E3 2012: The Last Story interview with Takuya Matsumoto

The Last Story is easily one of the last great games that will come to the Wii before the console's lifespan ends. The Mistwalker-developed title is already a success in Japan, and it's currently being localized by XSEED for North America, something a lot of gamers didn't think would happen. Directed by famed Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, The Last Story will offer a grand RPG experience for Wii owners. I had the chance to talk to the game's lead designer, Takuya Matsumoto, and let's just say I left the XSEED meeting room even more excited than I already was to play the upcoming JRPG.

David Sanchez: All right, so the first thing I'd like to talk about is the localization of The Last Story. Was it challenging localizing the game for North American Wii consoles?

Takuya Matsumoto: Well, not necessarily because we already had the Nintendo of Europe English [version]. We were considering doing voice overs and whatnot, but considering the atmosphere — since it does take place in a more European environment — and that's what [Hironobu] Sakaguchi had in mind when he created this game, so we decided to leave everything in as the European version.

DS: What was a major factor in the decision to finally bring The Last Story to North America?

TM: Basically, the stars had lined up perfectly for us. We knew Nintendo had just announced that they were thinking of bringing it over, and our president at the time had connections with the NOA people, and he was sending them love letters. So we were fortunate enough that they agreed — they liked what we were doing.

DS: Obviously, RPGs — and JRPGs in particular — are geared toward a niche crowd, and the Wii is also kind of a niche console, but RPGs and the Wii both have their followers. So what are you hoping to achieve with The Last Story here in North America for JRPG fans and for Wii owners?

TM: Usually when people think about Wii or Nintendo consoles and action-RPGs, there are a lot of games like Zelda that come to mind, but with that crowd in mind, we wanted to create something that's more of a core or niche type of title, because it is more JRPG-ish, but [developer Mistwalker] did have a lot of influences like Gears of War and Assassin's Creed, but we wanted to extend our horizons to people who usually don't usually play these games but can dive into an RPG world.

DS: So it's almost like you're creating something that appeals to the RPG fan and the action-RPG fan, but also bringing in fans of action games and fans of cover-based games.

TM: Usually when it's a JRPG, you get to really strategize what you're about to do because it's turn-based, so you get a lot of time to think about it, but the developers wanted to have that strategical aspect and also a third-person shooter/action game [style], so that's why you see a lot of the covering system, giving allies orders, but also cooperation between your team members within the RPG world.

DS: Is the game going to have a rich story, a lot of character development, and plot twists?

TM: Like a lot of Sakaguchi titles, it does have a grand and really deep story within it, and something that Sakaguchi-san usually does is having a fantasy world but with highly advanced technology within that world. As a story, it is grand, but world-wise, he wanted to concentrate more on the individual characters so you'll see a lot of conversation dialogue and voice-overs that aren't directly linked to the whole of the game, but it really concentrates on the characters.

Another part within that [aspect of the game] that we wanted to do to have more details for the characters — it's a real-time combat system, so unlike a turn-based combat system, they're fighting but you'll see them talking to each other like right now there on the screen (points to The Last Story gameplay footage). Everything is happening at the same time, but you'll hear your teammates talking to you and supporting what to do and what's going on. Like in shooters, it happens all the time, like in Gears of War where you're doing it but you hear other people talking to you, but we implemented it in the RPG world.

So within that, say a cutscene occurs, it won't feel awkward, like you're stopping the game and then you have to watch it. We wanted to have more of a flow: The characters are talking to you in a battle, and then in the cutscenes they're talking to you again.

DS: In terms of the visual style, The Last Story seems to have a very strong graphical presentation. It has that fantasy aesthetic and it's very classic-looking. Was combining that classic look with the more high-tech elements like the weapons an easy decision to come to?

TM: To tell you the truth, The Last Story was originally supposed to be a science-fiction game, not a fantasy game, so that's where we started, but later we switched over to the fantasy side. So we already had the concept of making it more like a shooter game, so not only swinging your sword around but using crossbows, using magic spells — there was more of those actions already implemented into the game, so it wasn't a fantasy world we were adding highly advanced technology to; it was already formed that way, and we just added more fantasy into it.

DS: So it's almost the opposite, a sci-fi world where you added fantasy?

TM: Basically, yeah. Originally, the sci-fi [aspect] of the story didn't work out, but we kept the game system and drastically placed the story into it, so we added more guns and more futuristic events.

DS: Could The Last Story possibly lead to more action-RPGs — not necessarily in this franchise — but maybe some action-RPGs for the Wii U with a similar style from the same development team?

TM: The development team and Sakaguchi-san are looking forward to making more, especially for the Wii U because it has another [screen] right in front of you that will add another level of strategic elements into the action-RPG. So we are really looking forward to it, but we haven't really planned anything.

DS: How many hours are we looking at in terms of gameplay for The Last Story?

TM: About 30 hours.

DS: Are there plenty of side quests and extra things to do in the game?

TM: There's this hub world or hometown [the characters] go through, and in this story they're mercenaries, so there are a lot of quests that people will ask them if they want [to complete]. There are a lot of quests within the city, but even if you go in a different dungeon or a different place to fight, there are always different side quests that you can take on there, as well.

DS: Is The Last Story getting a limited release in North America? There was word about that surfacing on the internet, so could you give us information on whether the game will only be available at select retailers or only for a certain period of time?

TM: We don't have a specific retailer that we're just going to go after. It's not a GameStop exclusive or anything. We did just announce that the first run will be a special pack that comes with the art book.

DS: I saw that and it looks really cool! One last question. Any info on the game's launch window?

TM: Right now we're just saying summer. We're aiming for August/September-ish, but yeah, right now we're just saying summer.

DS: So if The Last Story does hit the Wii by then, gamers can have a pretty cool action-RPG to enjoy this summer.

TM: I hope so!

DS: Well, it looks really good!

TM: Thank you.

DS: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me. I appreciate it!

For a bunch of nonsensical gibberish, follow @thesanchezdavid on Twitter.