The Last Story Review

Developer: Mistwalker, Artoon

Publisher: Nintendo (US: Xseed Games)

Console: Wii

Players: 1 (offline) / 2-6 (online - multiplayer only modes, you can’t invite players to join you in the single-player campaign)

Rating:

  • ESRB: T
  • PEGI: 16+
  • OFLC: M
  • CERO: B

Release Date:

  • US: August 14, 2012
  • Europe: February 24, 2012
  • Australia: February 23, 2012
  • Japan: January 27, 2011

Genre: Action RPG

-Greg Livingston

The Last Story hops right into the action. I like that.

It’s the closest I’ve seen to an action tactical RPG. Now, I’m not big on RPGs, and I’m a Wii owner, so my knowledge of contemporary RPGs is vicarious at best. However, I can say this for sure: when The Last Story takes modern shooter mechanics (read: cover system) and combines them with an action RPG, somehow you end up with a game that plays like a tactical RPG, only in real time.

For instance, before each skirmish, you’ll get an overhead view while everything stays still. This was helpful before one particular battle of the first chapter. Using the overhead view, I studied the upcoming enemy formation: one healer surrounded by grunts.

This isn’t the battle I’m talking about, but it does give you an idea of the overhead preview you get before each fight.

If I decided to charge straight ahead, I’d meet the grunts head on. I could handle them easily, but the problem was that healer. He could heal them from his protected position behind a line of grunts. The front line would constantly get healed, and I’d never break through their formation.

Again—not the same battle, but it does give you an idea of what it looks like to use the crossbow.

The smarter option was to sneak around the side of their formation, using cover to remain hidden. Luckily, the enemy party hadn’t seen my party in hiding. So, I tip-toed behind cover until I found a good location for sniping the healer with my crossbow. I fired a shot, all but killing him, and all hell broke loose as the enemy party realized I was invading their personal space.

Finally, here’s your standard combat view.

Bear in mind that all of this happened in real time. If just one enemy saw me, the jig was up, and I’d have to throw down then and there. You won’t need to be a combo master to enjoy this game—striking enemies will happen automatically just by walking up against them—but all of your decisions will need to happen on the fly. If you screw up, the pause menu lets you restart from the last checkpoint save, which is often just before current battle started.

Anyway, the same formation that seemed so advantageous to my enemies was now their downfall. Once I killed the healer, I was planted right in the middle, able to strike their back line of troops. Meanwhile, the three other members of my party rushed up to meet me and took out the front line. The battle was clean and quick.

That’s The Last Story on a good day.

Often, it’s content to let you pound on enemies mindlessly until they go away. This is especially true after you learn the Command technique.

Using Command, you can freeze combat in order to give your party members orders. They can retreat, temporarily increase attack power, and other things, but the most interesting use is telling mages where to cast their magic.

When a spell is cast, it leaves a circle of effect on the floor for a period of time. If a healing spell is cast, you can stand inside the circle to heal, and your party members will retreat to that location. If an attack spell is cast, like fire or ice, that will leave a circle, too. Stand inside the circle, and your weapon will be imbued with that element. Enemies can’t take advantage of this, but they can create their own effect circles.

This here is a fire circle.

In theory, this is a great way to add to the tactical edge of the game. If you can choose where to plant these circles, you can potentially juxtapose them in interesting ways and set up traps for enemies.

As a side note, there’s other tactically-minded techniques in this game, too. For instance, the Gathering attracts enemies to you and allows you to lure them into traps. These tactical abilities are balanced by action-oriented moves, like the dodge roll and parry.

Regardless, back to the bit about telling mages where to cast spells. In practice, I often ended up focusing my party’s magic skills on the biggest group of enemies, then just wailing away at it until everything was dead.

In The Last Story’s defense, there is potential for strategy. If you use your noggin and take advantage of the landscape, battles can go quickly. On the other hand, if you don’t have a noggin, you can weather the battle. In a sense, this is just The Last Story being lenient.

Speaking of leniency, you’ll come across optional grinding locations, too. Occasionally, you’ll come across a red circle, which allows you to summon more enemies for the sake of finding loot and earning more levelups. Grinding is by no means necessary, but if you dig it, it’s there, and it will make the game easier.

Every now and then, you’ll also come across gimmick fights which throw in another aspect of strategy. Maybe you can use magic to knock over a pillar and kill a squad of enemies. Or, maybe you need a spellcaster to blow open a temporary hole in a magical shield, allowing you to shoot at the shield-generating mage through the hole. Battles like these are rare, but they do a good job of spicing up the gameplay without straying too far from its roots.

In fact, even within the normal bounds of gameplay, the game explores a good range of ground. Just for example, some battles can only be won by stealth, and in others, stealth is completely irrelevant. At the risk of presenting a less refined product, The Last Story experiments with its combat a great deal.

When you put it that way, the game’s content fits how the game is played. The Last Story provides a variety of combat situations where any number of skills may be irrelevant, crucial, or somewhere in between. In response, it allows for a variety of player approaches; the smart, tactical player, the shallow-minded brute force player, and the laid-back “I want to grind” gamer all have something to find here.

And that’s The Last Story. Unless I’m forgetting something…

Maybe this will jog your memory?

Oh, there are RPG elements, too.

As you may have guessed when I mentioned grinding, there’s a standard experience system in play. You gain more HP and good stuff like that by earning enough experience points to level up, and experience points come with the death of your foes. You rarely revisit an old area without newer and tougher enemies spawning, though, so level ups are mostly a way to make the game easier on yourself (as opposed to making retraversal of old areas easier). If you are interested in extra experience, there are the aforementioned grinding spots, but there are also optional chapters with nuggets of combat.

In addition, you can buy armor and weapons. Most of the time, I focused on upgrading what I already had. Some pieces come with special effects, which allow for more customization of your strategies, even if they aren’t very imaginative. This sword deals extra damage to spiders, or this armor gives extra protection from magic.

Don’t expect much in the way of exploration, though. There’s only one town in the entire game. It’s big, and you can interact with plenty of townsfolk, but still—it’s the only one you’ll see in the entire game. Battle arenas are reused, too; I can’t tell you how many times I fought in the castle courtyard. That said, you’d be surprised how different multiple encounters in one location can be; there is a lot of variation to be squeezed from this battle system.

And combat is really what The Last Story is about, anyway.

Pros:

  • Fun and accessible combat system: an action RPG with a tactical edge.
  • If you don’t have much patience with RPGs, this may be for you. Non-battle sequences, such as town excursions, are small bits meant to give you a breather between dungeon killfests.
  • If you dig RPGs, there are sidequests to complete and people to see. It’s easy to get pleasantly lost in town. There are also (skippable) cutscenes aplenty.
  • Multiple ways to handle most battles.
  • Battles have a good sense of variety to them. Even if you fight very similar battles twice or thrice in a row, an interesting one is right around the corner.
  • Optional chapters provide more content if you go a little out of your way.

Cons:

  • There’s a wide range of battles, leaving room for refinement.
  • Zael’s not a master marksman, so he can’t walk around while aiming his crossbow. But that’s the point anyway, and it’s crucial to balancing the gameplay, so really, it’s silly to list this as a con.
  • If you need a game to punish you before you play well, you won’t find punishment here.
  • Forgettable story.

Verdict: 75%

This game has interesting things to say, even if the final product could be refined.

Purchased new in 2012 at $49.99.

I’m satisfied with that price. It’s easy to get into the habit of saying, “this is a good game for the Wii,” but this isn’t a good RPG so far as Wii RPGs go. This is a good RPG, plain and simple.