Genre: Action RPG
Developed by: Mistwalker
Published by: Nintendo/XSeed
Feeling Like: Shouldn’t be
If I had to pick a favorite genre above all others, it has to be the RPG. We’ve only had a few on the 500 so far, but you can double down on the fact that many in the top 100 are comprised of heavily menu-focused, micro-managing, exposition churning dialogue factories. They’re ripe with philoso-babble, monsters and saving the world amidst a backdrop of a love story between teenagers, spiky hair and impossibly sized weapons. Sometimes I don’t even know why I bother; most RPGs take dozens of hours to beat, and even one slight misstep can turn my number one hobby into a chore-ridden obligation to just finish the damn thing so I can move on.
I think it’s the scale of RPGs that makes them so difficult to pull off. Many types of games can get away with a lack of story, or a weak one. Not RPGs. Some games don’t even have characters, voice acting, or dialogue, all of which modern RPGs can’t exist without. What kind of RPG doesn’t have a giant soundtrack, filled with memorable tracks and sweeping melodies? The gameplay must be sound, for it’s very easy to get bogged down in the naturally mundane task of fighting the same types of enemies over and over again. How do you keep the player compelled? How much time does it take to formulate an entire world, filled with non playable characters giving hints, towns for them to occupy, dungeons for the party to explore and world-conquering enemies to despise?
It’s the hardest category of game to pull off, in my opinion, which is why when I find an RPG that really sticks, I’m that much more endeared to them. The Last Story is almost there, but lacks a few key punches to propel it any higher than 461. The fact that Mistwalker packed this much content onto a horribly under powered system is admirable, but you can tell in a few spots that it would have been much better serviced on the 360 or the PS3.
Lazulis City is the main setting in the game. I’ve seen thousands of RPG cities at this point, but I never get tired of exploring them. Particularly when they have a relaxing theme that plays on repeat, as The Last Story does. No wonder, it was composed by Nobuo Uematsu, one of the gods of video game music. Nowadays the trend seems to be vaster is better, and you’ll often traverse miles of landscape with very little to see or do in between. I admired that The Last Story’s main city was the opposite, filled with sights and sounds. Back alleys, hidden treasures, merchants, bodyguards, castles, a day and night cycle, all meant to draw you in and I was, willingly.
The rest of the game suffered due to the lack of HD graphics, or an engine that couldn’t power a steady framerate. The combat took a while to get used to, but I never fell in love with it the way I did Lazulis City. So many times I covered behind a stone, instead of running up a wall, or fought boss after boss to the point where I was thrilled when I could just take a few minutes to breathe. The mechanics are vast, as you can control an entire party from a tactical standpoint, shoot from range, bounce off walls and perform a variety of counter attacks and magic. This is where the meat of the game is, it’s one of the few RPGs where combat won’t tire you out. The Last Story has you playing a mercenary with a party that is fun to be a part of, as long as you don’t pay attention too closely to the voice acting, animation or dialogue. Yes, this is a cardinal sin in RPGs, but there was enough here to keep me going until the ending.
I mean, some areas look really gorgeous. One could describe this as a really great looking PS2 game…seven or eight years prior to when The Last Story was released. The castle floor is particularly impressive, with gargantuan architecture highlighting an unrealistic, yet beautifully reflective floor. If you killed the loading screens and sharpened up the images, I’d play an HD remake in a heartbeat.
I must confess that I don’t recall much of the plot, story, or characters. Something about warring factions and a love story, but isn’t that every RPG? It was over relatively quickly, much to my dismay. There’s potential here for a sequel that could really surprise a lot of people, myself included. Areas aren’t cliche, effort was clearly put into the battle system and despite Mistwalker perhaps biting off more than they could chew, this is a solid RPG and that means it’s a lot better than most RPGs ever made.