It may be the Last Story, but at least it’s not the Final Fantasy
As a gamer, I’ve always been of the mind that there are two basic types of RPGs. There are those that steep themselves deep within a pool of generic medieval fantasy, full of dragons, knights and mysterious princesses. And then there are those that deviate, that work hard to build unique worlds with their own logic and history. Both types of RPGs have both good and bad games among them, but the latter tends to bear more fruit in terms of interesting world, characters, and stories.
Unfortunately, The Last Story does not fit into the latter category, but finds its place snugly in the former. But what does that mean for the game? The Last Story is a creation of Hironobu Sakaguchi, creator of the Final Fantasy series, so the kind of game that The Last Story is shouldn’t be a bad thing. So, how does this game fare? Is The Last Story a New York Times bestseller, or a bargain bin paperback?
The Last Story takes place on Lazulis Island, a place on the edge of a great human empire. You play as Zael, part of a band of mercenaries led by Zael’s childhood friend Dagran. The group take the jobs as they come, but dream of something more; knighthood, serving under the royalty of Lazulis Island. Their journey towards that path begins when Zael accidentally discovers the Power of the Outsider, granting him great abilities and marking him for an important destiny.
The presentation of this game is both impressive and ugly. The graphics are some of the best on the Wii, complimented by a beautiful soundtrack composed by Sakaguchi’s frequent collaborator, Nobuo Uematsu. All of this, however, is quite literally heavily muddled. The color palate and design of the game’s environments aren’t really much to look at, sporting a very generic array of earth tones. The whole game just looks a bit gray, which isn’t helped by the frequent overuse of soft glow lighting used to try and make the visuals appear more impressive than they actually are. It didn’t work in Twilight Princess, and it certainly doesn’t work here.
But I can’t keep talking about the game’s presentation without explaining what, exactly, is being presented. The Last Story, as you could probably infer from the name, is a very story-driven game, with frequent cut scenes, a chapter-based structure, and even a narrator at the beginning and end of each chapter. But the tale it tells is bland, not particularly interesting, and extremely predictable throughout. The characters are all one-dimensional and bland, with nothing to connect to in any way. You have your wide-eyed innocent-at-heart hero, your overly emotional princess who wants to go out and explore the world, the evil uncle who wants world domination, and one of the most generic villainous kings I‘ve ever seen. There are enough tropes in this thing to fill a museum, including the moment where the ignorant princess/prince goes into the city in hiding, visit’s a market, and doesn’t realize that they need money to buy food. Moments like this come fairly frequently throughout the game, and really make it hard to take seriously. Things do get a bit more interesting later on in the story, but there’s so much boring to slog through first that it doesn’t feel worth it.
The narrator doesn’t help matters any, only coming in to tell the player what you’ve already seen or done. I found myself shouting “I KNOW.” at my TV more than once. Luckily, the voice acting and dialogue in this game is superb, so at least it has that going for it.
The story can even have a negative impact on the gameplay. You only directly control Zael throughout the game, but you can issue commands to the other members of your group. You can think of The Last Story as an RTS of sorts. Zael, and one or two other members of your team, can be used for melee combat, while everyone else uses magic to cast various effects. All magic cast by mages appear on the battlefield in the form of magic circles, which you can manipulate in a couple different ways depending on the nature of the magic. But where the story manages to butt into the gameplay is in the structure of your party throughout the game.
In most RPGs, you start with 1 or 2 or 3 characters, adding more to your party as you progress. In The Last Story, you’re introduced to all of the characters you’ll be fighting with very early on, but are forced to only have certain ones in your party at certain points by the story. This is a great idea in theory, and one that I’d like to see attempted in more games, but it doesn’t work here. Part of what makes an RPG is customization. In the Last Story, the story constructs your team as it dictates, and there isn’t any real way to customize the abilities of your allies. Basically, each character can do two or three things. Those things are upgradable, but stay primarily the same throughout the whole game. You can’t rely form a strategic pattern, and having to adapt to the new team makeups the game throws at you just gets tiresome after a while.
At it’s core, though, the gameplay isn’t bad. Zael can perform a basic sword attack, which can be set to auto-attack or manual. Auto-attack makes large battle sequences become pretty boring, so I would suggest manual. There’s also Zael’s Gathering ability, which fixes all enemy attention on Zael, allowing for an attack from behind by your magic-users. Even with the constant change of who’s in your party, you can at least maintain a basic level of strategy. But even the basic controls have their faults.
The camera is the big offender in this game’s combat. Not only is it very sluggish, but extremely buggy. There were several points where I would try moving it a little in one direction, and it would budge an inch and then stop moving. This would force me to rotate the camera all the way around in the other direction, a slow enough process that, by the time I see what I’m trying to see, the object of my attempted sight would usually be killing me quite handily. Add to this a completely unnecessary mechanic during cut scenes, where the game puts you in first-person and has you look around for things. Not only is this completely shoehorned, it’s plain odd. It’s not even meant to be a Wii remote gimmick. I tried playing with the remote and nunchuck, and I was still required to use the joystick to rotate my view. The game also tries to give you a sort of cover-based melee approach at some points, which is refreshing, but not elaborated upon nearly enough. Add to that, the environments in the game are completely linear, with no sense of scope to the game’s world.
Overall, The Last Story is a very frustrating game for me to sum up, because I want to like it. I really, really do. So much heart and effort was put into making this game look and sound impressive, but it just doesn’t follow through on any of that supposed impressiveness. The game’s presentation is gorgeous, but what it’s presenting is a predictable story about one-dimensional characters in a drab, boring world that fails to captivate the player in any way until near the end of the game. The combat varies from passable strategy to near-unplayability, and there’s no real exploration to the game’s linear set of locations. It sets you to it’s path and glues you to it, and I won’t blame you if you doze off once or twice along the way. The story is fairly clever near the game’s end, but one ounce of cleverness isn’t enough to make up for the gallons of dull exposition that preceed it. The Last Story is a tale only worth telling to the extremely loyal fans of Sakaguchi’s work, of which I am not one. For the rest of us, it’s best to commend it for what it does do well and leave it there. I give The Last Story three joysticks out of five.
Final Verdict: 3/5