|The Wii is not something that I have spent a lot of time on in recent years: between the general lack of quality software (barring, of course, Nintendo and a few standout 3rd party titles) and the continuous mild frustration of the Wii remote, I have grown to the point where I generally don't want to play games on the system anymore. This year, though, there were two RPGs that caught my attention, although I'm just now getting around to them: Xenoblade Chronicles is one, the other is The Last Story. Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi's latest feels familiar in some ways: The storytelling relies heavily on tropes (the mysterious girl knows nothing of the outside world, could she be a noble!?) and the visuals have the distinct look of a PS2-era JRPG, but beyond that, The Last Story reveals its unique nature.|
While the story may be bathed in familiar territory, many of the characters are decidedly less routine: There's Mirania: the often-serious flower child whose speeches on nature and mankind's impact on the world is overshadowed by her utter obsession with her hobbies: food and books, or Lowell, the consummate ladies man and light-hearted scoundrel who's always good for a laugh, or Syrenne, who's love of drinking and fighting perfectly encapsulate the carefree nature of a good rogue: she's so much fun to be around that I'm a little disappointed when she doesn't show up in my party for the latest mission. Even some of the less notable characters have their moments: Yurick starts out pretty emo, but he gets some serious character development a several hours in and I'm enjoying seeing his character grow. Even Dagran, who starts off fulfilling the leader/ mentor trope, comes off later on as somewhat obsessive and maybe even a little sinister. Mind, these are all impressions from the first 8 or so hours of the game, so things are bound to develop as the game progresses further. The voice acting is the other aspect that really brings out the character in the game: most of the lines are well-delivered and it's refreshing not hearing the same voice actors that permeate almost all North American game productions. Kelly Wenham ends up stealing the show as the rough-and-tumble Syrenne, really bringing out the fun in her role that ends up being a lot of what makes that character so enjoyable.
Setting all of that aside, the true defining feature of The Last Story is its innovating and constantly surprising combat system. The basics aren't far off of what you would normally see in an action RPG: you have buttons for attack (turn off auto-attack in the menu as soon as the game starts) and dodge, simple npc commands, a basic cover mechanic, a way to lock on to enemies, and a special ability that draws enemy attention away from your compatriots. The controls themselves are slightly on the clunky side and take a little getting used to, but the real magic comes from the encounters themselves and the ways they enable you to utilize and exploit those built-in systems. It's incredibly satisfying to utilize these basic abilities to ambush your opponent, surround and attack them from all sides for extra damage, dissipate enemy and ally magic circles for different effects, or draw a huge group of swords away from your casters. The best battles, however, are the boss fights which are set up as combat puzzles that must be solved and executed on the fly. Utilizing all the techniques learned through regular combat as well as some lateral thinking is required to topple the game's biggest enemies. Even if the rest of the game was banal, the combat system alone would be enough to keep me interested in this game. Luckily, the interesting characters, lighthearted nature, equipment upgrades, dynamic economy, and sometimes beautiful graphics are also present to keep me from dropping this one anytime soon.