As of this review, I have finally reviewed all three focus titles of Operation Rainfall. Now, to what I'm sure is the delight of many JRPG fans, The Last Story has been directed and designed by Hironobu Sakaguchi himself, the designer of the first twelve Final Fantasy games (with numbers on them, mind you) and Chrono Trigger. In addition, acclaimed music director Nobuo Uematsu has also graced us with his presence. As the designer of such prestigious games and such a prestigious music director have had a hand in making this Wii title, surely The Last Story must be the greatest thing ever to grace mankind? Not really, actually. Sure, it's by far not the worst JRPG ever but, when put next to Pandora's Tower and Xenoblade Chronicles, both of which raised the bar for JRPGs so high that God can use it to do chin-ups, I feel it's by far the weakest of the three.
Part of this is because of the story, like its narrator. Look, unless you can use a narrator well, don't use one; games are interactive and should show the player the story and allow them to partake in it. This kind of writing works for novels and text-only works, not video games. This isn't helped at all by the narrator kind of sucking at his job; this narrator narrates things that are currently happening, things that the player figured out half an hour ago and things that the characters will explain anyway, meaning he's entirely redundant. Something else that puzzles me is that, even with the narrator, some parts of the story just don't present themselves. It's repeatedly said that the "land is dying" but I just don't see it it because the nature levels look perfectly lush. The game's setting, Lazulis Island, is said to be an exception to this thing but I only ever have the game's word for it.
As you have explained by her dialogue and actions preceding this moment. Stop wasting our time.
I said before in my Asura's Wrath review that I'm fine with following railroaded plots as long as I have the ability to do them however I want to and the railroaded events actually make sense (actually, I didn't say that last part but I still feel that way). I honestly expected Hironobu Sakaguchi of all people to understand this but it seems my hopes were in vain. Several times in the story, you will be given one of two options. However, if you choose the one that the game doesn't like, it will go "No! Bad boy! Choose the other one" and send you back to the two choices again. Hironobu, if you're just going to make our choices and decisions moot in favour of going with the one you like, why did you bother putting the choice in there in the first place? Come to think of it, the story and progression actually feel a lot like the handholding of modern shooters, which might explain why everything is just one colour most of the time.
Zael and his mercenary friends are in a dungeon one day where Zael is given a mysterious power from a source that says his heart is like theirs. From there, they do a bunch of miscellaneous stuff until Zael comes across a mysterious woman who is revealed to be Lady Calista, niece of Count Arganan (which retroactively introduces the plot hole of why she asked "Cash? You mean like... money?" earlier). Zael and his friends are hired to be guards at Lazulis Castle which is when they are attacked by the Gurak, beings that also have their species name treated as a proper noun as well as a leader called Zangurak (who looks absolutely nothing like Ganondorf from The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, honest). A bunch of other miscellaneous stuff happens until it... oh, never mind. What I'm trying to recap are around the first ten hours of the plot which, in any other game, would be the intro. The story has a big problem with pacing and it feels like it takes forever to actually get to the point.
They're waiting for the king to announce that the plot's ready to go (actually, they just got to the castle for the first time but I don't have any other pictures).
The characterisation, while not completely horrible, could be much better. The problem with Zael and his mercenary friends is that, for the most part, they only have one personality for each of them (Syrenne is the alcoholic, Lowell's the pervert, so on and so forth). I do like how they interact, though; they do give the impression that they are a ragtag band of misfits who will stick together through Hell and high water, especially when Dagran, the leader, is involved. He has the goal of making all of them knights, which is actually quite endearing to watch. If the story was primarily about the mercenaries, I'd like it a lot more. Unfortunately, the story's focus is on Zael and Calista. I may be biased but I don't think there's a single heroic character in this game who wouldn't be a better protagonist than Zael because he comes across as the typical JRPG hero; he's hot-headed, whiny, brash and just embarrassing to watch and listen to. What makes it worse is that the world seems to revolve around him like he's a black hole for the plot and things happen for him by virtue of him being him. I'd rather my protagonists get status and recognition through effort and their actions rather than circumstance and having a power recorded by prophecy to "save the world" or other such nonsense.
