The Last Story
When going through my list with games I played to death, I see there are very few (J)RPGs in it, except for the good old Final Fantasy X on PS2. It was also the only game from the series – and the entire JRPG genre – that managed to totally grab me. As such, The Last Story didn’t immediately have all prejudice of my gaming history going for it. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the genre but I’ve always felt more appeal for sports-, sandbox- or action games. Sakagushi, the master of the genre and driving force behind this one, therefore had quite the challenge for convincing me. Let’s see if he succeeded.
The Last Story contains just about the most cliché JRPG story in the history of cliché JRPG stories: regular boy becomes superhero, has blond hair, carries a sword that’s as big as he himself, falls in love and in the end needs to save the world. The same template that’s been used so often already, but luckily in such a way this time that it doesn’t deliver a constant feeling of “déjà-vu”. The blonde protagonist on duty listens to the name Zael and together with a couple of others – who can really use a subscription service at a local psychiatric institution – he’s part of a mercenary gang.
With his friends Zael heads to Lazulis City where he hopes to become a noble knight and leave the label of “mercenary” behind him. After lowering the tempo from the first few hours, it also slowly becomes clear why he’s after this change.
The Last Story plays with the necessary changes in pace and constantly moves between action and reflection which results in a nice balance that completely immerses you in the history and motives of the characters. The clash between Gount Arganan (the good guy) and Gurak (the baddie) delivers also the necessary action and adrenaline in the story.
In Lazulis City you also see the public opinion alter from time to time. Where in the beginning people are quite negative towards mercenaries, you see them like you more when you help Arganan in his fight against evil. Slashing baddies in real-time is the message and for that Zael acquires the special skill called “Gathering” at the start of the game. This makes him attract hostiles while the rest of his gang can prepare an attack. It can be best compared with the Aggro from the Army of Two series, but the kind where one push of a button is enough to activate it.
While Gathering is activated, you can also easily reanimate your fellow mercs, making the difficulty degree not too high. Also Zaels excellent spotting skills (when a “Z” flashes on your screen you can push a button and look for interesting items in the surroundings) helps you and with it you can discover quite some interesting things both in combat (like a weak spot in the defense of an enemy) as during regular walks (rare items).
Due to you being able to revive your comrads so easy (up to five times in one fight) and that they also have some decent AI programmed, the fights feel a bit too easy. Except for some bigger boss fights you shouldn’t have it too difficult to end combat in your advantage. Use Gathering to let the rest of your team strike without mercy, or making a destructive slash attach out of cover yourself will usually be enough. The entire combat system may be set up nicely, it’s just too easy.
The levelling and managing your items is also don’t almost on full automatic, allowing you to focus on the story and surroundings. That the Wii isn’t able of producing stellar image quality like an X360 is a fact, but still The Last Story does a very job in getting close. The areas in which you can freely roam are big enough to keep you occupied even if the whole is more linear than it appears at first sight. Luckily this doesn’t bother too much as in the end you only want one thing: help Zael to achieve his goal and find out more about his crew of mercenaries.
The Last Story really starts to stick onto you. Sakaguchi is a master in building immersive stories that get under your skin more than you realise and with this title he just shows his reputation isn’t without reason. After about 20 hours this Wii epos comes to an end due to the absence of side-quests, but you’ll be more bothered by the fact that you already have to say goodbye to Zael and his friends rather than because of the short playing time itself.
The online multiplayer that comes with the game and in which you get to fight some bosses along with an entire team of human-controller characters is a nice extra for those that can’t get enough.
(J)RPG-fan or not, The Last Story succeeds in building an immersive story and keep you clustered by completely immersing you in the atmosphere. Despite all the clichés that were poured over this game, it does succeed to be original in some way and not feel milked. Even better: you sometimes just forget that this is a JRPG. The combat system could be a bit more challenging and there are some beauty errors preent, but overall Sakaguchi again delivers a great product. The spiritual father of the Final Fantasy series shows again that when he puts his shoulders under something, there are only few who can match him.