The Last Story is captivating. It tells the story of a group of honest mercenaries striving to be knights – not so they can dominate the world – but merely on the hope of a good night’s sleep without one eye open. The story that unfolds is wonderfully intriguing and engaging, and with fun gameplay and interactive environments; you’re not just watching or reading the story, you’re PLAYING it. It’s a fairy tale set in a living, breathing world that embraces the interactive nature of videogames. It’s such a different game in so many aspects and brings a lot of new things to the table in terms of how you approach things as a player. I could fill this entire paragraph with buzzwords and verbal wankery, and still fail to capture what the game is like. Everything has a magical, whimsical story-telling feel to it, like a long descriptive dream with talented British voice actors. It’s a love story because I’m in love with this game.
The town of Lazulis Island is AMAZING – it’s the most active and interesting place I’ve been in a game since Clock Town in Majora’s Mask. I love the way everyone goes about their business, and you see dialogue pop up without having to “engage” everyone directly like a police officer or salesman. You can just sit down somewhere and watch stuff happen, it feels like you’re a very small part of what’s happening in town. Everything is so fluent, you don’t have to press A to sit down; just lean against a wall or walk into a seat. When a merchant is having a sale, you can hear them yelling out their deal from far away, and if you don’t get there you don’t get the special price, or the item could be sold out completely. Prices will change drastically depending on what’s happening outside of town, and as the game progresses the town transforms with it. I always find it rewarding to have a walk around town between story events to see what’s new.
Painters and construction workers do their jobs on buildings, with lively animations and characteristic lines. Walking into people will actually push them back and they usually have something to say about it too (how rude of them!). If there’s a low hanging sign on a building, you won’t walk through it, it’ll hit you in the head and you’ll see yourself ducking and then holding your head in pain. Even NPCs can hit their heads on things, and you can push them to do it so it’s not scripted. You can also shoot certain things from your crossbow and watch a bit of mayhem unfold. The wind blows rare items through the air, and you can grab them if you’re quick enough to hold Z and target it. There’s an unbelievable amount of fun to be had simply by BEING in this place. There’s hundreds of people to see and speak to, and plenty of sidequests to top it off.
The core structure of the game sets The Last Story apart from traditional RPGs – it NEVER asks you to run around for 5 minutes to get an item. The main town is full of opportunistic interactions and optional quests, but there are no big open areas in the game. The environments are detailed but small, you don’t spend much time travelling, and each chapter takes place on a linear path through the world. There’s nothing here that WASTES YOUR TIME. No items that tell you “this is a jar” or “a cat sits here”. If there is a cat, it will be there, and it will be sitting – the game won’t stop everything and brag about it; it respects you as a player and acknowledges you have eyes and a controller in your hands. The Last Story takes out all the annoying things in RPGs that we didn’t even know were bad.
I rarely comment on this in games, but the art in The Last Story is fantastic. Knights actually feel like Knights: their armour is heavy and their stance honourable yet fearsome. When they walk through town, everyone stops and looks in awe and respect – you don’t want to mess with them. The IMPACT these things have in the game is something I’ve never felt before; the world is convincing and can give you goosebumps. The castle looks incredible; a lot of detail really captures the size and importance of it and brings a sense of awe. Even voices sound different in the castle as they bounce off the huge walls. The entire game is full of fairly small environments that feel huge because of how much detail is carved in. When you’re on a ship, the camera will sway. When you walk away from town into the side and back alleys, the music will stop. The attention to detail is relentless.
The battle system is a little easy but ridiculously fun. You have a LOT of control over your character. You can duck, dive, leap over allies and obstacles, and it’s damn satisfying when you land a well-timed blow on an enemy. To deal big damage you’ve got to position yourself correctly; emerging from cover to surprise the enemy allows a significant amount of damage with your sword, usually enough to kill a normal grunt in one hit. You also have a crossbow; it doesn’t do much damage but you can use it to distract enemies or stop them from casting spells.
Here’s the stealth aspect in play – it can be a lot of fun if you’re creative. The enemies are pretty dumb and will walk towards any noise without a second thought. A stealth kill will award you more EXP than normal, making it all the more satisfying. Things get tricky when they’re in a group; it’s hard to separate them but stealth isn’t always going to be a realistic option. In most battles you have a full team with you, you can’t control them, but you can issue them orders and combine your magic with theirs. A huge part of battles is the Gathering command, which brings all enemy attention to yourself. This is often essential to give your team members time charge up their magic attacks – for enemy damage and healing. There are no random battles: if you want to “grind” and level up, you can summon enemies in certain places. With the environment structure playing such a big role in battles, you don’t “learn” much from fighting endless enemies in a square room.
“Like an infant’s cradle, gently rocking from side to side upon the calm ocean waves, the ship sailed smoothly onwards towards its destination, its course straight and true…”
Unlike this review, the game effortlessly shifts from drunken banter to poetic storybook voice overs. The descriptive language makes you feel the strong, cool breeze that serenades the trees after a bloody battle. This wordplay between chapters is a stark contrast to the raw, crass dialogue of the mercenaries who indulge in a LOT of banter and find the formalities of royalty offputting. The group actually walks around with you and doesn’t just appear out of your pocket when a battle starts. They all take their own positions and comment on things they see as you press onwards. It’s actually easy to miss lines of dialogue because they talk so damn much; often an event or battle scene will interrupt your conversation.
My biggest gripe with the game is the lack of motion controls. It would be REALLY nice to swing weapons, and especially to use the Wii pointer for looking around. It would make catching random items in the wind much easier, perhaps too easy. The battles are too easy as well – there’s a lot of strategy you can use but you rarely need it; most enemies can just be taken down with raw power and a lot of complex environments become useless when simple attacks can do the job. Aside from this and a few technical problems with the graphics, The Last Story is pretty much perfect.
The Last Story is refreshing in its approach, presenting a magnificent and complex story to the player without resorting to long cutscenes. In fact, you can fast forward cutscenes by holding A – a surprising innovation from Sakaguchi, the man who unleashed Final Fantasy on the world. The music features a breathtaking score by Nobuo Uematsu that compliments the game in a subtle yet powerful way. There isn’t a single dull moment in this entire game; every small little thing is so much fun because it feels like you’re in it – what you do matters. The characters interact in a way that makes your group feel like a family; it pulls a lot of emotional strings to make you care about what comes next. The Last Story is a fascinating game to get lost in, and for this reason it gets my highest possible recommendation. I don’t care if you don’t like RPGs, hate the Wii, or if “Japanese games” aren’t your thing, you absolutely must play The Last Story. It’s not the best story ever told, just an extremely good videogame.