The Last Story Review
The Last Story is, appropriately enough, the last major RPG for the Nintendo Wii. The game is the brainchild of Final Fantasy creator and Mistwalker Studios founder Hironobu Sakaguchi. Originally released in Japan in 2011, The Last Story is part of the so-called ‘Rainfall Trilogy’—three Wii-exclusive RPGs (Xenoblade Chronicles and Pandora’s Tower being the other two) that actually had nothing to do with one another except that Nintendo of America stubbornly refused to localize them. Anyway, while Nintendo of Europe oversaw The Last Story’s release in the Old World back in February, NoA ultimately passed on it and was instead localized by XSeed Games. And with Pandora’s Tower unlikely to see a North American release before the launch of the Wii U in the fall, it’s looking very likely that The Last Story will be the Wii’s last hurrah as well.
The Last Story tells the tale of a band of young mercenaries, most of whom were orphaned after a great war, each with their own unique skills. They’re hired by the ruler of the island nation of Lazulis—a strategically and culturally important state in a massive and mighty empire—for what seems like a simple monster-clearing mission in the catacombs under the island. However, everything changes when things turn bad for the group and Zael, a young member of the band, stumbles upon an ancient hidden power that alters their lives forever, propelling them on an incredible journey.
What I Liked
The Battle System
Similar to Xenoblade Chronicles and Final Fantasy XII, The Last Story runs more like an Action RPG, with battles taking place on the field map. Just like Xenoblade, basic attacks are executed automatically, but it’s up to you to utilize supplementary skills. This cuts down on the amount of Final Fantasy XIII-style button spamming immensely. Your AI party members are pretty smart too, particularly the two mages, Yurick and Mirania. Each character has their own unique role in combat and can be further fine-tuned with equipment upgrades.
The game often blends story and combat at times. When confronting enemies, the mercenaries will break into an impromptu strategy session, at which point the camera turns to a top-down view of the battlefield, letting you analyze each opponent for strengths and weaknesses and gauge their position vis-à-vis your party, in order to plan your attack accordingly. The special Gathering ability, which Zael unlocks early on in the game, furthers the strategy in combat by both granting temporary boosts to your allies, as well as drawing enemies to you, letting you lure them into traps set up by the rest of your party. Over all, the combat in The Last Story is continuously entertaining without becoming too repetitive.
You’ve got a be a special kind of ambitious to call your magnum opus The Last Story, because that’s the thing everyone is then going to focus on: the story. Luckily enough, Sakaguchi delivers on that front in spades. The Last Story plays like an epic fantasy novel come to life–a good one, mind you, like The Way of Kings or A Wizard of Earthsea, rather than anything written by say, Terry Goodkind. It’s even helped along by a wonderful omniscient narrator who sounds vaguely like (but is in fact not) Baron Charles Shaughnessy, aka Mr. Sheffield. Add in a cast of wonderful characters, some terrifically witty dialog and you have, narrative-wise, perhaps the pinnacle of video game storytelling–on the Wii, at least.
I don’t mean to keep making digs at Final Fantasy, nor the minds behind its current incarnation, but when comparing The Last Story to Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2, the disparity in quality is shockingly apparent. Many have argued that the Final Fantasy series has lost its way in recent years, and it’s obvious now that Hironobu Sakaguchi’s departure form Square had a lot to do with it. The man knows how to make some damn fine games, such as Final Fantasy IV, VI, and VII, and now The Last Story.
Nobuo Uematsu has not lost his touch either. The Last Story’s score is absolutely beautiful and carries just as much of the emotional weight as the voice acting does. I was lucky enough to get my hands on the special Last Story Premium Soundtrack, which Xseed gave away with pre-order copies of the game, and I’ve enjoyed just listening to the soundtrack on its own as I composed this review, it’s that good. If you’re a fan of Uematsu’s work on the Final Fantasy franchise, then you’re in for a real treat, because The Last Story’s score just blows a lot of his Final Fantasy work right out of the water.
