A bit overly-ambitious but still very good
Fittingly, The Last Story is one of the last Wii titles to come out and one of the few role-playing games made for the console. Designed and directed by Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, it’s a fairly traditional role-playing game but features some progressive ideas.
The majority of the game takes place on Lazulis Island, where Zael and his mercenary friends dream of moving up in society. They’re hired to do odd jobs around the city, and eventually get a gig to guard the castle during a special event. It is here that they become entangled in a major conflict when the Gurak bombard the city in a devastating sneak attack. This race of demi-humans was thought to have been banished forever in an ancient war, but they’ve secretly been biding their time to strike back.
Meanwhile Zael forms a connection with Calista, a descendant of the Arganon family that rules the island. She’s stuck between her power-hungry uncle, who took control of the island when her parents died, and her betrothed - a slimy nobleman who will stop at nothing to get ahead. Despite his standing, Zael isn’t easily swept aside as early in the game he is bestowed the magical power of the Outsider, which is essential to the island’s defense. The plot moves very quickly, smoothly transitioning from Zael’s humble beginnings to his rise in prominence. It’s very well done and entertaining to watch as it unfolds, even if it is somewhat cliched.
The real-time battle system is interesting, but isn’t quite as polished as it should be. The player has direct control of Zael while his allies back him up automatically. You attack by simply approaching an enemy, and can take cover behind walls to hide from projectile attacks. By entering into the first-person perspective, you can find areas of interest in the environment and direct your allies to focus on them. For example, an enemy firing arrows from a lofty perch can be taken out by an ally’s projectile magic. Otherwise your allies will simply attack or cast spells on their own. Casting spells takes a few seconds, as indicated by a timer, so prioritizing enemy healers and mages becomes a staple strategy.
Later in the game you’ll gain the ability to pause the action and input commands for all of your party members, but most of the time you’ll be quite happy to simply rush enemies and take them out head-on. There are no random encounters in the game, and it is possible to clear an area of enemies. If you want to grind a little to raise your stats, you can recreate battles from optional summon circles – the first few times you do so, you’ll be rewarded with hefty experience bonuses.
The story is told through cinematic sequences with full voice acting, with most scenes using the in-game engine. Most of the dialogue in the game is acted out: your team mates shout hints during battle, and instead of having to walk up to people and pressing a button to speak with them you can just eavesdrop on their conversations. Like most games, the main cast is performed much better than the nameless townspeople, but it gets the job done. The music was composed by Nobuo Uematsu, and he delivers a good (if not terribly memorable) score.
Visually the game is quite nice looking, though it does suffer from frequent drops in frame rate. The main characters are highly detailed for a Wii game, certainly more so than similar games on the PlayStation 2, and during non-cinematic exchanges you are treated to close-ups. You can also customize the look of your characters by changing the color of every piece of clothing they wear, and if you’d prefer to hide certain pieces of equipment you can simply turn them off. Each weapon and piece of armor has its own look, which is always nice. The texture detail can be a bit lacking on the characters but the environments look great with bloom lighting, depth of field, and some nice shader effects for water and reflective surfaces. Unfortunately the detailed characters and environments come with a price in the form of frequent loading screens.
As it turns out, The Last Story is not a perfect game but it does have some very nice things going for it. The Last Story’s overly ambitious combat system is a noble attempt to think outside the genre’s conventions, but feels somewhat sloppy in practice. Unfortunately the vast majority of battles descend into free-for-alls where the only real deciding factor is your party’s experience level. Thankfully the game doesn’t suffer from any other major issues – ultimately players will forgive its shortcomings because the story, character development, and incredible production values combine to create an engaging experience.