A little more than a year ago a grassroots effort known as "Operation
Rainfall" was launched to convince Nintendo to localize to America
three Japanese-only role-playing games. Developer Mistwalker's The Last Story
was one of those titles; and while Nintendo did not end up bringing the
JRPG to the States, third-party publisher Xseed did. With that decision, Xseed gave American Wii players one of the better RPG options
ever released on the platform.
Featuring a story that sprung from the mind of former Final Fantasy boss Hironobu Sakaguchi, The Last Story tells the tale of a land in slow decay and the strains that the increasing scarcity of resources takes upon a once proud empire. A convincing story, the plot seems familiar due to prospective natural resource shortages that out own planet's inhabitants could possibly face in the years ahead. With a surprisingly relatable primary cast (led by player-character Zael, a young mercenary with knightly aspirations), players should find themselves diving as deep into The Last Story's tale as they may have the JRPGs of the 1990's.
Mere moments after beginning a new game, the player is thrust into a battle and, in turn, introduced to the game's excellent battle system. Battles take place in real-time and strategy is key to success -- a fact stressed by the top-down briefing of each skirmish that shows enemies, terrain, points of interest, and so on. Characters are given a non-industry-standard five lives apiece, though these lives can go quite quickly should the player's tactics prove poor or too risky. Losing all five character lives means starting over from the most recent checkpoint.
This new and innovative manner in which to handle battles provides for a very dynamic play. It also makes Zael feel much more vital to the game than JRPG protagonists in other titles often times do. His "gathering" and "revival" abilities prove early on to be most important. The former draws the attention of most enemies towards him and away from teammates. The latter allows him to bring fallen comrades back into the fray. Those concerned that these abilities will relegate Zael to a support-dominated role should be, for he is on the offense just as much as he is in support.
This battle system, however, isn't without its flaws. In controlling Zael, a press of the analog stick towards a specific enemy will cause him to attack said target, but whether or not his attack is successful in even performing the action is mixed at best. For starters, getting him to even go for a specific target is quite challenging when he's surrounded by more than just a few enemies. The camera, too, causes some complications -- especially in tight spaces or corridors, disallowing what could be a better view of the action.
Further hampering gameplay is the fact that narration is often used at critical times to tell the player how something happened; rather than just allowing the player to play it out for himself. This denying the player even the opportunity to, say, sneak out of Lazulis Castle is a real let-down as it sounded rather exciting by how the game's narrator described it. The game is slated at total playtime of 20-25 hours thanks to its satisfying main story and numerous side-quests (some of which are chapters in themselves), but it could have been an easy 25-30 hours had the player been given the opportunity to act out these otherwise narration-only segments.
Surprisingly enough (and rare for a JRPG), The Last Story features not only the single-player experiences but one of the multiplayer variety as well. Supporting both deathmatch, where players are pitted against one another, and co-op play, this genre-uncommon option for multiplayer support is quite welcomed. Be forewarned, however, that players looking to experience The Last Story in co-op mode will find that enemies are much, much stronger and defeating bosses will be quite the daunting task -- even with the added support of a human companion playing alongside you.
In terms of the game's audio-visual presentation, let's not fool anybody reading this review into thinking The Last Story features top-rate graphics and whatnot. It is, after all, a Wii game and limited by the console's underwhelming CPU, GPU, and 480i standard-definition video output. That stated, The Last Story looks quite good as a Wii game and there is no doubt that an (unlikely) HD port of the game onto Nintendo's new Wii U system will only help it to look that much better. But, with no HD port in sight, players will have to be happy with (and they *will* be happy with them) the dazzling display that Mistwalker was able to create on the Wii -- even if there is the intermittent and unfortunate slowdown in frame-rate.
Featuring a soundtrack from legendary composer Nobuo Uematsu, The Last Story is just short of being absolute ear candy. The majestic and melodic tones of Mr. Uematsu's compositions work along with on-screen action and the overall feel of the game perfectly.
When Project Rainfall made The Last Story one of their targets for localization last year, there was probably a good reason. This game being a very good JRPG not only on the Wii, but in general, is a great reason indeed. It's definitely worth a rental, if not a full-on purchase. And a reminder for Wii U owners: this game plays on Nintendo's new system, too.
Final Game Guys grade: B+
(This game was privately obtained.)