Monday, September 17, 2012

The Last Story Review

The Last Story has quite a story behind it’s development.  Directed by Hironobu Sakaguchi (creator of the Final Fantasy series) and developed by Mistwalker, the game’s soundtrack also claims the legendary Nobuo Uematsu as it’s composer.  Obviously, the game has quite a pedigree with a tremendous amount of talent, and the experience and skill of the development team shines throughout.  And while Sakaguchi and Mistwalker get a lot right in this game, there are some technical shortcomings that prevent the game from being a true masterpiece.  These hitches aside, however, The Last Story is a wonderful RPG that will not disappoint fans of the genre, and may even give them new hope for the future.

The Last Story tells a tale that on the surface seems common.  The plot focuses around an orphaned hero named Zael and his band of mercenary friends.  They get involved in things that are initially way over their heads, and eventually have to save the world from destruction.  Oh, and they have to save a princess with magical powers.  Sounds a bit familiar, right?  Well, while the story certainly isn’t revolutionary, it does find ways to be compelling, mainly due to the characters.  

The cast of The Last Story
The characters are, without a doubt, the best part of The Last Story.  Zael and his companions start off as a stereotypical band of ragtag warriors – you’ve got the orphaned hero, the inspiring leader, the thoughtful girl, the boisterous girl, the ladies man, and the dark brooding guy.  While at first it seems that the characters will be forever stuck in these RPG stereotypes, they start to transcend them.  Over the course of the 20 hour story, the characters begin to open up to each other as they overcome hardships.  They reveal surprising depth and emotionality, without ever going into the severely melodramatic.  Despite the fantastical nature of the world, these characters feel incredibly human.  They make plenty of mistakes, but through it all they constantly show how much they care about each other.  There are some incredibly inspired moments (particularly towards the end of the game) that are truly beautiful, and that beauty mainly comes from the characters themselves.

Speaking of beauty, the graphics and art direction of the game are superb – for the Wii.  This is definitely the best looking third-party game I’ve ever seen on the system, and is right up there with some of Nintendo’s own franchises.  The game pushes the Wii to it’s very limits.  And while yes there are some frame rate issues and some screen tearing, the art direction is beautiful.  The art is medieval inspired with a bit of steampunk thrown in, which does look pretty cool.  The battle animations are simple but effective, with a few spectacular standing out.  Every once in a while in a big battle you’ll have a bit of a lag, but nothing too major.  Ultimately, even though the game looks like a PS2 game overall, it looks like a beautiful PS2 game.

Lazulis Island, where most of the story takes place, is beautiful.

For me, the main let-down I had with the game was its combat system.  I had heard a lot of really good stuff about it, and that it was pretty revolutionary for an RPG.  I suppose that I might have built it up in my head too much, or maybe it’s just not for me.  In any case, I was a bit disappointed.  One of the first things I didn’t like was automatic attacking – in other words, in order to attack with your sword, you just run into enemies.  I like to have control over individual sword attacks, so I changed to manual attacks in the settings.  Once I did that, it certainly gave me more to do.  Unfortunately, however, you still can’t really control the way you attack, it’s just kind of a general slash combo.  You can guard and counter, but there are not really any “attack moves”.  Zael also has a crossbow at his disposal which can be equipped with various arrows.  The problem with the crossbow is that it’s very difficult to aim.  Most of the time I needed the crossbow to take down an enemy quickly, but I had a tough time doing so because I could not aim it correctly.  And there’s no kind of “z targeting system” to help you out, at least to my knowledge.  In fact, the camera can be frustrating as well – it gets stuck at very inopportune moments, and on several occasions I died because I couldn’t see the enemies around me.

The battle system has cool concepts, but can be frustrating in practice.
There are some very cool ideas in the battle system, however.  For example, Zael can use a “Gathering” power to draw all of the enemies to him while other party members have time to cast spells.  Zael can also do back-flips off walls and attack.  The back flips are cool and effective, but it sometimes takes a while to run up the wall, which can be annoying.  Eventually, Zael can also command everyone in the party, which leads to different types of magic being use that he can then “diffuse” against enemies or to help allies.  While all of these ideas seem really interesting and innovative, they are not executed well because the controls are not tight.  You’ll try to find cover and end up rolling past it; you’ll try to run up a wall and get stuck at the bottom; you’ll be fighting an enemy and then lose sight of them.  And because Zael doesn’t really have that many different attacks, the battles essentially dissolve into you running around distracting enemies (particularly bosses) while your friends cast magic.  While this kind of team mentality is a cool concept, in actuality it turns out to be a bit boring and repetitive.  Overall, though, I think the battle system is one of those “love it or hate it” situations, so other people may love it.  I just was not a fan.

One element that did not disappoint at all was the game’s music and sound design.  Sakaguchi and Uematsu work together incredibly well, with Sakguchi creating beautiful, simple moments with the characters that are lifted to new heights by Uematsu’s music.  The soundtrack is sweeping and epic at times, and nostalgic and intimate at others.  This is without a doubt one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in a video game.  In a similar fashion, the voice acting is phenomenal.  The cast is a melting pot of different UK actors, and their different dialects work together wonderfully.  The localization team also did a great job with the dialogue – it’s funny, earnest, and at times truly touching.  For this reason, most of the cut scenes are incredibly compelling to watch, which is a good thing considering the vast amount of them in the game. 

There are some truly beautiful moments in the story.

Overall, The Last Story is one of the best games I have played on the Wii.  Yes, it certainly has its technical limitations and problems.  And yes, in my opinion the battle system was not executed as well as it could have been.  But the story of Zael and his companions is one worth discovering.  Though the overall story is nothing out of the ordinary, fans of the genre will really appreciate the subtle twists Sakaguchi introduces that eventually transcend expectations.  Sakaguchi and his team will surprise you with incredibly powerful, simple moments that make you care about the characters and what happens to them.  The Last Story is not trying to reinvent the wheel.  Instead,  it just gets many of the RPG elements right on the nose and then goes even further with them.  If you’re a fan of RPG’s and still have your Wii, the Last Story is a fitting and beautiful way to say goodbye to the system.

Violent Score: 8.6 / 10

Written by Cooper Sivara 


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