Zael's power isn't even that world-changing. While Shulk got the Monado that could see into the future and had enough special powers to be an entire character and Aeron got the Oraclos Chain that was ridiculously fun to use, Zael's power is a mark on his right hand that causes every enemy in the room equipped with a knife and fork to look over at him and lick their lips. While it does have its uses, I don't think this is the kind of power worth calling Zael Lazulis' Jesus Christ over. It does have some other powers, like getting health back upon hitting the enemy and, best of all, being able to heal lethal wounds on allies, but the story rarely uses them; its revival power is first used to save someone who was shot in the chest with a crossbow bolt which would definitely have killed her. Yet, later on, another character is impaled in the chest and Zael doesn't do anything, leaving him to die (the same thing happens again later on). The final straw came when a knight was merely knocked on their bum by an explosion and Zael doesn't heal him either. This is even worse than when no one bothered to use a Phoenix Down on Aeris in Final Fantasy VII because the revival power is shown in the cutscenes and the story still ignores it. These are some of the most contrived deaths in any game I've ever played.
Bugger seeing into the future! I want to attract the attention of everyone in the room that wants to kill me!
Also, the story is an utter storm of clichés. Yeah, Kid Icarus: Uprising and Lollipop Chainsaw did this as well but those games were hardly serious at all and, as a result, we all had fun with them. The Last Story plays these clichés straight and is, therefore, even harder to take seriously. Zael, the street rat, falls in love with an upper class woman who wishes for a life of freedom, their romance feels incredibly contrived and forced, there is a king's evil brother who wants to take over the world, so many bad guys are called, to paraphrase, "utterly despicable" that they might as well have curly moustaches, Zael is a chosen one who is prophesised to save a country, there's an evil noble who wants Calista but Zael is in his way, there's a wise mentor guy who I couldn't tell if he was going to turn out to be evil or not... the list just goes on forever. This would be fine if it was all played for laughs but the game takes itself far too seriously even though I can't take it very seriously at all.
My biggest problem with the story is that it's so ham-fisted and forces whatever it's trying to say onto us. When someone is described as "evil", the story pulls out all the stops to make them look like the biggest jerks in town. The best example is Count Arganan; despite being shown as an okay dude beforehand, the story goes out of its way to show him in his office and narrate his thoughts (another hot tip; never ever narrate thoughts) on how he will take over the world. I don't know who wrote this game's story in particular but they desperately need to learn what subtlety is, especially when showing the "romantic" scenes between Zael and Calista when I'd rather the story just focus on the entire mercenary group as true companions who stick together through thick and thin. By the way, there's one moment when the knights go out of their way to be racist jerks and murder the Gurak and another moment later on when they're shining paragons of virtue that say they will defend a place with their lives despite being shown as complete cowards beforehand. Isn't consistency nice?
TOO SUBTLE. Very pretty, too.
I do like the setting, however. I haven't seen a magitech setting in a while and it's nice to know that there are modern fantasy JRPGs out there that don't have sci-fi elements in them. However, every spell in this game seems to be combat-oriented only. Why is every spell in anything always used almost exclusively for combat? I mean, Skyrim had a spell that functioned like Find The Path and Morrowind had spells used to make things heavier or lighter. Why can't you follow their examples and make non-combat spells, like some sort of spell that animates inanimate objects or something else to show that magic can actually influence the world in ways besides blowing it up? Also, the magic in this game isn't particularly well-defined; when someone casts a spell, a magic circle, which I think was described as the side effect of magic, is made around or near the target that has lasting effects... why? How does that make sense? I know asking for realism with magic is a bit of a stretch but I'd like it if the magic system was explained in a way that is at least coherent for the setting.
Let's move on to the gameplay. Oh dear lord, the gameplay. Let's put aside the issue that you can't jump and focus on the cover-based combat. Yes, you read that right; a JRPG, made by Hironobu Sakaguchi of all people, uses cover-based combat. That's like if Lollipop Chainsaw was a crime drama. I barely even know where to begin to say how horrible an idea this is but let me just say that I almost never used it when it wasn't required; it's quicker to just go up to the enemies and knock their lights out. Zael has a crossbow that could potentially have been useful for such occasions but every enemy in the game is either a CQC practitioner that will go up to you and shrug off your pathetically weak bolts or a long-range magic-user that can and will knock you out of your very penetrable cover whenever they darn well please. I would have liked to use the crossbow in regular combat but you can't move while aiming, meaning you're a sitting duck that's being eyed hungrily by all the jerks with knives and forks.
