Last but not Final
Whenever someone talks about the end of JRPGs, I think of two counter arguments: the first is the Persona series, and the second is Mistwalker and Hironobu Sakaguchi. Mistwalker's last outing, Lost Odyssey, was a brilliant JRPG in the vein of Final Fantasy with a great story and addictive combat. Now, their latest game, The Last Story for the Nintendo Wii, looks to continue the formula, or perhaps reshape it in a combination of the old and new.
The Last Story already gets huge points by emphasizing the story, as is indicated in the title. The Empire has been ravaged by war. Lazulis Island stands as a beacon of hope against the tides of destruction. Ruled by Count Arganan, he enlists the help of a group of mercenaries to help the Empire survive. The main character is Zael, part of the mercenaries group, aspiring to knighthood, hoping to escape his tragic past. On a mission to wipe out an infestation of Reptids, Syrenne, a female cohort, gets mortally shot by an arrow. Zael has a flashback to his dying mother and recalls cinders and flames. Enraged perhaps, or driven by desperation, a mysterious force called the Outsider comes to his aid. She too is "Filled with loneliness and sorrow" and grants a strange power in the form of a glowing light that lets Zael cure Syrenne and vanquish his foes.
As the story progresses, a conflicted Princess joins them, and the group finds out much more is at stake, including the fate of the world. While that sounds like common fare in JRPGs, in this case, character interactions and political intricacies make for a plot filled with texture and nuance. Even if it is the Last Story, there are hundreds more intertwined with a multitude of side quests. Mistwalker chose a Medieval theme with fantasy elements, rather than incorporating science fiction or steam punk elements. This is reflected in the geography and architecture, which is a sprawling landscape drawn straight from the past. Facing off against Zanguark, the ruler of the Gurak, the story and the world in which it takes place should be nothing short of epic.
The Last Story's battle system is refreshingly dynamic, with combat happening in real-time. The action is intense and fights take place at a rapid rate. Zael gains abilities as he gets stronger which adds complexity to the fights. One ability he gets is called "Gathering", which allows him to draw the attention of enemies to himself, leaving his compatriots free to cast spells and attack without the threat of retaliation. Zael also can issue strategic commands to his party members to guide the flow of the battle. To ensure the gameplay isn't just a hack-n-slash affair, there is a cover system in place where Zael can fire arrows, as well as stealth elements to attack enemies off-guard. What makes fighting fun is a mix of adrenaline-inducing action and tactical analysis to add variety when players become attenuated to the tension. If you've ever wondered what a combat system melding Mass Effect and Final Fantasy would look like, you need look no further.
The voice-acting, with a mixture of Irish and British actors, imbues a cultural brogue to the world. Nobuou Uematsu is back to score the soundtrack and that usually equates to a brilliant musical score. What I've heard so far is sweeping, melodic, and moving. Online play supports up to six players and is available in a number of different modes, including boss battles and royal rumbles / battle royales. There's also a new game plus mode for those who want to go for a second run.
A while back, I wrote an article describing the Recipe for the Perfect Final Fantasy. I should revise that to be the recipe for the perfect JRPG as many of the elements are present here. Lost Odyssey was my favorite JRPG of the current generation. It looks like The Last Story might take the throne. I think what most people seek in a JRPG, or any game for that matter, is an experience unlike any other. The game has been out in Japan for more than a year, and the reviews have been stellar. With the release date approaching on July 10th, 2012, I hope the Last Story will be the first story in a long series that will remind us again of why we love JRPGs.
He has been working in film and games for over a decade. On his off time, he likes to travel the world. His short story collection, Watering Heaven, was just published by Signal 8 Press.
[View The Last Story images / screenshots +]
[Watch The Last Story videos / trailers +]
[View more The Last Story articles (news, previews, reviews) +]
[View The Last Story cheats / guides +]
More from GameDynamo