Life is hard for a mercenary. They’re viewed as necessary evils in The Last Story‘s society. Sure, it’s fine to hire a group to win a war or retrieve stolen goods, but you wouldn’t want to actually let one in after he was almost fatally injured fulfilling a mission you’d assigned him. Such is the life of Zael, Dagran, Syrenne, Lowell, Yurick and Mirania. They’ve gone from place to place, trying to earn enough to live and perhaps find a permanent home where they’ll be successful and not shunned. In particular, Zael entertains dreams of being a knight.
Their search for money and steady work brings them to Lazulis Island. It’s well off, compared to the rest of the world, but plagued by enough monsters, bandits and other ne’er-do-wells to provide ample opportunity for Zael and his friends to find a place for themselves.
In fact, The Last Story picks up mid-mission with Dagran, leader of the mercs. The group has just arrived on Lazilus Island and the first task is for Dagran, Syrenne, Yurick and Zael to clear out Reptids, which are akin to anthropomorphic, violent lizard people. The groups have split up, with the straightforward warriors Dagran and Syrenne facing off against them with swords, while the sword and crossbow wielding Zael and magic dealing Yurick sneak around and bring up the rear.
Players will mostly control Zael in single player (although multiplayer allows more for fighting with whoever you want, whenever you want). This first story mission, however, begins with Dagran in control. This segment showed me exactly how active battle can be in The Last Story. Players don’t have to just run up to enemies and attack, a la Xenoblade Chronicles, though they can if they want to. These mercenaries are smart and can use the environment to their advantage. I could have Dagran hide behind cover, run out and stage attacks. He could vault over allies. Even before a major battle begins, all action briefly pauses to give an idea of where enemies are and think up the best attack strategy.
After an introductory exploration, Zael takes the stage. Zael could be considered a rogue in terms of class, as he doesn’t rely solely on the blade. He’s equipped with a bow and arrows and indeed, the initial introduction has him working with Yurick as backup, providing an assault from above. Shooting is easy enough, as a push of a button switches to a first person view. Unfortunately, you can’t just point the Wii remote at the screen to aim. You have to move the analog stick to search the area for potential targets. Also helpful is the fact that Zael possesses special kinds of arrows designed to take out mages and this view can be used to find weak points.
As the group regroups and scours the temple, they learn the area also happens to be home to ruins. This calls for more splitting up, to search for an exit, and a nearly disastrous outcome that almost results in Syrenne being killed and Zael being left alone in a hopeless situation. It’s then that a mysterious voice speaks, a strange light appears and Zael ends up gaining the Gathering ability from The Outsider spirit. When activated in battle, this ability makes enemies target only him, allows him to revive downed allies and lets his magic wielding partners cast spells better. He also eventually learns Burst attacks with it, but initially it serves as a means to resurrect the injured Syrenne and defeat the ruined temple’s guardian.
It’s after that victory that we finally get the first opportunity get to know the other mercenaries and explore the city. The base of operations is a tavern run by a village girl named Ariela and her family, and it’s here that Zael actually gets the opportunity to socialize with his peers and purchase some equipment. While weapons can be stronger or weaker, most standard armor tends to be equal aside from the bonus effects. All equipment changes the appearance of the mercs when equipped. Zael also has the opportunity to choose what he says in conversations with his friends, but I didn’t notice any striking differences if I chose to say something different.
I found I didn’t realize how pretty The Last Story was until Zael was able to explore the town. There’s only one, but the game makes up for it by making it absolutely gorgeous. Only a few basic areas with story centric spaces, shops and an arena are open initially, but more open up later and you can automatically warp to most areas you want. What helps the appreciation is the ability and need to shift to a first person view at times, since you can get a fresh perspective on what you’re seeing. It’s here that Zael meets the Count Arganan and General Asthar’s knights and remembers how much he longed to be one.
But it isn’t always about doing Count Arganan’s bidding and coming closer to Zael’s dream. Upon returning to the tavern, the group learns Ariela’s little brother is ill and thieves have stolen the medicine. Zael, Dagran, Lowell and Mirania set out to make things right with a retrieval operation that not only results in the medicine’s recovery, but also introduces a former friend and current foe called Zoran and a plot to release Reptids and another monster in the city to cause confusion and damage. The group saves the day, showing what good mercenaries are capable of, but only Ariela, her brother Warren and her family will ever know what Zael did for both Lazulis and their family.
In the hours that follow, Zael and his friends are entitled to downtime after what happened, and coincidentally a fireworks show is happening that night to celebrate the marriage of the Count’s niece, Calista, to a noble named Jirall. In a series of events that reminded me of Final Fantasy IX, Zael meets a young woman named Lisa and not only helps her escape the cities guards in two separate incidents, but also shows her the market, introduces her to the mercs, and goes with her to see her star on his way to guide her home. Obviously, this is more than some chance meeting and the two’s futures are tied together.
This is basically what you can expect from The Last Story. Yes, there’s political intrigue, a healthy dose of fantasy and plenty of action, but there are also moments where our hero and his friends will do more than just the standard “save the world” quests. There are times when they’ll be called upon to help the people of Lazulis Island, and I found these moments were often more insightful when it came to character development.
Food for Thought:
1. I was hoping to provide more insight on multiplayer, but there aren’t enough people playing. I only had three competitive battles, each with no more than three players, and two cooperative battles that only had one other party member in each match. On the plus side, even beginners can jump into multiplayer as the match will boost your level to make you an even match for your allies or opponents.
2. You can have manual or automatic attacks in battle. Automatic means characters will automatically attack in intervals and makes the affairs rather tedious. Manual gives you complete control and makes them more enjoyable.
3. I wish the whole “chapter” system hadn’t been implemented. It’s so weird to have it switch from one chapter to another when so little has happened. It also makes me worry that perhaps I missed something in one “chapter” that can never be accessed again in future “chapters.”
4.The Last Story features many of the standard video game tropes and you’ll likely spot and figure out any twists long before they happen.