fluff, leaving players with a rich, action-packed game that clocks in at about thirty hours. If your Wii has been collecting dust or your Wii U hasn’t been satisfying, hunt down this title. It's been a few months since this game came out, and we still think back on it from time to time. That's the mark of a fine RPG. It’s a little ugly, but this game is living proof that RPGs can tell beautiful stories without wasting your time.
Meet the tester
James is a staff writer at Reviewed, working to the sounds of classic video game soundtracks. His proudest moment was capturing exclusive footage of Mr. 50 Cent at the 2013 International CES.
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