Friday, November 2, 2012

Game Review: The Last Story (Wii)

The Last Story has a terrific soundtrack, boring characters, fun gameplay, and a derivative story. A veteran JRPGer can breeze through this game in under 24 hours, maybe with some reloading of saves due to a surprise learning curve during boss fights, especially toward the end. Overall, this game disappointed me.

As background, The Last Story mainly takes place on Lazulis Island, known as a shield for the Empire because of its Lazulis Cannon. You know what they say: the best defense is a gigantic high-tech cannon! Your player, Zael, and his fellow mercenaries have been hired by Count Arganan, ruler of the island, to investigate a cave and wipe out lizard-people in the process. The leader of the group, Dagran, takes the job hoping to gain the Count’s approval and eventually have everyone raised as knights. Meanwhile, Zael flips out in the cave and receives a mark on his hand that attracts enemies and also heals downed allies. Later, he meets a mysterious girl hiding in a cart, falls for her, then finds out she’s the Count’s niece. Let the adventures begin!

The excruciating predictability of the plot appalled me. The stereotypical characters and their cliched speeches added to the pain. I called out every single story development, with one exception: one guy I expected to fight just croaked. Oh, well! Everything else telegraphed itself -- the villain monologues about awful humans, the hero speeches about just wanting peace, the identity of the real Big Bad, the noblewoman getting kidnapped, and so on.

I understand that taking elements from tried-and-true games and adding a unique twist to them can help create a masterpiece. The Last Story is not a masterpiece. Look, if you want a JRPG where...

...the villain is a large humanoid monster and you fight him in a place with a dramatic reflective surface -- play Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

...the decline of nature serves as a major theme -- play Secret of Mana.

...the princess can actually fight well beside you -- play Chrono Trigger. run around in dungeons wearing scandalous and impractical battle outfits -- play Vagrant Story.

...the main character is a pretty, androgynous young man -- play any Final Fantasy game from VII onward. XIII counts because Lightning is super manly.

...the reveal of the true antagonist genuinely surprises and has emotional impact -- play Ys Seven.

...your mind gets blown by the sheer epic scale of it all -- play Xenoblade Chronicles.

You get the idea. All the games listed above are superior to The Last Story.

That said, I did enjoy the gameplay. Highlights include the easy sidequests and the combat system. For example, I love that Zael can duck behind things and unleash a powerful slash at unsuspecting foes. Also, being able to  issue commands to allies, and diffuse spell circles, in the heat of battle saved my neck plenty of times. Sometimes the battlefield blazes up in all sorts of colors because of the spells flying around, obscuring everyone else, but running away from the action usually works in those instances. I’m a fan of the level up visuals, as well.

The Last Story takes place in a contained world that boasts the best graphics the Wii can offer. Lazulis Town offers fun exploration time, thanks to the mini-map and the rewards waiting for curious players. As for the Arena, it’s a good place to get some EXP and cash. To upgrade to the truly beastly weapons, you need rare items, which can be acquired in dungeons and the debris floating around town, if you’re fast enough. The color palette in the dungeons can get dark, so I compensated by having all my characters wear the same shade of hot pink.

The only other quibble I have with the graphics has to do with the scripts for Zael’s and Calista’s movements -- 1) why does Calista always have her arms in an “X” over her chest, which makes her look like a vampire with a muscle condition, and 2) why does Zael walk like an exhausted penguin?


Finally, the soundtrack by Nobuo Uematsu rocks. All the scores play in the background as a complement to whatever happens on screen. My copy of the game came with a bonus CD, featuring the tracks “toberu mono” (Things that Fly), “shikoshima kedamono” (Wicked Beast), “kizuna” (Bonds), “machi no onshoku” (The Timbre of the Town), “yorokobi no koe ga kikoeru” (I Can Hear Happy Voices), “chitsujo to konton to” (Order and Chaos), and the main theme. I especially like “machi no onshoku,” which uses wind instruments and the harp to convey a wary peacefulness, as though something dark lurked beneath the surface of the everyday.

I recommend this game for newcomers to the genre. Look elsewhere if you’re an experienced JRPGer. The lame plot will have you pulling out your hair, as your mind fondly wanders back to the time when you played the classics -- Chrono Trigger, Tales of Phantasia, Breath of Fire II, Legend of Legaia, Xenogears -- and the story elements were new and exciting. You may also be unable to restrain yourself when a certain nobleman appears onscreen and reminds you very strongly of a psycho in FFVI. He’s got the perfect theme music, though. Again, props to Uematsu-sensei.

Bottom line: A light snack of a JRPG. May satisfy some.