|Format:||Wii Optical Disc|
The Nintendo Wii hasn't exactly been an enticing system for RPGs, so it seems as if every time there is a more prominent one, that RPG gets even more focus than it would on another console. The Last Story is no different – in fact it might get even more attention because the last such RPG, Xenoblade, still has not been announced for release by Nintendo of America, and fans have all but given up on the title being localized. The Last Story also has the benefit of being developed by Mistwalker Studio which is headed by the game's director Hironobu Sakaguchi, formerly of Square Enix.
The Last Story takes place on the beautiful Ruli Island, rich in resources and thus very prosperous, much unlike the wartorn mainland. Elza and his group of mercenaries have come to the bustling, sprawling Ruli City, where much of the game takes place. As a result, it's buildings and various areas are both impressive and architecturally complex; Marche, the shopping center; Central Plaza, built above a river flowing through the city; even the maze of pathways you can get lost in. In Ruli City you can save, buy and sell food and items, have your fortune told, and mingle with residents who will react to you differently as your character evolves.
Elza, the main character, is an orphan who has been a mercenary ever since losing his family. He aspires to be a knight, and his weapon of choice is a bow gun. He is also capable of wind-based magic. Kanan, from the island's ruling Arganon family, is the heroine. She longs to leave Ruli Castle to travel but is guarded rather closely by her uncle. The crew's trusted leader, Quark, has known Elza since their youth and is like an older brother to him. He is skilled in battle and also negotiates for potential jobs for the group. Seiren loves to drink, and jumps into battle with twin blades. Because of her foul mouth she comes off as feisty, but she cares a lot about her friends nonetheless. The youngest, Yuris, is very useful in battle due to his fiery magic skills. Like Elza, he also lost his parents, and has become fairly antisocial. Jackal is much more outgoing to the point of being flirtatious, but is a smart man nonetheless. His magic of choice is ice, and he also brings a sword onto the battlefield, making him versatile. The healer of the group is the gentle Manamia, who creates a motherly atmosphere and loves food. Her birth and childhood seem to be a bit of a mystery.
This crew of mercenaries has come to the island looking for jobs which often entail killing off unwanted monsters: not a very highly respected line of work. In Ruli City the Count of Arganon – the island's leader and Kanan's uncle – has given the crew some missions to help them work their way up in terms of gaining respect. Meanwhile, the knights employed by the empire are of a much higher class and maintain a secure lifestyle. Unlike mercenaries, they're admired by the people, including Elza and most of his allies. In town, Elza meets General Trista, well known for his chivalrous ideals and once called the 'Empire's Greatest Treasure'; he is the former highest-ranking officer in the army, and as a result has seen the devastating effects of war on the land. Whether Trista is a friend or foe to the mercenaries remains to be seen.
The Last Story has a pretty standard equipment menu screen with all the usual options and character stats displayed. You can fortify your existing weapons, affecting their stats, skills and sometimes even their type. Armor is equipped in two parts: lower and upper body. For aesthetic purposes you can add, remove and even paint parts of each, but these options won't affects its strength. Armor also has different types (ie. feather, heavy and hunter) as well as its own level, all of which will affect its design and abilities. The characters' regular clothing is also changeable, although this may be just another aesthetic feature rather than having any bearing on any abilities. Any strange equipment you pick up on your adventures can be appraised at certain shops in order to identify them.
What separates Elza from the other mercenaries is his unique 'Gathering' ability. In his first mission inside a cave on the island, some event occurs which leads to him discovering this previously unknown power. By emitting a blue light from his hand, Elza can attract the attention of enemies, which will assist allies in casting spells. The game will indicate how much time you have to help your ally successfully pull off the spell, since if the caster gets hit, the spell is cancelled and he or she will have to start over. You will also be able to use Gathering to fire off a burst of energy at an enemy, or to cure fallen allies. Finding out why Elza has his power will be one of the key points of the story.
Real-time battles mean they will certainly be fast-paced; normally Elza's allies are AI-controlled unless you activate Command mode, so if the action is simply coming at you too fast, you can freeze it by making limited use of this option. This way, not only will you get a view of the battlefield from above, but you'll be able to issue commands to Elza or any of his companions in this mode. You can tell them which attacks to use, or what kind of magic or healing to cast, and where. In this mode Elza can increase his attack power, cast Wind or find his way to a healing circle.
Wherever you focus a magic spell, a circle (whose size can be increased if Elza uses his wind spell) will appear. Magic will affect objects, enemies, and allies (if you use a healing spell) within this vicinity. Besides the obvious damage, magic can have side effects depending on its type, such as an ice spell being able to cause enemies to slip and fall. The circle can also give weapons a temporary elemental property to their attack when a wielder steps into the area.
Another option at your disposal is 'Focus,' which allows you to concentrate on a certain enemy or object. The former allows Elza to aim his bow gun (it's probably best to start by taking out the healers) but it's not clear yet if you can just point at an enemy with the Wiimote. Alternatively, if you choose to focus on an object, you can cause a variety of effects, such as boulders falling on your foes. The pointer system indicates who each enemy is targeting in battle. In the screenshots they look like laser pointers; different colors indicate which attack is about to be used – be it close combat, magic, an arrow or some other means – and you can use this knowledge to your advantage. Beginners and players unfamiliar with the battle system will be happy to know that there is an option in which you automatically attack when you're facing a certain enemy in your direction of approach.
There are two types of online play: competitive and co-operative modes. Each supports up to six players at a time – made up of the Last Story characters of choice – but if you have six Elzas in battle, they will look different depending on how each is equipped. The character you choose will change your experience in these battles, since each specializes in different areas. Competitive battles are restricted by time limits, and you'll be able to see others' ranks in comparison to yours. Like the main game though, magic attacks take time to execute, so use caution when casting spells in competitive mode. Co-op mode requires players to meet in a lobby to get organized beforehand.
The Last Story looks to be a title that has it all: stunning graphics, an intriguing story, a unique battle system, and even some forty music tracks from Nobuo Uematsu. With everything that Mistwalker has put into the title, English fans can only hope that Nintendo of America sees the potential in this one to bring it over. Until that happens, interested parties will have to import The Last Story when it releases in Japan in late January.