Game Bio: The Last Story

February 21, 2012

As Nintendo prepares to launch their next home console, the Wii U, sometime later this year, most have written off the oh-so-popular Wii as well and truly dead. Not that you could blame them. Over the last twelve months support for the system, both from Nintendo and third parties, has dropped off quite substantially, making it clear development resources have shifted to greater priorities, such as building a launch line-up for the aforementioned next generation system, and to support the Nintendo 3DS as it finally makes up lost ground.

But as proven with Xenoblade Chronciles, PAL gamers, and that includes us, still have a couple of rare treats to look forward to, as Nintendo’s European branch continues to localise otherwise Japan-exclusive Wii games. Later this year gamers can look forward to playing the action adventure title Pandora’s Tower, but before then, and right now in fact, Nintendo is giving Wii owners one final role playing outing with The Last Story, the product of a special collaboration between the Big N and Mistwalker.

The Last Story

Released just shy over a year ago in Japan, The Last Story was born out of Nintendo’s goal to expand their portfolio with a “new form RPG”, one that, according to Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata, would deal with the  “universal theme of human emotion”, a contrast to the more traditional epic adventure Nintendo built with Monolith Soft, producing Xenoblade Chronicles. However, unlike Xenoblade Chronicles, Nintendo would seek guidance and collaboration outside of internal studios, reaching out to independent developer Mistwalker (Lost Odyssey, Blue Dragon) to help them construct this ambitious project.

To assure quality and direction of The Last Story, it was decided that this unique project would be headed legendary developer and Final Fantasy founder Hironobu Sakaguchi, of which was marked as a significant revelation for two important reasons. To begin with, Sakaguchi’s history with Nintendo is one that ended long ago, the developer having not worked exclusively with the publisher since all the way back to the Super Nintendo era. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, The Last Story would mark Sakaguchi’s return to the director’s chair, having abandoned the position in 1992, after Final Fantasy V, in favour of advisory and conceptual roles. Though the man had played a part in the development and design of many titles since Final Fantasy V, The Last Story would be his first game in almost two decades where entire direction, management and design of the project would be under his control. No pressure.

Where Xenoblade Chronicles relied on fairly traditional role playing formula and pacing, The Last Story strived to do something different, putting emphasis on a more cinematic, story driven experience, intense quasi-real time battles, and more boss fights than you can shake a broadsword at. That’s not to say traditional roots were abandoned entirely. Veteran role players will identify with a heavy fantasy settings, and a wealth of customisable options that allow players to build and shape their character and party members to whatever play and visual style they please. Swords slash, magic booms, and damage variables float above enemies’ heads, with the the slight chance of scoring a critical hit. There’s enough ‘traditional’ video game role playing there to please even the strongest critic.

But there’s no denying this is a more focused experience, one that never expects players to slave over cumbersome menus or spend hours grinding for essential loot. A fast and furious battle system, which emphasises the strategic play of enemy and ally positioning, mixing magic and melee, as well as devastating long range stealth attacks, serves at the forefront of a speedy and engaging game pacing for both solo and online play, a necessity given Nintendo and Mistwalker’s intentions of getting players caught up in the world and it’s characters, teasing with plot twists, secrets and surprises around every corner.

The story follows one Zael, a mercenary-for-hire with a miserable past tainted with loss and hardship. Zael, along with his merry band of colourful adventurers and battle hardened warriors, arrive at a harbour city entrance to the great Lazulis Island, desperately seeking work, as the island remains one of the last prosperous lands under the governing Empire. There Zael and his companions meet Count Arganan, head of House of Arganan and ruler of Lazulis Island, who commissions them for a job that is destined to become so much more than originally expected, especially since Count Arganan’s beautiful niece Calista is desperate to join the mercenaries on their journey.

Before long, the high demands of a powerful count, and desperation to find work in a dying land, become little more than trivial concerns, as Zael learns of a mighty king intent on uniting the Guraks, a race of humanoid monsters and long standing enemy of all mankind. With this threat looming on the horizon, a mysterious magical power bestowed to our protagonist, and a little bit of a love story thrown in for good measure, there’s no time to rest as the adventurers set off forward to bring peace and freedom to the Empire’s land.

Though The Last Story joins Xenoblade Chronicles, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Pandora’s Tower among the ranks of the Wii’s swansong, it is comforting to see high quality gaming retained right to the end, especially given the game’s late arrival in the English speaking parts of the world. In the past, Nintendo has copped quite a bit of flack for abandoning localisation efforts for anticipated titles, and though they’re still guilty of this, recent times have shown an admirable combined effort from Nintendo of Europe and Nintendo of Australia in bringing foreign titles to our shores.

The Last Story for the Nintendo Wii launches across Australia today, and to celebrate this event Nintendo of Australia has kindly joined forced with Rocket Chainsaw to give a copy of this gem away to one lucky reader. Head on over here to check out the competition’s details.