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The Last Story (Wii)

Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi was granted a chance by Nintendo to develop a new JRPG and the name of the game has obvious parallels to the series that made him famous. The mercenaries Zael and Dagran want to become knights because it constitutes a much higher standard of living in The Last Story's world. They have traveled to Lazulis Island with their friends and work for the resident duke. The story quickly shifts towards Zael, his personal dreams and his love interest Calista while the other five mercenaries get more and more pushed into the roles of supernumaries. The story also dictates who is in your party at almost any given time and for large stretches of the game you get locked into following the path in front of you without being allowed to participate in optional activities.

The Last Story goes even further when it comes to RPG conventions like grinding. It is so obsessed with telling its story that a specific circle ahead of an area's boss allows you to summon weak enemies that grant a lot of experience points. Should you feel outmatched, five minutes of your time can be converted into three level ups. The game absolutely wants you to keep going, it wants to play you. So many choices are made for players that they are more or less glorified spectators to what's happening.

Of course, the combat does require active participation. There are two control modes for standard attacks: Manual requires button presses, can be executed faster, but deals less damage; Auto results in attacks when pressing the stick in the enemy's direction, is slower, but deals more damage. Since the frequency of auto attacks is still high, it's my prefered control mode. Skills can be activated by pausing combat with a special menu that forces you to give commands to all party members. While this does sound like it's adding a lot of strategy to the battles, each character can only have up to three commands which are predetermined and have stronger versions automatically replace the initial skills. All of your magicians only specialize in a single element, the game dictates who is in your party, so that's that.

Zael's special ability is to draw the focus of all enemies on him which at the same time speeds up the execution of spells of his party members. It can also be used to revive fallen allies by simply touching them, but nobody has more than five lives per battle. There was certainly potential in The Last Story's unique battle system, but most of it goes to waste because you don't have much say in it. On the occasions where you can freemly roam through the town of Lazulis and revisit previous locations for more loot, you get some choice. But unfortunately most of it isn't fun as the sidequest structure is poorly implemented and doesn't net notable rewards. So back to the story it is.

I do not think of The Last Story as a bad game, but it isn't good either. It deserves a big fat meh because it favors storytelling while not having any special story to offer. It deserves a meh because the interesting ideas for combat were suffocated by a lack of choice on the player's part. What's left is a game that doesn't really excel at anything and often made me wish that I would be allowed to do more or that there would be more interesting things to do. I don't mind RPGs that focus on very few characters, I actually prefer such an approach because it's more focused and allows for more character development. But when a game does such a thing, then it should have only very few characters. The Last Story has seven, but only two of them are worth something.

Controls 10 The controls work for the most part, but it can
get a bit too hectic in combat at times.
Gameplay   Player interaction takes a backseat in this JRPG with
real time combat that allows pausing for tactical planning.
Story   The story centers around Zael's aspirations to become a knight.
Most of the other characters don't get much screen time.
Single-player   For the majority of the game's duration, the developers
dictate where you go and what you can do.
Multiplayer   Forgettable online modes that have some exclusive rewards.
Servers have been shut down, but it's not a real loss.
Graphics   The colors gray and brown dominate.
Frequent framerate dips.
Sound   A very strong main theme by Nobuo Uematsu, but
it is the exception of his soundtrack, not the rule.
Value   22-25 hours until the credits, plus a few postgame chapters.
Seems short, but there's no grinding involved.
Replay Value   Optional activities on a new game+ are a drag. Story first,
gameplay second doesn't lend itself to replayability.
Score 5 For a game that emphasizes story, the Last Story comes up
short. Too much of it is not fleshed out enough.

Legend11 correctly predicted that GTA IV (360+PS3) would outsell SSBB. I was wrong.

A Biased Review Reloaded / Open Your Eyes / Switch Gamers Club