Sunday, February 3, 2013

Game Review: The Last Story

Action RPG; Nintendo Wii; Mistwalker; 2012
Tomorrow is the day Fire Emblem Awakening launches in North America. Though I am still pissed that New Mystery of the Emblem was skipped, I am so psyched about this new entry. But before I go into another Fire Emblem fangasm, I will review another game that for the longest time was thought to have never be released in the US: The Last Story. There are very few game designers as prolific as Hironobu Sakaguchi, the main creator of the Final Fantasy series. While your love for the FF franchise might vary, there is little doubt that the games headed by Sakaguchi was some of the best in the series. And now we come to his most recent game: The Last Story. But will this tale be one for the ages, or forgotten legend... I think I just stumbled on Hironobu Sakaguchi's next game title.

Mistwalker tends to have very simple, yet epic, title screens.
Lazulis Island, the last bastion of life in this dying world and the home of the Empire's "Sword and Shield," the massive Lazulis Cannon. It is here where a small band of mercenaries make their living, keeping the peace for a bit of gold. But for Zael and Dagran, this harsh and thankless life was only one step on their way to their dream; To become Knights. Just then, their chance at knighthood seems to approach rapidly when Zael obtains a mysterious power known as the Mark of the Outsider, and Zael and his friends are thrown into a conflict between Lazulis Island and Gurak Kingdom. What is the Outsider? Why did Zael obtain its power? Can Zael and his friends become Knights? And is that dream really worth chasing?

I like the story to... The Last Story, there is a lot of good things in it, especially the dynamic between Zael and Dagran. I won't reveal anything here, but changes these two experience throughout the story is amazing and well done. However, it is not without its flaws. The game relies way too heavily on an omniscient narrator telling me what is happening without showing me. This largely happens when the game is transitioning between different scenes, like from a dungeon to town, so it isn't like major events are happening off-screen, but it doesn't ruin the continuity of events. Another thing is that one of the major driving forces in the story is the decay of the land, but we never see any signs of it. True, we have the omnipresent "White Petals" that we are told are the signs of a dying land, but we never see any kind of ruination occurring anywhere in the game. This is another case where the game tells us but does not show it. And lastly, the last third of the game or so feels like a nonstop rush to get to the end of the game. The story goes into overdrive trying to wrap up every loose end it can which ultimately makes it feel rushed. But even with these obvious faults, the story is well told for the most part with great characters both as protagonists and antagonists, and what it did well it did VERY well.

Commander Shepard's got nothing on me. For one thing, I have a sword.
On the gameplay side of things, it is very clear that combat was a major focus for The Last Story. Dungeons for the most part are very linear and largely just take Zael and his companions from one encounter to the next with only a few branches in order to hide treasure chests. In fact most Dungeons make it very clear which direction you are suppose to go by having your allies charge ahead in that direction and many times closing the path off behind you. However, this isn't as boring as you might think as each mainly because it is the fights that keep things fresh. All battles are predetermined with enemies standing in particular spots in particular formations. Once you are about to enter a battle, often times the game will give you a Bird's-eye view of the battle field showing you enemy placement, strengths, and abilities. This is key to victory because while this is an Action/RPG, it is one heavily focused on terrain and tactics. Characters can take cover behind walls and debris, and Zael can even pick enemies off with his crossbow from such locations, but you also get bonuses for jumping out from cover to attack enemies as well as surrounding enemies. There are also points of interest on the battle field where you can tell allies, namely mages, to attack which could cause cave ins, or deal with annoying enemy archers pestering your characters. All of these things and more accumulate to make each battle different with different enemy placements, different terrain, and even different characters as for all the dungeon the game automatically selects who is coming with you based on story. The game also has a great sense of progression since as soon as you get a handle on one gameplay mechanic and the combat starts to get boring, the game introduces a new mechanic, and by the time you are fully accustomed to that change and think the game has nothing new to throw at you, it introduces a new mechanic. This once again, helps to keep the game fresh and interesting.

When you are not in a Dungeon fighting room after room of enemies, you are usually in Lazulis City where you have several little things you can do. You can spend the gold you accumulated during combat to purchase new weapons and armor or upgrade current equipment. You can also buy goods to complete quests given to you by townsfolk, or to resell them when prices are higher to turn a profit. There is also a number of side dungeons you can go into to complete for EXP and loot. There is actually an impressive number of things to do between story events. However...

We've known each other for 3 hours. We must be in love.
There are times in the game, especially during the last act rush, where you just go from dungeon to dungeon, from battle to battle. I really liked it when I was allowed to run around Lazulis City because it felt like I was actually playing an RPG and not completely linear dungeon crawler. Also, since for the most part your party is determined by the story, you have absolutely no control over who comes with you and who doesn't. This means some characters, like Calista, is completely out of the fight for large chunks of the game and can't level up, and some times your party composition is designed to completely screw with you. There are several times where I don't have either healer in my party, and some of these times I am given no explanation as to why. Also, my party members are as dumb as rocks. Eventually, you will be given the ability to issue commands to party members, which is necessary for mages since they usually only cast the same spell over and over again, but when that happens you pretty much have to babysit some of them during combat. For example, Lowell will cast his Freeze spell nonstop, even if we are fighting enemies who absorb ice. And it isn't always that easy to tell what is going on because many battles become a complete cluster with up to 7 allies fighting against 20 enemies with partial effects flying every time a spell is cast and 8 different sets of numbers are displayed to indicate damage. Sometimes you just have no idea what is going on.

It is my personal opinion that The Last Story needed a little longer in development to iron out a few of its flaws. I can't deny that it isn't perfect, but it is still a very interesting and well crafted game. The combat is fun, fast, and very tactical even if it can be confusing and frustrating when party members are being idiots, and the story is well told with great characters and conflicts, even if portions of it felt rushed and was too much of a tell don't show affair. If you have a Wii and are looking for an excellent RPG for your collection, check out The Last Story. It is Highly Recommended.

Until next time

-Crescent, "Oh orb of...ummm..."

No comments:

Post a Comment