Impressions – The Last Story (Nintendo Wii)

Posted in gaming by Broadway Calhoun on February 25th, 2012

I’m going to use my super cool cold wave website to talk about vidya games. Why? Well, for one thing I need to exercise the writing muscle. Vidya games are a passion of mine, and they always say to write about what you know. So deal with it, suckas.

©2011-2012 Mistwalker, Nintendo

So if you’re a game nerd, then you know that The Last Story came out in Europe yesterday. It’s a notable and unusual release for three reasons:

1. it’s a role playing game on the Wii, a console that is sorely lacking in that genre.

2. It’s the 7th game from Hironobu Sakaguchi’s company Mistwalker.

3. The game is directed by Sakaguchi himself, who hasn’t directed since 1992′s Final Fantasy V.

It seems like a recipe for success, don’t it? Knowing it would certainly be an interesting artefact, if nothing else, I picked up the collector’s edition. It comes in a big fancy box and contains the game, a miniature soundtrack, art book and a steel-book case to hold the game in. The steel-book case seems a bit redundant, as the game comes in a standard plastic case anyway, but it’s still a very nice touch.

Being a working man, I haven’t had much time to sit down with it, but I’d like to give you some of my impressions of the first two hours of gameplay.

Story & Characters
The Last Story tells the tale of milquetoast prettyboy Zael, who tragically lost his family at a young age. He meets Dagran, another street child, and the two eventually grow up to become part of a group of mercenaries. The group travels to Lazulis Island to seek fame, fortune or whatever else, and the game begins with these facts already established.

Zael isn’t the most interesting main character, but I like him for a few reasons: He’s not a teenager. He’s not excessively mopey, nor is he overly enthusiastic or optimistic. He’s just a level-headed, if not shy and naive protagonist who serves his role as player avatar adequately and inoffensively. Considering this is a JRPG we’re talking about, these are definite high points that set Zael apart from his genre contemporaries.

Zael’s teammates fall into typical RPG archetypes. The experienced ladies’ man, the hard drinking warrior woman, the quiet intellectual magician girl, the cold mysterious man who doesn’t want to make friends, etc. However thanks to the quality of the writing, they’re never stale and they all play off each other quite nicely. There’s quite a bit of in-party teasing and wisecracking that comes off naturally and not forced.

Being a Japanese game, your party’s costumes are pretty outrageous. For example, Dagran wears a tight tank-top, chaps, boots and short-shorts. You can customise outfits to a certain degree, removing Dagran’s top to leave him wearing nothing above the waist. One of the things I really like about this paper-doll clothing system is that you can change the colours of your party’s outfits at any time. Naturally, I’ve decked Zael out in a hot-pink jacket and matching thigh-high boots. These customisations are reflected in the game’s cutscenes, which leaves a lot of room for extra entertainment.

The townspeople are rather conservatively dressed in comparison to your team, and nobody you meet looks particularly interesting. The sinister town guards, however, look fantastic, sporting white trench coats, masks and Prussian-style helmets.

Exploration & The World
Taking place on one island, centred around its capital city, The Last Story eschews the typical JRPG convention of a grandiose globe-trotting adventure. By doing so, it gives more focus and flavour to the story, which is refreshing. Lazulis City is enormous and very fun to explore. It’s quite lovingly detailed and I enjoyed seeing the sights. You can duck and squeeze through alleyways that the experienced JRPG player would normally expect to be inaccessible. There’s hidden things to be found everywhere and a wealth of things to do.

As you walk through town, a command will occasionally come up at the bottom of the screen encouraging you to “seek”: which enters an over-the-shoulder mode that allows you to locate hidden objects. This takes an approach reminiscent of a mini-game. Sometimes items will be blown by the wind, and you have to tilt the analog stick accordingly to catch them before it’s too late. Other times, there’ll be hidden items found on the ground. Picking up one will start an item collecting combo: find five items in quick succession and you’ll be rewarded with a rarity. This is sort of difficult to pull off, but a neat touch.

There are sidequests to be found in town, the ones I’ve found so far are of the “collect (x amount) of items” variety. Unlike the Wii’s last big RPG, Xenoblade Chronicles, there’s no quest log, so you’d better remember where the questgiver is located and what it is they want. This was par the course for JRPGs up until very recently, but it still felt like a step backwards.

The town also holds an arena, where you can battle monsters for prizes. Unfortunately, arena battles are narrated by two “sports announcers”, who will spew the same lines ad nauseam. Be prepared to hear “Such power, such grace!” shouted every thirty seconds.

The battle system is peculiar, the game defaults to a semi-automatic configuration: you move towards your enemy with the analog stick, and continue pushing the stick in their direction to land blows. This set-up is encouraged; you can switch to a “manual” mode where you use the A-button to attack, but these attacks do less damage. I guess it’s to discourage button-mashing.

Zael also has a crossbow at his command. Holding down the left trigger allows you to aim and fire at your foes, which allows for targeting enemy weak-points.

You can also use seek-mode to scan enemies and your surroundings. For example, in one situation if you focus your sights on a pillar, you can command your squadmate to sling a fireball at it, crushing your enemies. There’s also a cover system, which you can use to sneak around behind your enemy and pop out to land a critical hit.

Another odd choice is the inclusion of lives, a hold-over from action games of the past. At the start of each battle, every party member has five lives. If they get knocked out five times, they’re out of the battle. If you get knocked out five times, it’s game over. This gives fighting a low degree of difficulty. It’s easy to get knocked out, but it’s unlikely to happen five times in one skirmish.

Sound & Music
There’s no Japanese voice-track, so be prepared for a very British dub. The voice actors do a rather good job, though there are some odd choices in actors. I encountered a boy who looked about four years old but had a voice like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. He wanted me to find his six coins; I didn’t.

The rest of the sound design is adequate but not mind-blowing. Sound effects serve their role as they should. The music in town fades in and out as you duck through dark alleyways, which is a nice touch.

Nobuo Uematsu’s musical score is quite far removed from his previous work, bringing to mind a film score and existing to serve as background music, rather than something that can be appreciated apart from the game. It isn’t bad, just not very exciting as a whole. There are some very nice tracks however, like the theme song and the music that plays in town.

Apparently, this is the second soundtrack he recorded for the game; his initial score was rejected and he almost left the project because of it.

So…What Else?
Well, here’s some things I don’t like at all.

Bumping into NPCs happens a lot, and they react accordingly. Though it’s a nice touch to see them trip and admonish you, you’re then unable to speak with them until they’ve completed their noticeably long animation and then returned to their initial post. Most likely, you’ll immediately bump into them again, starting the whole thing over again. It can get annoying.

Party chatter can easily get cut off. If two characters are in battle and discussing plot points while fighting, if you complete the battle before they finish talking, the chatter will stop mid-word. Due to the fast and furious nature of the battles, it’s almost as if you’re encouraged to stand around and get trounced until everybody’s done talking.

One thing I do like is how you can bump your head on shop signs, eliciting a yelp of pain.

I haven’t tried out the multiplayer aspects, so I can’t speak for them. It’s not what I bought the game for, anyway.

Anyway, The Last Story isn’t my favourite JRPG of this generation, and it’s certainly not for everybody, but I’m glad that I bought it. If you’re interested, pick up a copy sooner than later, this one’s bound to become hard-to-find.

And for those of you feeling deprived in the US, the fine people at XSEED have just picked it up for localisation! Hi-five, XSEED!

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