The Equipment System
The wonderful thing about The Last Story’s equipment menu is that it doesn’t get bogged down in needless complexity or an infinite regression of sub-menus. I’ve found many modern RPGs aim for complexity in their equipment management systems, but instead foster confusion. The Last Story, thankfully, forgoes all of that with its almost utilitarian simplicity. It’s both functional and versatile without being an overbearing hodgepodge.
One trend of recent RPGs The Last Story does follow, however, is that equipment aesthetics are persistent and different armors change the way your characters look throughout the game, including cutscenes (live-rendered ones, at least). You can also colour character equipment through the game’s colour dye system. This interesting little feature lets you customize each character to your specifications and it’s just one more little wonderful and functional feature that helps foster player involvement in the game.
The Voice Acting
Just like Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story retains its European localization work for its North American release, including its incredibly British voice cast. Having played both games, I’d argue that the British cast works better in The Last Story, which is set in a vaguely-European, vaguely-Medieval setting, as opposed to the world of Xenoblade Chronicles, which is, well, on top of a giant fantasy robot. The voice work really helps endear the characters to you right out of the gate. Characters like Syrenne, Lowell, and Zael make an instant impression on you and it’s due to not just the fact that it’s British actors playing off a good script, but that’s it’s good British actors playing off a great script.
What I Didn’t Like
Ah yes, our old friend “hiding the loading screen behind a quick cutscene” appears again in full force here. Luckily, they’re not obnoxiously long wait times, but it’s just enough to get distracting at times.
Minor Slowdown Issues
This might just be my personal anti-Wii bias bleeding in here, but Mistwalker did The Last Story a real disservice by making it for the Wii. True, its existence in the Wii’s shallow pool of RPGs grants it a higher profile than if it were to flounder in the fen of substandard RPGs on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. However, the Wii just wasn’t built to handle an RPG of The Last Story’s calibre and it really shows in how hard it works just trying to get it onto your TV screen. There are some visible slowdown issues and stiffness in the animation, but I blame Nintendo for that more than Mistwalker. Granted, it runs very well as it, but if it were on a stronger system, it would run near flawlessly. But I guess that’s what the Wii U is going to be there for in a couple of months, right?
On Par With: Xenoblade Chronicles. Better Than: Final Fantasy XIII / XIII-2.
It’s a definite barn burner between Xenoblade and The Last Story as to which game is ultimately deserving of the crown for Wii RPGs. In the end Xenoblade Chronicles edges out the win, but The Last Story makes a lovely queen to its king. Both are examples of large-scale RPGs done right. It sure runs rings around Final Fantasy XIII and its Doctor Who-aping sequel, that much is certain. While FFXIII may look better (graphically, not artistically) and run better (again, hardware advantage), The Last Story is a better game in terms of its narrative and general mechanics. Of course, I’m also currently in the midst of replaying FFXIII alongside The Last Story, so make of that what you will.
The Last Story occupies an interesting position in Nintendo’s off-kilter console life cycle with its late summer release. It has the distinction of being both the perfect game to end the life of the Wii and the perfect game to begin the life of the Wii U thanks to the latter’s backwards compatibility and (moderately) beefier hardware. This is one of the Wii’s few genuine masterpieces and is definitely a must-own for a multitude of reasons. It has a wonderful story, great characters, great script, great gameplay, and a great soundtrack. It’s also going to be a rarity very shortly, so if you are on the fence about buying it, I would recommend you hurry up and pick up a copy, because Xseed only printed a limited number and it’ll soon be hard to track down—like Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon-hard–and to let a beautiful game such as this slip past you would be a tragedy.
As a supplementary note, I would recommend using the Wii Classic Controller Pro while playing The Last Story. While the Wiimote and Nunchuck work well enough, a purestrain RPG like The Last Story just deserves to be played on a proper handheld controller.