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Rate This Review: The Last Story
Just a note before the review: I wouldn't call this publish-worthy, but I've hit a wall in the progress of my review writing (just in general), and I'd love some feedback. I'm kind of a lurker around here, and I like GameCritics' style, so I figured I'd post this little guy. Any thoughts you offer are greatly appreciated.
The Last Story, the Wii's Last Hurrah
HIGH: My cynicism towards the cover-based shooting turning into appreciation as I learned more about the combat.
LOW: Boring and uninspired (though entirely skippable) cutscenes.
WTF: Was that vampire boss flying around inside its coffin? Or was the coffin itself the vampire?
The Last Story hops right into the action. I like that.
It's the closest I've seen to an action tactical RPG. Now, I'm not big on RPGs, and I'm a Wii owner, so my knowledge of contemporary RPGs is mostly vicarious. Regardless, when The Last Story takes modern shooter mechanics (read: cover system) and combines them with an action RPG, somehow you end up with a game that plays like a tactical RPG, only in real time. Many of the combat situations have you managing battlefield space and considering where elements are placed.
For instance, before each skirmish, you'll get an overhead view while everything stays still. Before one particular battle of the first chapter, I used this to study the upcoming enemy formation: one healer surrounded by grunts. If I decided to charge straight ahead, I'd meet the grunts head on. I could handle them easily, but the problem was that healer. He could heal them from his protected position behind a line of grunts. The front line would constantly get healed, and I'd never break through their formation.
The smarter option was to sneak around the side of their formation, using cover to remain hidden. Luckily, the enemy party hadn't seen my party in hiding. So, I tip-toed behind cover until I found a good location for sniping the healer with my crossbow. I fired a shot, all but taking him out, and all hell broke loose as the enemy party realized I was invading their personal space.
Bear in mind that all of this happened in real time. If just one enemy saw me, the jig was up, and I'd have to throw down then and there. You won't need to be a combo master to enjoy this game—striking enemies will happen automatically just by walking up against them—but all of your decisions will need to happen on the fly. If you screw up, the pause menu lets you restart from the last checkpoint save, which is often just before current battle started.
Anyway, the same formation that seemed so advantageous to my enemies was now their downfall. Once I killed the healer, I was planted right in the middle, able to strike their back line of troops. Meanwhile, the three other members of my party rushed up to meet me and took out the front line. The battle was clean and quick.
That's The Last Story on a good day.
See, the abilities you learn over the course of the game try to aid the game's tactical feel. For instance, Gathering attracts enemies to you and allows you to lure them into traps. These techniques are balanced by action-oriented moves, like the dodge roll and parry. Sometimes they play well, and sometimes they fall flat. One such technique is called Command.
Using Command, you can freeze combat in order to give your party members orders. They can retreat, temporarily increase attack power, and other things, but the most interesting use is telling mages where to cast their magic.
When a spell is cast, it leaves a circle of effect on the floor for a period of time. If a healing spell is cast, you can stand inside the circle to heal, and your party members will retreat to that location. If an attack spell is cast, like fire or ice, that will leave a circle, too. Stand inside the circle, and your attacks will be imbued with that element. Enemies can't take advantage of your effect circles, but they can create their own to use against you.
In theory, this is a great way to add to the tactical edge of the game. You can potentially juxtapose effect circles in interesting ways and set up traps for enemies. In practice, I often ended up focusing all of my party's magic on the biggest group of enemies, then just wailing away at it until everything was dead.
In The Last Story's defense, there is potential for strategy. If you use your noggin and take advantage of the landscape, battles can go quickly. The game's cover-based techniques offer a hefty attack bonus, for example. On the other hand, if you feel like strolling into a fight without a care, you can typically weather the battle, though it might be lengthy. In a sense, this is just The Last Story being lenient.
Speaking of leniency, you'll come across optional grinding locations, too. Occasionally, you'll find a red circle, which allows you to summon more enemies for the sake of finding loot and earning more levelups. Grinding is by no means necessary, but if you dig it, it's there, and it will make the game easier.
Every now and then, you'll also meet gimmick fights which throw in another aspect of strategy. Maybe you can use magic to knock over a pillar and kill a squad of enemies. Or, maybe you need a spellcaster to blow open a temporary hole in a magical shield, allowing you to shoot at the shield-generating mage through the hole. Battles like these are rare, but they do a good job of spicing up the gameplay without straying too far from its roots.
In fact, even within the normal bounds of gameplay, the game explores a good range of ground. Just for example, some battles can only be won by stealth, and in others, stealth is completely irrelevant. At the risk of presenting a less refined product, The Last Story experiments with its combat a great deal.
And that's The Last Story. There are RPG elements at play, such as experience and armor, but exploration is so sparse that I found these largely irrelevant. You will find optional chapters to play and useful effect bonuses with certain armor pieces, but don't expect anything too deep.
The story is similarly shallow, featuring some okay humor here and some nifty callbacks there, but ultimately nothing memorable. And, well, I'm not sure that the protagonist's love interest has a character outside of being desired by men.
And combat is really what The Last Story is about, anyway.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via Game Stop and reviewed on the Wii. Approximately 19 hours of play were devoted to single-player modes (completed 1 time) and 0 hours of play to multiplayer modes.
Parents: The dialogue contains coarse language and plenty of alcohol references. In particular, one character's alcoholism is presented as a joke.
Deaf and Hard of Hearing: You'll hear plenty of dialogue from your party, even in combat, but everything in the game is subtitled.