The Last Story Is One Of The Best RPGs I've Played In Years

Lost among this week's barrage of awesome new video games is The Last Story, a role-playing game that's slipped pretty damn far under gamers' radars considering it was designed and directed by the man who created Final Fantasy.

You might be tempted to ignore this one. It's for Wii. You probably haven't touched yours in a while. Maybe it's in the closet, collecting dust with your Ninja Turtle action figures. Maybe you still haven't finished Xenoblade (it's hella long). Maybe you're playing Darksiders II or Papo & Yo or waiting on the new Mario game. Maybe you were just going to let this one pass by.

Don't. The Last Story is one of the best role-playing games you can get on a console today — and one of the best I've played in years.

Maybe it's the effort. Hironobu Sakaguchi, the infamously mustachioed ex-Square maestro responsible for shaping the childhood of anyone who grew up with games like Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger, spent almost a year-and-a-half building the combat system for The Last Story. He and his team looked at Japanese games. They looked at Western games. They prototyped. They tweaked. And Sakaguchi, directing his first game since Final Fantasy V almost two decades ago, didn't leave the lab until he had forged a set of systems he was proud to play.

The resulting product is sort of a hybrid between the best of Japanese and Western game design, a combat system that blends first-person shooting, stealth, strategy, and hack-and-slash action. In theory, it sounds silly. In practice, it's transcendent.

See, what makes The Last Story special is that it takes you to a battlefield and says, "Hey, you're on a battlefield!" Fights are frantic and chaotic, almost the medieval version of a Western shooter like Gears of War or Call of Duty (minus the guns and ridiculous bro chatter). You control Zael, a Genuine Hero and member of a charming group of mercenaries who fight together in groups of four or five. They're not your average RPG troupe; as your party moves through dungeons and caverns, they will manoeuvre around like a battle-hardened team, hiding behind pillars and flanking doorways as you sneak through enemy fortresses and mystical forests.

In combat, they'll all do their own thing, leaving you alone to control Zael. No complaints here. Zael is a monster-disemboweling wrecking ball equipped with a sword for slashing, a crossbow for first-person sniping, and special skills like an ultra-powerful sneak attack and an attention-drawing tank move that can also revive allies. You can bark orders at your party — especially helpful if you want them to cast spells — but you'll mostly be focused on your own action.

(Important note: If you play The Last Story, be sure to go into the options and change "Attack Type" from Automatic to Manual. This changes your modus operandi from "run at an enemy and watch your character automatically swing his sword" to "run at an enemy and swing your character's sword." In other words, this turns it into an actual video game. I can't imagine enjoying the combat without this switch.)

Every battle is scripted. There are no random encounters. Battlefields are constructed in deliberate, careful fashion, breakable environments and all. So whether you're running away from soldiers in the narrow alleys of a crowded city or sneaking behind rocks to get in proper position to snipe a bunch of giant ogres before you get smashed, it'll feel like every moment was crafted just for you. There are no filler battles. This is a game that respects your time.

There's variety, too. Your team might start off near a hedge maze, right behind a group of nasty skeleton warriors who don't know you're there. You can foolishly charge in and try to take them all out with swords and spells. Or you could sneak around corners of the maze, carefully sniping each one individually, baiting it closer to you so you can smack it down without alerting its allies.

Another battle might drop you right into the middle of a chaotic brawl. You won't even have time to enter first-person mode and pull out your crossbow. You'll just have to fight.

And then there are the bosses. Oh, the bosses. I won't spoil any of them, but they're remarkably fun to take down. Almost Zelda-like. OK, if you absolutely insist, I'll spoil one: One particularly devious fight pits you against a group of doppelgangers who take the shapes of your party members. During this devious fight, you'll also be able to attack your actual party members. In the frenzy, it can be awfully hard to tell which doppelgangers are actually your friends, who you will accidentally attack. Often. Get ready to be yelled at. A lot.

"This all sounds great," you might be saying. "What's the downside?" Well, like Xenoblade before it, The Last Story is a game saddled by its system. It's too pretty for the Wii. You might find yourself hamstrung by technical issues. Sometimes it'll take a second or two before a cut-scene starts. The lag is occasionally infuriating. The camera is an unforgivable mess.

This is all offset by the wonderful localisation, the excellent British voice acting, the lovely music (composed by the legendary Nobuo Uematsu), the thoroughly interesting characters, the love story that doesn't treat you like a child, and the plot that takes itself seriously but not too seriously.