What's next; a driving minigame? Perhaps we'll have to outrace the Big Bad on Chocobos.
Another application for cover is stealth. On the odd occasion, the game will 'suggest' that you sneak around the enemy for a strategic assault. I only did this on the even odder occasion because stealth is boring. However, the game will sometimes throw in mandatory stealth sections that will require the use of cover. You see, enemy vision functions a bit differently in this game compared to other games; when you're not hiding, enemies can see you clear as day, even when you're standing behind a wall. However, when you're hiding, you instantly vanish from the enemies' mental radars. For the record, one of your most powerful attacks has you target an enemy- no small task, given how finicky the controls are- and press A to spring towards them for a powerful swipe. In fact, two boss fights consisted mostly of me hiding behind cover, waiting for the boss to get within targeting range if he wasn't already and cutting him in two. The rest of the boss fights were... ugh, quick-time events. Flipping frogs, where on Earth does Hironobu get his ideas?
As I've inferred, it is possible to bugger that cover-based nonsense entirely and just go right ahead and attack. Unfortunately, the game trips itself up again by having you attack automatically; get close enough to the enemy and Zael will automatically attack them. There is a manual attack option but the game penalises you for it by making it deal much less damage than auto-attack, which I feel is pretty cheap and wholly unnecessary. The auto-attack is a nuisance because, sometimes, my downed allies are over there and I try to get over there to revive them but a monster's in the way and I can't just roll past it nor can Zael just ignore it; Zael has to keep attacking the monster, even though I want him to get away from it. Other aspects of the combat that annoy me are that you regain all of your health after every fight like in Xenoblade Chronicles and you have no healing items so there's bugger all resource management and the frame rate drops whenever things get busy, such as when you're fighting a guy in a corridor alone.
Sorry for... ha... being late... Monster in the way...
If there's one thing about the gameplay that I like, it's how the side quests are done. Firstly, unlike in Skyrim or Xenoblade Chronicles, they don't vastly outnumber the main quest and chances are that you'll play the entire game without finding more than one. Secondly, they grant rewards that are neither too good to skip nor too bad to waste time on. Thirdly, they don't present themselves to you and you have to go out of your way to find them. Lastly, you don't keep a shopping list of the blasted things, meaning that there's no list for you to look over every time you start up the game and groan at how much more busywork you have to do before you feel like you can get on with things. Sidequests should complement the main story rather than act as a core part of the game. The Last Story is one of the few games in recent history if not the only game that gets sidequests right so as to avoid sidequest exhaustion. Oh, yeah: in the main city of the game, there's this little walkway with a breeze that blows useful yet not completely necessary items that you can snag by targeting them. Also, you may come across a worthless item on the ground, which you pick up and then another item appears, and then another, and then another and then something useful. I've lost track of how much time I've wasted on those fun little diversions.
Mostly in dungeons, your characters talk as you run around, like in Kid Icarus: Uprising and Lollipop Chainsaw. Now, this is a good tool to keep characterisation going, to entertain the player and break up the monotony of treading the same ground over and over. However, the timing's a bit off here: characters will often start having conversations right before the next cutscene trigger appears and then you trigger the next cutscene and the conversation is awkwardly cut off, making an entire audio recording session wasted. This can happen almost every time a conversation happens in a dungeon. Speaking of audio and a good opportunity to pad this paragraph out, your characters will very obnoxiously repeat the same line(s) of dialogue in a boss fight ("Aim for the head!", "Mirania's possessed!", "Damn it! Let me finish!") and it gets really, really annoying, especially since the characters have ridiculously awful British accents (if they're meant to be British, anyway; I can't tell). Or maybe the accents are genuine and I just suck at this whole thing.
For God's sake, SHUT UP! I CAN FIGURE IT OUT!
As well as their tendency to never shut up, your allies also have the debilitating problem of never being able to figure things out for themselves. In combat, they will never change what their tactics are or what attack they're using unless you order them to, something they will be quick to "helpfully" remind you of because they apparently lack the ability to adjust tactics depending on the situation and/or the enemy's weaknesses or resistances. To give orders to your allies, your four-gauge bar ability bar, while fast-charging, still needs to be full. Some bosses, which will repeatedly knock you on your backside, aren't exactly willing to wait for you to be ready and for your friends to have the dance steps memorised.
