After all this time waiting, the inevitable questions arise: does The Last Story deliver? Xenoblade Chronicles has also been released to wide critical acclaim. Does The Last Story stack up to it? My answers are these: absolutely, and it doesn’t matter. The Last Story is a fantastic game in its own right, and a bold new direction for JRPGs that can be equally valid as Xenoblade’s, depending on your RPG preferences.
-Visuals and Audio-
The first thing you will notice when you play this game is the amazing music. Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu has taken a different approach with this game, however: whereas Final Fantasy games were known for their dinstinct hummable, memorable pieces, The Last Story is much more dynamic, sometimes eschewing the music in favor of ambient sounds, other times punctuating the action with variations in the instrumentation. The music of the city of Lazulis, in particular, does a fantastic job of defining and later redefining the current mood of its population (and the protagonist). The sound design itself is impressive, allowing you to really take notice of the numerous actions happening in the city of Lazulis, such as salesmen shouting their bargains, the crowds’ loud chatter, the workers doing repairs on houses, among others. In addition, the voice acting is handled remarkably well (especially considering this is an RPG), though the lead character could have certainly had a stronger showing. Even so, the rest of the main cast has excellent voice work, and this becomes especially apparent in the game’s many optional conversations, particularly the ones that occur in real-time as you move through dungeons or other such event locations.
Visually, the game also holds up remarkably well. It’s biggest flaws are the occasionally stuttering framerate and perhaps the very heavy use of bloom lightning, but in terms of artistic direction the game looks incredible. Though it may seem like a typical brown/gray filter game in screenshots, in reality the game works excellently with whatever color scheme each area necessitates: a washed out gray for the poor, oppressed city, and a vibrant mixture of primary colors in the castle, where the nobles gather. In addition, the architecture of the game’s many locales is truly a thing to behold: you will reside in a city heavily influenced by gothic architecture, travel through caves, cliffsides, lakes, lush jungles, volcanic caverns, ancient ruins, cosmic parallel dimensions, and more. The last area of the game is particularly mind-warping, making use of some truly ridiculous architectural design. I am aware that practically every JRPG has an area that is meant to be otherwordly or aethereal (especially Final Fantasy games, which Sakaguchi created and worked on for a long time), but this game truly takes that paradigm to a new level, and it is glorious.
The Last Story doesn’t tell a particularly unique story by any stretch of the imagination. The way it tells it, however, is an entirely different thing. While the tale about the lowly nobody who dreams of becoming a Knight has been told at least a million times already, there has been no game, to this date, that I can honestly say has done it as well as The Last Story. The plot progression is relatively simple: you are a nobody, and you want to become a knight. You meet a woman, and she turns out to be much more important than you imagined. There are corrupt political figures, some betray each other, and others join you in your quest to make things right. Character motivations change, the political landscape changes, the enemy itself changes…it’s all fairly common stuff. The real gold nugget here is the way the game motivates you, the player, to play your part in the story.
Simply taking a stroll through the city of Lazulis will give you an incredibly believable view of life in this virtual world, and you will get attached to its population. You will see fighting couples, tired elderly with stories of their youth, merchants struggling to make a living, gossipping wives, homeless folk, and other gung-ho young men also aspiring to become knights. It is all very relatable, and very humane. Similarly, you will notice the tremendous contrast between the rich and the poor, the unjust and the righteous, and the greedy and the generous, and you will want to something about it. In addition, the game also gives you support characters with fairly complex personalities. I think it is quite telling that, upon a second playthrough of the game, the characters all feel like they are the same, deep within, as the ones they are in the end of the game. This is not to say that character development isn’t there because it truly is, but rather to note how strong the base personality of these characters is.
The one thing that really bothered my about the story is a twist very late in the game, in which a certain character’s motivations are blown out of proportion and end up harming the rest of the story. It’s one of the few times in which, as I jokingly thought to myself, the game went into Kojima territory, and I certainly wish it hadn’t done so. Still, the last impression I had of the main plot progression was largely positive.
The game controls fairly serviceable for an RPG. During normal travel, your character handles smoothly and precisely. I only point this out because I am now playing Mass Effect 3, and I find it extremely surprising how clunky movement is in that game – this is not so for The Last Story. In combat, the controls can become somewhat complicated. You will have to attack, roll, get in and out of cover, move around the field to get a tactical advantage or avoid attacks, activate skills, use your crossbow to shoot special arrows, and command your partners to use certain skills on certain enemies. It really plays a lot like the Mass Effect franchise, except with a heavy focus on sword slashing instead of gun toting. Additionally, camera control can be a little annoying if you are playing with a Nunchuk+Wiimote, but using a Classic Controller (Pro) makes it much better.
