Posted on August 14, 2012 AT 05:21pm
An enjoyable RPG—but we expect far more from Sakaguchi
It’s somehow appropriate that, for all intents and purposes, the Japanese RPG begins and ends in North America this generation with Hironobu Sakaguchi. After all, it was Sakaguchi who introduced most of us to Japanese role-playing with the Final Fantasy series. And it was Sakaguchi who started the genre off on a shaky note this generation with Blue Dragon, a kiddie, half-baked Dragon Quest knockoff that, in retrospect, really epitomized the struggles JRPGs had in finding their footing on the PS3, 360, and Wii. Thankfully, the father of Final Fantasy later made up for that disappointment with the excellent Lost Odyssey, still considered by many to be one of the top Japanese RPGs of the past five years.
From all reports, The Last Story was to be the pinnacle of Sakaguchi’s Mistwalker creations—a grand, soaring epic that would take the Japanese RPG out in style this generation. Rave reviews from overseas in Japan and Europe seemed to confirm this, as did the grass-roots Operation Rainfall campaign that pushed for Nintendo of America to release the game—along with Xenoblade Chronicles and Pandora’s Tower—in the North American market. For longtime Final Fantasy fans who felt betrayed by the subpar Final Fantasy XIII, The Last Story was to be our just reward. After all, just look at the title—a clever homage to Sakaguchi’s former franchise. This was the Final Fantasy XIII that Sakaguchi himself would have created!
…Or so the narrative went. In reality, the anticipation and hype surrounding The Last Story comes off as a classic case of idealization. The game’s certainly enjoyable—and indeed a vast improvement on Final Fantasy XIII—but it doesn’t expand on Lost Odyssey’s potential, or any of Sakaguchi’s other brilliant creations from over the years, for that matter. It’s simply a competent RPG with familiar tropes and predictable storytelling.
Thankfully, Nintendo of Europe’s British “localisation” (unaltered by North American publisher XSEED) does everything it can to liven up the proceedings—and the ragtag band of “mercenries” at the center (centre?) of it all. Unfortunately, protagonist Zael is also the least-interesting merc by far—and the fact that he sounds a bit like the villainous Joffrey from Game of Thrones doesn’t help matters. The rest of the crew makes up for it, though, particularly Syrenne, a booze-loving tomboy with some sort of Northern English inflection (apparently a Lancashire accent, but don’t quote me on that!) and Lowell, a womanizer with a Scottish brogue. So, while you won’t be shocked or fooled by any of the game’s alleged “plot twists,” at least you’ll greatly enjoy listening to the characters talk about them.
For those who’d expect a Sakaguchi epic to include a ton of exploration, you might be disappointed in The Last Story. The game revolves around a central hub city, and while you’ll set off to varied locales on story missions, you can’t freely explore the game’s world on your own terms. It doesn’t ruin the experience, but it’s a bit of a disappointment to see such linearity, particularly given the games that thrived on this element in Sakaguchi’s past.
The one area The Last Story does strive for innovation is in the battle system, which aims to blend real-time strategy elements with action-RPG controls. At the beginning of most crucial fights, you’re given an overview of enemy positioning, Fire Emblem–style, so that you can plan your strategy appropriately. In theory, anyway. In practice, due to gung-ho AI allies, any grand scheme you’ve cooked up often gets thrown out the window. It’s telling that the near-decade-old game I just reviewed a couple of weeks ago—Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time—handles a similar battle system in far better fashion. Still, I can’t compliment The Last Story enough for actually including the option to auto-equip the best possible weapons on your party—a seemingly basic RPG design philosophy that’s bizarrely become all too rare in recent years.
In the end, my biggest issue with The Last Story is that almost nothing—sans perhaps Syrenne’s characterization—really stands out as excellent or exceedingly memorable. After all, even disappointments like Blue Dragon had “Eternity,” the gloriously cheesy boss-battle anthem sung with earnest conviction by Deep Purple frontman Ian Gillan. Even the great Nobuo Uematsu’s compositions feel slightly subdued here. The Last Story is a solid RPG experience, but I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling throughout that it should have been so much more, particularly with the pedigree of the people involved.
SUMMARY: While The Last Story is a solid offering from Japanese RPG legend Hironobu Sakaguchi, the boilerplate storytelling, familiar tropes, and lack of meaningful exploration make it feel like it could have been so much more.
- THE GOOD: Combat tries something different—and mostly succeeds; varied missions; outstanding British voice actors.
THE BAD: Nothing in the story shocks or intrigues; little opportunity for exploration.
- THE UGLY: Drunkard merc Syrenne’s blood alcohol level.
The Last Story is a Wii exclusive.
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