An RPG is successful when it resonates with your emotions, when it makes you feel like you're somewhere else, someone else, something else. Whether the characters are adventuring through an exciting new world or just fighting to protect their city, whether the game is turn-based or grid-based or non-stop high-octane action, what matters is that it makes you feel something extraordinary.

The Last Story is pretty damn good at that.


Comments

    Waiting for a price drop.

    I've said it before and I'll say it again, Xenoblade was the better of the two.

    While The Last Story is good, it's not great and definitely not AMAZEBALLS like Xenoblade. It felt really unpolished in parts but like Jason said it's probably to do with it being on Wii. Both games didn't use motion controls at all so they could've done just as well on any other console. I do feel like Xenoblade handled the limitations of the Wii better and did localisation better too.

    TL;DR - BUY XENOBLADE!

      Personal opinions and all that though.
      While Xenoblade is certainly a great game, I felt it wasn't focused enough, that there was too much tangential fluff, and until the combat system came into it's own a decent way into the game it felt like the worst elements of an MMO and JPRG melded together. That said I haven't played much of The Last Story yet, but a more focused story with a cool combat system. I'd like to think of them as a very different experiences rather than a binary better/worse comparison.

        Ah yes, personal opinions of course :)

        I (and many others) only compare the two since they're both operation rainfall games. I would also compare them with Pandora's Tower but I haven't played it yet.

        You make a good point about the 'focus' of the games. Sort of like FFXII and XIII, where XII was more open ended, XIII was more focused. To me most of the fun from Xenoblade came about just derping around exploring places and looking at the amazing scenery. I would also whistle and hum along with the beautiful soundtrack and just kind of relax and take it all in. I do agree on the fluff since most of the game's length comes from the 400 or so sidequests, many of which are just generic but I had a fun enough time doing the above that I didn't mind.

        Both had okay stories but good character development/interactions and both had fun battle systems (TLS's being more unique but I prefer Xenoblade's). It's true that they're very different experiences and I probably shouldn't have made that comparison but it's just the little things that annoy me in The Last Story. Constant framerate drops, longer load times (still short but relative to Xenoblade it's long), lip syncing is off, stiff animations, bad camera, certain gameplay aspects and worse voice acting (opinion based though), things that make it seem really dated.

        I had fun with both games but something about Xenoblade just 'grabbed' me. It's not often a game does that and I just didn't get the same feeling with The Last Story.

    Maybe because it's because I've watched too much anime and my tolerance for such characters has dropped but for me the one flaw in Last Story is the main character and what an unbearable idiot he becomes whenever he's near the heroine.

    I skipped the Wii. I am thinking the Wii U with backwards compatibility (assuming this is the case) will be a good opportunity for me to go back over some of these games I have missed.

      Did you ever end up getting the Wii U and/or Xenoblade, Zeldas and other stuff?

      You haven't been around TAY lately!

        Hey Greenius!
        I got the wii u, bought skyward sword but haven't had a chance to start it yet. I just ordered xenoblade from mighty ape as well!

        Yeah I've been busy and my internet usage has been brought to attention at work - despite all the extra hours I do and evidence of my being more productive than anyone else in my department :/ I have job interviews next week, so I'll hopefully be back swinging soon!

          Good luck!

          Head over to TAYnames to add us :D (only if you want to :P)

          I just found out today that on Wii U you can add people OR send a request. Adding merely adds them to your friends list but they need to add you too (kind of crap), while sending a request gives them a notification that you added them and they only need to accept for both of you to become friends. You can send a request through the MiiVerse.

          Xenoblade is amazing! @strange and @negativezero have got into it lately and are loving it :D

          Pop back into TAY when you've got the time!

    it's pretty good... one of the reason i played wii again... last year =(
    i suppose kotaku review based on us release and not eu release?

    The Last Story honestly feels like Fire Emblem, if Fire Emblem were an Action Game.

    Wii game not supprised it slipped under my radar.

    Those graphics look like they've squeezed every drop of performance from the crusty old Wii. Will have to check out how it looks running through Dolphin in HD.

    Looks interesting.
    Shame that just like with Xenoblade you lost me at "It's on the Wii."

    looks good, but I already spent close to $500 on games this year. Might have to wait for a price drop or next year before I pick this up.

    I'll say one simple thing that should make you all understand why this game should be purchased, regardless of console - It's the Final Fantasy that never was. Directed by the original creator of FF, music by Uematsu, and ever last byte of it shows this. If you loved the 90's Final Fantasy games, play this.

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