Review by Archmonk Iga

"A remarkable RPG that takes its sweet time to flaunt its brilliance."

The Last Story does not exactly have “humble beginnings.” Directed by Hironobu Sakaguchi, the man behind the first twelve Final Fantasies (among other RPGs), and his Mistwalker studio (Lost Odyssey, Blue Dragon), expectations for this unusual Wii RPG were notably high. So it is difficult for me to admit how strongly I disliked it as I put my first few hours in. I thought, above all else, it was ugly. I thought the storyline and main character felt devoid of any substance. I thought the battle system was incredibly easy despite the hard-to-follow tutorials. Not even ten hours in, however, I was hooked. All that said, it is a good example of an “ugly duckling.” It has a rough start but, given time, blooms into a true masterpiece of an RPG.

STORY:
Throughout The Last Story, Sakaguchi fans will see many allusions to the Final Fantasy series. Unlike any Final Fantasy, however, The Last Story does not start off with a bang. You play as Zael, an orphan who was taken under the wing of Dagran, a mercenary. The two have seen a lot of hard times together, and have most recently gotten their foot in the door with the island of Lazulis. We begin with Zael and Dagran clearing out a nest of reptids—just another day on the job. At one point, however, Zael encounters a strange being and is granted an unusual power—that of the “Outsider.” He now has a mark on his hand and can use its mysterious force to aid him and his allies in battle.

It takes awhile for anything exciting to happen with the main storyline. In the beginning there are some interesting character-based missions and some mundane side jobs; though the entire time this mystery involving Lazulis and the Outsider will be weighing on your mind. But when it finally picks up and the answers lead to more questions, you will most certainly be hooked. Lazulis Island holds so many secrets that even its own royal subjects do not know about, and witnessing the modest Zael uncover them all as you play through the game is pretty amazing.

The best part of the story involves Zael and his close-knit group of friends. Our hero may have bored me at first, but his good nature and lofty dream to become a knight is what pushes you forward more than anything. Dagran is a strong-willed leader who is frustrated by the negative reputation the island gives him and his mercenaries. Lady Calista is a young noble who is tied down to Lazulis by her lineage despite her wish to explore the world. Yurick is an introvert with very strong magical powers and a resistance to open up to his teammates. Mirania is an oddly gluttonous woman who will do whatever it takes to end the land's decay. Syrenne, my personal favorite, is an obnoxious drunkard with a harsh mouth but a heart of gold. Lowell is a sarcastic ladies man whose good looks are only matched by his confidence. The bond these heroes hold throughout the entire game is what drives us to keep playing, and that drive is only made stronger by the brilliant characterization of the villains.

What's also impressive is how the game's dark themes are countered by a fantastic sense of humor. The outrageous laugh erupted from the Knights' Captain, the inebriated arguments between Syrenne and Lowell, the disquieting rumble of Mirania's stomach during an important mission, and the various one-liners from shopkeeper Horace are only a few of the notable moments that will no doubt have you laughing out loud.

The Last Story takes its time to find footing in a true plot, but its charm, heavy motifs and lovable cast exude the confidence that Mistwalker had during its development. It is hard to find something that special in a videogame these days, but The Last Story pulls it off.
STORY: 8/10

GRAPHICS:
The theme of this review seems to be “good things come to those who wait,” and this section is no exception. Your first mission takes place in a dark, dingy cave, which will likely not give you a good first impression of the sights you will see during the remainder of the game. I was unimpressed with the city of Lazulis as well, with its dirty browns and beiges taking up every street and wall. Many more of the early missions are set in ugly caverns like the first one, so The Last Story did not seem to make it a point to push the Wii's limitations.

But again, keep playing and you will see what this game can really do. Lazulis Castle is enormous, with beautifully polished tile flooring and intricate architecture etched into the immense columns holding up its roof. Many later levels are brilliant in their artistic design and exude a very fitting sense of wonder from both you and the characters themselves. Your characters may not be too impressive by Wii standards, but as you upgrade your equipment and obtain special dyes, you can design their outfits to your liking, giving them even more personality than they had already. Weapons also have some cool looks as they are made stronger. There is a sort of “safe zone” that The Last Story's visuals stay in, but there are times when you will genuinely be impressed.

Still, aside from the general “dirty” look of many of the areas, there are worse problems that bring down The Last Story's otherwise satisfactory aesthetic. There is quite a bit of slowdown throughout the game, whether or not you are currently engaged in a busy battle. In addition, to truly appreciate the graphical power that this game can show off, I recommend going into the Settings menu to increase the brightness—the default setting makes many areas look even more begrimed than they should.

