The Last Story, developed by Mistwalker Studios, is a JRPG that has been out in Japan for a year now and out here in the U.K for several months, now that it is out in the US as well I thought it would be a good time to review the game.
I've got to be honest I haven't really played many JRPGS since I got bored with the Final Fantasy series, most of them I just find dull and formulaic. Fortunately though, and perhaps as you'd expect seeing as its made by the creator of Final Fantasy, The Last Story is a truly superb game. Although it does rely on some tired clichés; an orphaned boy hero, a princess, a prophecy and various reasons why only you, with your crazy hair, can stop the evil from ruining everything, it still manages to feel fresh, lively and above all, fun.
The story revolves around Zael, the orphaned boy hero, and his rag tag bunch of mercenaries who want to be knights. The story isn't great but it isn't really that bad either but I won't spoil anything here. Thankfully the localisation is handled brilliantly and the characters, though cliche, are all likeable and interesting.
However without two crucial changes from the tried and tested JRPG formula the game really would buckle under the weight of all those stereotypes and cliches. Those all important changes can be found within both the structure and gameplay. The game is set up in relatively small chapters, like that of an action game, so instead of spending hours wondering around to complete part of the game, you'll do it in minutes because everything is contained in these neat little chapters. This is hardly a new idea but the inclusion of it in an RPG as epic as The Last Story really helps make the game seem less daunting and more manageable, especially if, like me, you may not be able to play it for hours at a time.
The other crucial change from the JRPG formula is the combat, instead of it being turn based it all takes place in real time and the swordplay is great fun. Thanks to Zael's ability to gather foes around him you can keep your party alive and really dish out some damage. There is also an emphasis on stealth and tactics with each small encounter beginning with a chance to survey the battlefield and plan out your approach. You can sneak round and flank the enemy with your crossbow or just charge in with your sword arm swinging wildly.
Graphics wise it is a pretty solid offering, though there can be some slow down in some of the larger group fights the environments are all detailed and varied (there are forests, boats, castles and a large city to explore, as well as other things) and the larger bosses look simply fantastic. This is is a Wii game so don't judge it by an HD console's standards like people so often do, it should be judged by its own set of standards and by those standards it's a real treat for the eyes.
The soundtrack, courtesy of famed Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu, fits with the games epic feel perfectly, it is memorable, epic and never gets boring, nor does it ever detract from what you're seeing on your screen. The orchestra swells and quietens at all of the right moments and really adds to the feel of the game. Personally it's one of my favourite soundtracks from recent times.
Overall then the game is rather outstanding, of course the cliched storyline and characters do hinder it from being a work of true greatness but it is still a damn good effort nonetheless and the structure and combat really breathe some desperately needed new life into the now rather tired JRPG formula. If you've been waiting for this over there in America go and buy it, if you're anyone else who owns a Wii, go and buy it.
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