Oh, I forgot to mention; the game also has an online multiplayer mode (put those flamethrowers away, please). As the modes are about as consequential to the single-player mode as my reviews are to gaming culture, I could just not mention them but I thought that'd be a bit unprofessional of me. Anyway, the two modes available are Deathmatch, which I only played one game of due to an international case of no-one-cares-itis, and Co-Op, which actually has other people playing it most of the time and, in it, you all beat up a boss monster of your choosing. Both modes have a maximum of six players, succeeding means you can get items for the single-player and you communicate by assigning messages to the arrow buttons on the Wiimote or pressing the minus button to access the messages menu. In any event, there's not much to say about this as it's basically just single-player gameplay but with other people who cannot be ordered to cut out their stupidity.
Can't even tell the difference.
Given all the above and your undying loyalty to everything I say, I imagine you'd be put off buying The Last Story. I honestly wouldn't blame you, considering how sluggish the first ten hours are and the horrible design choices that were put into it. However, there is one part that really caught my attention. While it does not redeem the game as it's rather late into it, I feel it's worth discussing regardless. Sit around, please, and let me discuss the Raging Ocean chapter (don't worry; there are no spoilers).
Zael and Calista fall into the ocean from a collapsing stone bridge. As he is the player character and the male who is to protect the female in an ongoing JRPG trend that also covers Shulk and Fiora, Aeron and Elena and much more, Zael is the first to regain consciousness and surface. He finds himself in the middle of the very rocky raging ocean with no land or ships in sight and dark clouds above. As one would expect, his first instinct is to find Calista. You then spend the next few minutes swimming aimlessly around the dark ocean trying to find her. After a bit of time, you go into Zael's frequent first-person finder mode to try and find Calista. However, Calista is nowhere to be found. Upon finder mode's deactivation, you repeat the cycle again, with the wavy camera becoming wavier and Zael's panicked "Calista! Answer me!" turning into a desperate "Calista... Anyone..." Then you go through Zael's torment again for the third time.
Jeez, talk about grim (for this game, anyway)...
This scene completely defied expectations. For one, it manages to almost seamlessly blend context into gameplay, which is highly impressive considering The Last Story's gameplay is rather jagged and not suited for this sort of context-blending. Furthermore, this is the first JRPG I've ever played in which the protagonist's suffering is this prolonged in gameplay. It got to the point where I thought he might actually drown. Actually, no, I doubted that but it definitely made me think that the possibility was actually there. This was the first time I've ever seen Zael in such a vulnerable position with hope taking a vacation somewhere. This is the scene that tells me that Hironobu's still got it somewhere amongst all the ham-fisted storytelling and whiny protagonists.
Between them, Xenoblade Chronicles, Pandora's Tower and The Last Story have the ingredients of probably the best game ever and I don't say that lightly; Xenoblade Chronicles has an enthralling story with vast, beautiful environments and awesome weapon and enemy aesthetics, Pandora's Tower gave the player consequence, a support character that is genuinely lovable (when Elena says "Hey, Aeron!", I still get overexcited and say "Hi!" back, even when others are in the room) and varied gameplay that required more than extensive combat skills, high levels and astronomical stats to survive and The Last Story, without having much else to do, dedicated all its efforts to blending context with gameplay, at least for one bit. Sadly, the games are individual, with all their unique problems, and no amount of wishing is going to change that. Still, the game industry is growing and we may see some talented director or designer take these three games and make a masterpiece with them (but they have to remember to improve the god-awful lip-synching and facial movements present in all three games, though).
So, should you get The Last Story? Well, if you like Final Fantasy, this isn't really that much different from a thematic standpoint and the gameplay, such as it is, is still better than that of most Final Fantasy titles so you'll enjoy it. If you're still trying to decide whether to get this, Xenoblade Chronicles, Pandora's Tower or a combination of two, leave The Last Story out because it's nowhere near as good as Rainfall Red and Rainfall Yellow, not to mention The Last Story is only around 20 hours compared to Xenoblade Chronicles' 80. If, however, you think JRPGs are ghey and just want to play Generic FPS again but with more of an emphasis on being completely lighter brown rather than completely darker brown, God help you.
Here are the rest of my reviews.
Well, I decided to try again after my Kid Icarus: Uprising review. What do you all think?