The world of The Last Story is a place of magic, monsters, friendship and betrayal, and it unfortunately played out as derivative and full of clichés as that sounds.
The game revolves around a ragtag group of mercenaries with hearts of gold who aspire (under the leadership of play-it-cool Dagran) to be knights. But in typical JRPG fashion, you play as Zael: the unconfident sword-wielding type who has things to learn and room to grow and is never feigning his innocence.
The gist of the plot is that Zael and his mercenary comrades pass through some ruins and a legendary entity bestows upon Zael a powerful, oft sought-after magic. We see in a few cutscenes what it can do, but in battle it’s only moderately useful. The ability can be switched on to draw the attention of enemies while Zael’s party members do damage unhindered. And later on, he can use the ability to absorb some damage while defending, and then blast that stored up energy back at his foes. But that’s really it. Any other showing off of his powers happens outside of the player’s control. Enter “Lisa,” a runaway bride who too quickly falls for Zael, despite her upcoming arranged marriage to a right arse. She is quickly revealed to be Lady Calista of the noble Arganan bloodline, and is betrothed to the count’s son: an unbearable nobleman named Jirall. She must eventually return to the castle and appear by Jirall’s side for the sake of peace between nations. But, though she decides to suck it up for the greater good, she is soon kidnapped by Zangurak, the Gurak king who greatly resembles’s Gannondorf from The Legend of Zelda’s Wind Waker. He happens to be after this power, and Zael happens to stand in his way.
And The Last Story seems to borrow from a handful of works. There are several Final Fantasy-inspired subplots woven in, characters that, in the back of your head, will remind you of Square Enix characters, and some very interesting ideas that never quite reach greatness. There’s a sort of Final Fantasy VII-esque planet energy, for example. And at one point, Zael and his band of murderous do-gooders are thrown into a prison cell. During this section of the game my memory flashed back to the prison break portion of Final Fantasy VIII, which I’ve always fondly remembered as intriguing, challenging, and a great plot point. However, Zael & co.’s time in prison never reached even shades of that FFVIII scenario. They are thrown into a cell with an archaeologist who gets them access to an underground passage in hopes they can all escape. The passage is full of monsters, and Zael’s party fends them off—their weapons were never taken away from them. And after completing that part they end up back in the cell. The whole thing was just filler while your party is negotiated for off-screen. Even more frustrating: As Zael is led out of the cell and to the court to be tried, he passes a level of cells full of monsters. Instead of taking this opportunity to explore the origin of these monsters or any portion of their existence as both creatures and a core component of the game, or to find deeper moral ambiguity within the kingdom, you simply get a passing comment.
Battles are fun, at least—that is, until you stop learning new moves and each battle becomes similar to the last. Each fight is predetermined, as in there are no random encounters. However, after clearing certain areas a rune circle will appear where Zael can summon new monsters to fight for XP. It’s a cruel idea, summoning something just to end its life, but it does give the player a way to level up outside of the main story (though it’s usually not necessary to do so).
The player controls Zael in nearly all battles. He can indefinitely aggro the enemies and can use a tactics menu that lets him tell the other party members to use certain special moves. But throughout the game you will only have 2-4 special moves to choose from per player (they cannot be changed later on), and once you get your strategy down you will end up using the same tactics over and over again. Later on, some plot-based scenarios require you to control another party member, which tends to feel alien after controlling one character for most of the game, and does not give you much time to get used to controlling that character. Thankfully, these portions are brief.
I went into The Last Story expecting something similar to the well-written emotional journey of Lost Odyssey—also by Mistwalker Studios. But while The Last Story appeared to aspire to greatness, it falls short, never quite reaching the heights of a truly great RPG.
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