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The Last Story stabs at a big budget RPG on the low-tech Wii, but in spite of excellent visual design and story-writing, only die-hard Wii fans will overlook its faults.
My mercenaries were searching the castle courtyard, looking for a means of progress. Unprofessional though it is to admit, we didn't have a clear idea where we were going. We were just trying all the doors and any we found unlocked we considered progress. During our search we were set upon by fearsome monsters and battle was met. As fighting continued, I didn't really have a clear idea of what the rest of my team was doing. They seemed to be contributing to victory, in their own way, and every now and again I had to pick one of them up when they became injured. My biggest contribution is my loud mouth. Guaranteed I get the attention of every enemy during a fight - I just have one of those faces. They are particularly stupid enemies though; my favourite strategy is to draw their attention, then hide behind a wall. They forget where I am almost instantly and while they're scratching at their heads I leap out of hiding and stick a knife in their chests.
I have to admit that I was excited to play The Last Story. Many friends have raved about it and it has received a very respectable critical reception. Purely as a directorial reappearance from the legendary Final Fantasy creator, Hironobu Sakaguchi, it has earned its place as a game about which to be excited.
Because of this, I feel that were I to write a Novel Gamer radio play to highlight my feelings about The Last Story, it would be hard to think of an analogy not already explored by Hans Christian Anderson in his classic story, The Emperor's New Clothes. I'm afraid to say that Wii-tinted spectacles seem to have granted The Last Story a huge amount of grace and favour in spite of some significant shortcomings. Balanced against other sophisticated RPGs available across other consoles, The Last Story doesn't come off well.
The Last Story committed a narrative sin early on.
As a storyteller myself, The Last Story committed a narrative sin early on by throwing too many characters at the player. It took me a long time to unpick who was who, unlike the excellent Mass Effect 3 (360) which carefully introduces new faces at a pace which allows the audience to keep up. In a genre which is all about Playing a Role, it isn't a good start to make the player feel excluded from the world: where everybody else knows each other and what is going on but won't let you in.
Having figured out what was going on, it was difficult to game-play and plot together. I resorted to the tried and tested approach of wandering the city talking to strangers until I encountered a trigger which would get me on to the next bit.
It did draw me in with some elements. The plot is intriguing and full of political twists and well-defined characters, underscored by some emotive music and interesting characters. Unusually, for a Wii title, The Last Story features fully-localised voice performances. Even more unusually, the game has been localised with British accents, providing that authentic European medieval flavour for which so much fantasy strives.
The result of this is mixed. I was captivated by the performances of the always-excellent Monserrat Lombard (Ashes to Ashes, Undone) and Derek Riddell (Doctor Who), while some of the other voices sounded a bit over-acted in places. The end results is that The Last Story comes over as a poor-quality movie dub.
Even so, The Last Story is a very able attempt at producing an equivalent to Final Fantasy XIII on the Wii. I think the real problem here is that Final Fantasy itself seems to have forgotten how to provide a role-playing adventure which gamers can enjoy, instead relying on graphical gloss to woo eye-candy fans - something which the Wii clearly cannot attempt.
This made it all the more unfortunate that I found the combat messy and the strategic elements gimmicky and inappropriate. As in the short story at the top, it doesn't feel natural to have to dive into cover while in plain sight and then launch surprise attacks at an enemy who, until seconds ago, was fighting me. It's not only awkward gameplay but also breaks the fiction which the game world creates. Furthermore, the bombs which litter the battlefield are so unwieldy to pick up and aim I found myself ignoring them.
The Last Story is a very able attempt at producing Final Fantasy XIII on the Wii.
Outside of battle, it is very easy to lose track of the next objective, particularly if picking up the game from a save point. This resulted in even more random exploration, trying to figure out where I was headed. The game's menus and options are also legion and very hard to navigate. Assigning equipment and armour to team-mates is fiddly, relying as it does on tiny face icons to represent each character, rather than displaying names.
It's also a game which will require a large-ish TV and a component (RGB) connection, using the Wii's 480p display option. I found that playing this using a standard composite connection, even on a 36-inch LCD screen, the tiny on-screen text was almost illegible; which is a pity since there is a lot of it.
For a game with so much promise in its production values and intricate narrative, I ended up feeling like I was fighting the game's technology and interface to try and get to the heart of the experience beneath. Somehow it even makes a mess of the Wii's incredibly flexible control options. I'd almost rather read a book of The Last Story's characters and events, because at least that way the only barrier to enjoying it would be gentle and familiar words on a page.
Ultimately I feel a bit cheated for not enjoying The Last Story as much as some of my peers, but I really think that in comparison to the best RPGs available on all consoles, it comes across as quite a weak title. I have been reliably informed that it gets better later on. That's all fine and good and I think if you are really determined to like The Last Story it does have a lot of good elements. Ultimately, if you have the time to persist with a game which isn't that enjoyable for the first 10-12 hours, then you may well have a good time with it. I think most people will have switched off by then.
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