Many people believe the the pinnacle of roleplaying on Nintendo’s Wii was Xenoblade Chronicles, but there’s a little title from Mistwalker Studios that makes a compelling case against it. The Last Story may perhaps be the greatest return to form from Sakaguchi since Final Fantasy IX.
RPGs are few and far between on the Wii. In fact it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that you can probably count the number of RPGs on the system on a little over one hand. Still, as the system entered its twilight years the releases of several amazing titles back to back not only brought that number up but greatly increased the overall quality. Xenoblade may have garnered the attention and packed in more concepts but The Last Story was by far the better crafted whole. It was the first game from Mistwalker studios to feature a Final Fantasy style vibe, and against a backdrop of XIII and XIII-2 it shows how far the series has strayed since Sakaguchi’s leaving.
Graphically the Wii was never the strongest of consoles, unable to produce HD graphics and as such Last Story can at times look like a high end Playstation 2 title. This isn’t the games fault but rather a limitation of its medium and it struggles against it admirably. Characters and environments are all rendered in 3D and although they looks a little grainy by the standards of other systems they possess a huge number of frames and many details to the design that set it apart from other similar titles. The choice to focus on a smaller cast than most RPGs enables memorable characters and character design and the monsters are nicely animated throughout. The city itself, a key element of the game and where much of it is spent, manages to feel alive and real whilst being architecturally interesting. Menus and the HUD are easy to read at a glance and well implemented, especially given the quick-glance approach many have to take with more action orientated games in this style. Character models alter throughout the game to show clothing changes and weapon augments, making for a broad range of looks for every character.
Sound design is beautiful. Everything that the game loses in graphical power it makes up for with a score that is truly brilliant and brings the artist ‘Clannard’ to mind. A full range of instruments of different kinds and from multiple cultures are put together to create an interesting take on the usual fantasy score and add layers of fairytale sub-tone that would otherwise be lacking. Sound effects are clean and precise, some ringing louder than others but largely all excellent. The localisation of this title gets special attention because the voice acting is near flawless. A big shoutout goes to a character named Lowell who, having a Welsh name, is played with a genuine Welsh accent rather than an American interpretation of one. He’s witty, funny and charming all at once.
Story is the games biggest strong point. It focuses tightly on a band of mercenaries who are with you from the outset, side-stepping the need to introduce them all at different stages in the narrative and allowing you to get to know them all intimately before the half-way mark. Focused on our protagonist, Zael, who accidentally becomes the host for an ancient power called the Outsider that takes the group from a small-time enterprise into the big leagues. Zael and his best friend Dagran grew up on the streets and promised each other they’d become knights one day, a drive that forwards much of the games early outings. Under their small banner you’ll also meet Lowell, Syrenne, Yurick and Mirania who each have their own strong personalities and bring something unique to the team mechanic. Syrenne stands out as the games biggest damage dealer and duel-wielding swordswoman who occupies the usually male orientated ‘tank’ role with style. Things go from bad to worse when Zael falls for a runnaway princess, and when Lazulis Island begins to become a war zone. I won’t spoil any more than that here, but suffice to say that the game manages to make you enjoy your experience of Lazulis Island in a manner that Dragon Age II failed to do for many with Kirkwall and never repeats assets in that manner, turning it into a playground for some rich writing and deep characterization. It also lives up to its name, with the Last Story feeling like a true one-shot outing for the cast.
whilst the writing and story are good, gameplay is fantastic. Navigating the games environments with a wii-mote and chuck feels smooth as silk, with buttons allocated for sliding around, under and over terrain to give a freedom of 3D movement missing in many games. Navigating the arena of any battle or even town is a pleasure and feels perfectly executed, with the player able to go first-person to inspect things in more detail at any time. Combat is similarly well done with a cover mechanic and the use of environments for tactical reasons, turning each battle into an event. Simply running toward an enemy is enough to generate an automated basic attack, and as long as you keep forward pressed you’ll keep attacking, but additional layers of components such as setting up elemental circles which stack (healing and elemental damage areas among others) leaping from terrain to deliver critical damage and using the power of the Outsider all combine into an experience unlike any other. Characters, gear and spells all level up with you and you can augment almost anything to better suit your play style. Monster parties think tactically and turn some battles into true encounters. An interesting addition is the idea that all the games characters can die up to 5 times in a battle before it sticks, making party resurrection and tracking less of an issue and encouraging you to try more dangerous strategies. Some points in the game provide summoning circles where battles can be voluntarily spawned to grind experience to your hearts content, and the whole game has a mission style structure that enables the hub city to shine. Additional content in the form of an arena in which to test yourself and an online mode where four players can hammer boss encounters as a team to grind for rare items (used in weapon or gear synthesis) only add to the joy. It’s a game unlike any other.
Overall there’s a fantastic experience to be found in the Last Story. The game makes the most of what the Wii can do and manages to produce a near flawless control scheme on a wii-mote and nun-chuck coupling which feels natural. The characters are memorable and the voice acting is top notch. Sadly the online experience is offline now that Nintendo has shut down all of the Wii servers, but what remains is a powerfully written and enacted experience for solo play. Hopefully a remake in HD is on the cards one day in the future, but for those looking for a little extra Last Story hit keep your eyes on Terra Battle, which recently featured an excellent visual novel experience in a fully written special quest. More please Mistwalker!