It’s definitely a unique beast, though it actually has many similarities with the Mass Effect games, save for the shooting. You reside mainly on a central, huge city called Lazulis, where you can talk to a ton of people, help them out with several errands or personal problems, play merchant by buying produce on sale and selling at a high price, customize your gear and appearance, fight at the arena, and generally explore the nooks and crannies of its back alleys for little stat boosts. From there, advancing the story will take to new, linear areas that really serve no purpose other than to put you through some battles and advance the story, sometimes for hours at a time before you are allowed to return to the city.
At a larger degree, I can say that this game almost completely does away with filler. Practically every single quest you take, whether it is a main quest or a side quest, does a good job of either pushing the story forward or portraying some character development. You will revisit a few event areas, but even then you are eventually led to new areas that were not accessible before, so for the most part you will keep seeing new environments as the game progresses. Even the city of Lazulis undergoes its changes, allowing you to feel the plot progression in the gameplay itself – something I hadn’t seen used so well since Final Fantasy 6 (3 in North America) and now in Mass Effect 3 and The Last Story.
Ultimately, it is a definite push forward for the JRPG genre, though in a totally different direction than a certain other revolutionary JRPG by the name of Xenoblade does. Personally, I find both approaches valid and worth pursuing, but that is a topic for another article.
It took me about 30 hours just to finish the game, but the gameplay counter doesn’t seem to take into account the time spent watching cutscenes or pre-scripted dialogue sequences, so my guess is the total time I spent playing the game came closer to 35 hours. Now, we’re going to get into someSPOILER territory here, so please avoid it as much as possible if you don’t want to find out things youshouldn’t find out.
After you’re done with your main quest, you will go into an “epilogue” chapter. This essentially serves as post-game content, allowing you to explore the city at your leisure, complete sidequests and run errands for people. Because the city will be very different at this point from how it is earlier in the game, you will also be able to complete multiple new sidequests, most of which help bring a sense of closure to several of the game’s plot threads, including some character developments. What’s more, you will also be able to re-visit certain dungeons to find new items and tougher monsters. Furthermore, once you finally decide to go and see the very last story of the game, you will get the option to play through a new game+ of sorts, keeping your current level and equipment. However, the only difference I’ve noted so far is the addition of new items (presumably for new weapons and armor) and a higher difficulty for the bosses (normal enemies seem to stay at the same level they were on the first playthrough). It’s not a big deal, but if you enjoyed the game’s combat and general level progression as much as I did then this is a good enough excuse to play the game yet again.
In the end, The Last Story is very much still a niche title. It is a role-playing game that doesn’t adhere to Western or Japanese standards, and an extremely good one at that. While the comparison to the critically acclaimed Xenoblade Chronicles are inevitable, I believe it is necessary to understand that both games go in completely different directions with a purpose: That Last Story’s creator Hironobu Sakaguchi has pursued meaningful character development since the SNES days of Final Fantasy, while Xenoblade Chronicles’ director Tetsuya Takahashi split from Squaresoft precisely because he believe it was the world that deserved a bigger focus. This is evident in the way these games turned out: The Last Story is a tale about some characters, while Xenoblade is a tale about a world, and all the gameplay paradigms that go with such a way of thinking.
In that fashion, I heavily appreciate nearly everything that was done with the Last Story, and though I am inclined to give it a ridiculous score like 11/10 because of how much the game appealed to me, I understand it is not the kind of game absolutely everyone can love, even among RPG fans. However, I do think it is the kind of game every serious gamer should try, so I still feel justified in giving it a high score.
+ Lazulis city is one of the best cities ever made in any game. The interaction possible with its citizens (bumping int o them, making them slip with bananas and oranges, dazzling them with fireworks) is very satisfying and adds a whole layer of reality to the game.
+ The combat system is fun enough to last the 30 or so hours of gameplay, and then more.
+ Though the story is simple, it is executed very well, and the cast of characters is very strong for the most part.
– The story suffers a little because of one particular character with strange and rather nonsensical motivations.
– The game could definitely be more difficult all throughout. As it stands, learning the combat system to its full potential makes the game very easy, and the only satisfying difficulty spike is near the very end of the game.
Finally, there are also arena and co-op online modes, which I unfortunately didn’t get to try. Our resident artist, Hjort, did play it however, so look for his impressions in the Second Opinion in page 2
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