North American Wii owners were treated to a fresh and exciting new JRPG experience earlier this year with Xenoblade Chronicles, and now it’s time to repeat the process with The Last Story. Developer Mistwalker – of Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey fame – has created a game less concerned with a sprawling, epic feel and more so with a charismatic group of heroes and a battle system that flips the genre on its head. What started out as genuine confusion on my part slowly transformed into unabashed giddiness at a game willing to take risks and reap the consequential benefits.
The Last Story follows a group of mercenaries scraping by in the hopes of moving up in the world. Protagonist Zael vows to one day become a gallant knight, and the group’s leader Dagran promises to make that a reality in the future. This isn’t a game about the simple wants and desires of a small group, though, and things get a lot more complicated when a mysterious woman named Lisa shows up. Her odd social quirks intrigue Zael, and his infatuation with the girl results in a complex tale of warring factions and a dying land.
The narrative structure is a familiar one that introduces a constant barrage of twists, turns, and new faces. In addition, the main plot has a tendency to overreach with its emotional pull, dipping into melodrama a bit too often. Luckily, much of the game works on a smaller scale due to its focus on the core mercenary group. Zael and company all have their own personality traits, including the foul-mouthed Syrenne and the introspective Yurick. Despite the characters’ glaring differences, there’s a familial quality to the group that makes the otherwise lackluster story worth seeing through to the end. The player begins to care about the heroes in The Last Story, and the chemistry between them is one of the game’s strongest qualities.
Camaraderie between mercenaries is straightforward enough, but the same can’t be said for the game’s ambitious battle system. I found myself initially baffled by all the moving parts and the overabundance of tutorial screens, but the source of confusion was a lack of familiarity and not overly complex game mechanics. On the one hand, The Last Story features combat that borrows from action games with its direct control and dodging ability. In addition, there’s a healthy dose of RPG mechanics with the various magic spells, and to top it all off, the player eventually gains the ability to go into a top-down view and issue commands like some kind of pseudo strategy RPG. With all of these systems at play it can be disorienting at times, but the net gain is a battle system full of depth that makes the latter hours of the game just as much fun as the opening moments.
I’m reminded of one particular battle in which I was surrounded by enemies. I ordered Mirania to constantly cast her healing circle around the group while I used Zael’s Gale ability to spread fire magic that had been cast by Yurick. Then I took direct control of Zael, launched a few arrows to get some enemies’ attention, and finished them off with my upgraded sword, which deals quite a bit of damage. Bear in mind that this wasn’t any kind of story sequence, yet I still fondly recall it. The same can be said about many common enemy encounters because the battle system makes them memorable.
Although the combat in The Last Story is anything but ordinary, the structure and game world are surprisingly linear. There are sidequests to be completed, but most of them are forgettable and the appearance of the dreaded fetch quest was particularly disconcerting. In addition, there is only one hub world: Lazulis City. I enjoyed exploring the place when I first came across it, and the city’s arena is addictive, but the whole of the environment isn’t big or compelling enough to capture the player’s attention throughout an entire playthrough. Part of me admires the narrow focus, but it wears thin far too quickly. I wanted to get out and explore the world, but the game would stick me in a measly tavern far too often – perhaps to drink my sorrows away.
The Last Story may be too linear for its own good, but that isn’t reason enough to ignore it altogether. The game features a strong cast of characters and that can often take a JRPG a long way. The Last Story doesn’t rest on its laurels, though, and the unique combat system results in a thoroughly satisfying experience. Each battle is a joy to take part in, and that’s the kind of game that any JRPG fan should be excited about.