Compared to many other Wii titles, The Last Story won't exactly wow you in its visual department. But with time, there will be moments when you choose to pause for a moment to take everything in.
GRAPHICS: 6.5/10

SOUNDS:
An exception to the “good things come to those who wait” tag, The Last Story's audio is immaculate RPG-fare. The soundtrack, composed and produced almost solely by the famed Nobuo Uematsu, impresses you before you even start the game with the lonely violin track that plays on your Wii's home menu. It only grows on you from there, with composition ranging from quaint piano ballads to furious bass drum booms during the more intense moments. Voice acting is fitted to every character with a respectable level of professionalism and is believable with varying accents from different regions of the United Kingdom. What impressed me most, however, was the general ambiance of every locale. Lazulis City boasts a thriving marketplace and a dense population, so you will hear the white noise of commerce and chatter around every street corner. Caverns exude eerie echoes of dripping water and footsteps, and outdoor environments house birds chirping and rustling leaves. The Last Story is a truly beautiful sounding game no matter the situation.
SOUNDS: 10/10

GAMEPLAY:
Returning to our “humble beginnings” motif, gameplay in The Last Story may initially fail to impress players. With a few shoddy tutorials thrown at you early on, the game's battle system and main hub area have some trouble drawing you in as Zael begins his adventure on Lazulis. As you put more hours into the game and become more immersed in the surroundings and main cast, however, The Last Story's boundless structure will quickly have you wrapped around its finger.

The city of Lazulis and its castle act as the main hubs of The Last Story. In these enormous areas there are sidejobs to take up, optional chapters to find, shops, and secrets to be found. It's a great place to take a break from the main storyline, while in the meantime you still feel like you're accomplishing something. What is interesting here is that nothing seems forced or tacked on—sure, a baker may ask you to bring her some ingredients, but the task itself is so easy and the reward so minimal that forgetting about it altogether is no big deal. There is also the arena, where you can hone your team's battle skills and rake in a few little bonuses at the same time.

The real meat of The Last Story's gameplay comes in its exceptional combat system. Battling in real-time has never been so much fun in an RPG. Most of the time you control Zael, with your teammates being controlled by some very intelligent AI. One of the coolest features is with Zael's new power of the Outsider. By initiating this power, enemies will slow down and immediately turn their attention away from any teammates and focus on Zael. In the beginning, most of the time you will use the Outsider's power simply because you want to—the battles are ridiculously easy for the first chunk of the game. Later on, many battles will essentially require it. Aside from using his new power, Zael is a skilled warrior capable of wielding both a blade and a crossbow. Using your sword is admittedly more fun, but there will definitely be moments where you'll be thankful for the long-ranged weapon.

Though Dagran is the leader of the mercenaries, it is up to Zael to command his allies to win battles. Characters are generally either magic experts or combat experts, and everyone comes with their own skillset. With the ability to issue commands to everyone, various tactics come into play for all kinds of scenarios. Magic attacks are powerful, and leave a circle that can add their respective element to Zael's weapon if he is standing inside them. He can also diffuse the circles to various effects such as protective barriers.

When you integrate the limitless customization of your equipment into battles, your only disappointment is that they don't last long enough. Boss fights are challenging and require some serious thought and patience, and even the normal battles later on in the game are pure enjoyment. The whole “stealth” addition ends up being nothing more than complimentary though, since it's way more fun to go in with swords swinging.

The Last Story also boasts online multiplayer, which actually works quite well. There is a deathmatch mode that pits you against other players and a co-op mode where you can fight a random boss from the main game. The maps are all from the main quest and the entire thing runs surprisingly well. If your New Game + still doesn't satisfy your need for The Last Story, then its well-built multiplayer certainly will.

The combat is truly what makes The Last Story so much fun to play. Despite the graphical slowdown that occurs throughout the game and an odd lack of normal enemy variety, you will always look forward to the next battle.
GAMEPLAY: 8.5/10

REPLAY VALUE:
Your first playthrough of The Last Story shouldn't take more than 30 hours, though there is still plenty to do even after the final battle. There is also a New Game + option that would have been perfect if much of the game wasn't so easy to begin with. Finally, there is good reason to put some time into multiplayer, with unlockable rewards and a chance to climb the ranks as you play with and against other players. The Last Story may not consume hundreds of hours like many RPGs out there today, but its staying power is still strong in its own ways.
REPLAY VALUE: 8/10

OVERALL:
The Last Story ends up being one of the last great RPGs to come out this generation. It has a lot to offer even though at first that may not seem to be the case. The cast is exceptional, the world is interesting, the combat is a blast, and the amount of content is impressive. RPG fans should not pass up this unforgettable adventure.
OVERALL: 8.6/10


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 03/12/12

Game Release: The Last Story (EU, 02/24/12)


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