Monday, 14 May 2012

The Last Story

It feels a little unfair to constantly compare ‘Last Story’ to ‘Xenoblade Chronicles’ which was without a doubt the seminal RPG of the Wii last year. The games have a lot in common; but boast fundamentally different goals. Whilst ‘Xenoblade’ told a story epic on scope and depth, ‘Last Story’ contents itself with a much smaller, more personal setting, yet one that boasts just as many shocking revelations as it’s predecessor.

It stars a small band of mercenaries. The protagonist, Zael, is effectively the group’s number two, standing just behind Dagran the group’s leader. Both Zael and Dagran lost their parents in the war that is consuming the land and between them formed a band of mercenaries, who have now come to Lazilus Island in the hope of finding permanent employment and perhaps a chance for a better life. Accompanying them are Syrenne; a loudmouth drunkard but with a heart of gold, Llowell; wise cracking ladies man, Yurrick; a short tempered mage who prefers his own company and Mirania; a mysterious girl with a personal quest of her own. These mercenaries are your companions from start to finish, each member dropping in and out depending on the specific quest or location in the story, and you’ll come to treasure each and every one of them by the end. The sheer amount of effort put into these characters is staggering and more than matches the ensemble cast of Xenoblade.

Joining the mercenaries is the Lady Calista, the heir to Lazilus Island and someone who will become completely intertwined with Zael. Make no mistake this is a love story; echoing the journey of Final Fantasy 8 where Zael, the silent brooding loner, slowly learns to trust his friends and find his soul partner. It’s a little slow to start, with countless scenes of Zael brooding about his past and loneliness, until eventually you discover your purpose and the game simply clicks into place. The story moves at a frenetic pace, rushing from set piece to set piece, burning through its material so fast that by the end you might think it was a little too short. I don’t think the problem there is with the amount of material; it’s that the game confines itself deliberately to a few very specific locations around Lazilus Island. The world isn’t vast and expansive; it’s small and full of detail, again the complete opposite to Xenoblade.

The game controls very well however; you command Zael 90% of the time and he has free movement around the world. On a base level this controls less like an RPG and more like a very simply platformer; run into an enemy and Zael will attack, hold the block button to parry theirs, time your blocks to counter, crouch behind walls to hide, leap over them for surprise attacks, aim from a distance to snipe at foes with your crossbow. There’s an added element of strategy in the special moves you learn throughout the game, and the ability to command your companions who each know two different attacks and can learn a third special move for when their skill gauge fills. By and large this is a really good system with a few quirks; Llowell’s primary attack is to fire ice magic at opponents and until you reach a certain area in the game that’s fine, however he verbally warns you that your enemy ‘absorb’ ice magic and therefore he’s healing them. Every time you encounter this enemy from now on you need to REMEMBER to stop Llowell from hitting them with his magic otherwise he’ll just carry on healing them, even though he’s announced full well he knows that’s a bad idea. It’s not that the AI is stupid; in every other respect they move around the world fairly competently, rarely running into walls and getting stuck, but they are stubborn and will not alter their tactics unless you demand they do it.

Nobuo Uematsu’s music is spectacular; emotively stirring and varied enough to constantly keep your interest. From the melancholy title music to the more traditional RPG battle theme’s there’s plenty to cater to all tastes here. Less well done is the voice acting. I have to commend the main cast; Dagran, Zael, Llowell et all do a fantastic job, and though it takes a while to adjust to Syrenne’s broad voice by the end I’d fallen in love with her. Like Xenoblade this is a game where your companions constantly talk to you, only this time rather than repeating banile phrases back and forth there are actual conversations with a start, middle and end. This is only possible because the game ISN’T as vast as Xenoblade and doesn’t involve as much back tracking (or in fact any.) The problem with the voice acting is the NPC characters scattered around the city, minor pickup roles just one or two lines wrong. Some, if not most, are fine, but some are just awful. There’s a range of every accent it’s possible to find in the UK, from aggressive cockney, Irish drawl, Welsh slur… Some of them just seem out of place; particularly the posh hob-knobs found lurking in the castle and the child voices.

All in all I loved the Last Story. It’s a little predictable; the main villain looks like a cardboard cut out of Ganondorf from the Legend of Zelda, there’s a murder mystery half way through that I instantly deducted who the murderer was, but these minor gripes aside this is an emotive rollercoaster that will grip you from start to end.

Please, let this not be Hironobu Sakaguchi’s last story.

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