reviews\ Sep 14, 2012 at 5:06 pm

The Last Story review


There’s something truly admirable about a video game that can really captivate you and make you care about its plot and all of its characters. This is the case with The Last Story, a fantasy RPG from the mind of the legendary Hironobu Sakaguchu. The game isn’t afraid to present a story that properly delivers a combination of serious overtones, humorous moments, and straight up WTF scenarios. Like a any good movie or book, The Last Story is a great example of storytelling done right. Of course, it also helps that the game is a sheer joy to play.

The Last Story revolves around a band of young mercenaries. This isn’t your usual ragtag bunch, though. No, these are characters with hopes and dreams. These mercenaries are genuinely likable characters, each with his or her own agenda and reasons for having chosen that line of work. Zael, the game’s protagonist, for example, dreams of one day being a knight. The mercenary life is a difficult one, but by continuing to work hard, Zael hopes to be noticed by the count of Lazulis Island and be offered a job as a one of the continent's protectors. But things quickly get interesting when a mysterious young lady with connections to the count enters the scene, and it isn't long before this tale about mercenaries becomes a story about true love.

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Aside from the fact that the plot of The Last Story is great in and of itself, there are several little side stories sprinkled throughout, and incredibly, they’re all very good. Characters you meet in bars and around town will often request your aid, and it’s superb how these subplots can be so entertaining and compliment the main story really well. But it’s the mercenaries, the characters in your group, who have some of the best backstories in the game. You actually get to know the folks that Zael is working alongside, which makes them more an integral part of the experience rather than one-dimensional squad mates.

One example is Mirania, the group’s healer. Quiet and mysterious, she’s initially a hard character to read. Eventually, however, you embark on a quest that reveals some major details about her childhood. There’s also Yurrick, a mage who’s often cynical and anti-social, even with his fellow teammates. His demeanor makes him difficult to like at first, to the point where it seems as if he would turn his back on his friends if the price was right. As you continue on your journey, you take on a quest alongside Yurrick, and you discover exactly why he is the way he is. The chill-inducing moment of clarity as you discover a major secret about your partner’s past is remarkable, and it makes the game's tale even better.

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All of this beautifully rich storytelling takes place across an equally magnificent world. Lazulis Island is a bustling land with many friendly and hostile faces. The game’s overlying steampunk theme makes for a wonderful setting to what can only be described as a grand tale of warriors, magic, swords, kingdoms, and love. The architecture, fashion, and those snazzy English accents all combine to create a world that's fitting for an epic tale, and they’re seamlessly mixed with big mechanical swords, crazy armor, and powerful warships.

The Last Story isn’t just a great storytelling experience, though. When the game’s not enthralling you with its captivating narrative, it’s tossing you into some highly enjoyable gameplay sequences. Dungeon areas require you to work alongside your AI-controlled mercenary buddies as you take on legions of enemies, collect items, and fight massive bosses. Combat can be pretty straightforward, relying on simple hack-and-slash mechanics that make for some raw action. You can choose between auto and manual attack options, but if you really want to get the fullest enjoyment out of this title, you’ll stick with the manual option as auto attacks can make for a very boring experience.

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But it’s not all button mashing. You can set up commands for your teammates by pressing up on the D-pad. This pauses the game and allows you to choose different attack strategies for you and your partners. There’s a variety to what you can do. Zael and Dagran, for example, rely on impressive sword skills. Yurrick can summon fire magic. Mirania works great as a healer, but she’s also got some offensive magic to utilize. Syrenne, an enjoyable young lady who might be an alcoholic, is skilled with her blades and can defend or attack accordingly. Even Lowell, who’s often seen hitting on girls at the local bar and seems to have one thing on his mind, can bring the fight with his impressive swordplay and magic knowledge.

The Last Story features cover mechanics, which we don’t see very often in JRPGs. As you level up with Zael, you gain new abilities that you can pull off during battles. One of these is a powerful ambush attack that you execute by taking cover, aiming the analog stick at an enemy, and hitting the attack button. This sends Zael rushing out of cover and delivers a devastating sword slash. You can also run up walls and get the drop on your foes, and even redirect your mages’ attacks to specific spots on the field. The combat mechanics in The Last Story start out simple enough, but they evolve into something that’s more engaging yet still intuitive to grasp.

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