Wii 25-in-25: The Last Story,
My previous Wii 25-in-25 entry for Xenoblade Chronicles was one of two games that may owe its North American release largely to the efforts of Operation Rainfall and today we will be looking at the other title from that campaign, The Last Story. Of course, The Last Story was linked to Xenoblade long before Operation Rainfall came around thanks to a number of factors. These include both games being announced at around the same time, both being major hardcore releases for a system that by that point in its lifetime was perceived by many as accommodating to such titles, both being RPGs, and even the fact that both were created by developers with former ties to the Final Fantasy series (in the case of The Last Story, no less than Hironobu Sakaguchi a.k.a. the original creator of Final Fantasy himself).
So it is understandable that there is a tendency for people (including myself at times) to compare Xenoblade and The Last Story, but it is also rather unfair as well. For one thing, these are games with very different ambitions and goals and this is reflected in everything from gameplay to story to visual design. Xenoblade is a game interested in telling a sweeping and epic tale with roots going back thousands of years or more in a setting wholly unlike anything previously seen in gaming. It has its personal components to be sure, but these also have to operate on at least an equal footing with a larger tale of high fantasy and science-fiction. It is game reaching for as much scope as it can manage and the canvas it paints on is massive as a result.
The Last Story is a far more intimate and personal tale and while there are fantastical and weightier concerns in play, they are ultimately more backdrop elements in what is as much a love story as it is anything else. This is a game with a narrower focus and with that comes the decision to keep the action in the game limited to environments in and around a single island and the main city that rests upon it. The Last Story is not a sweeping hundred-hour epic by design and comparing it directly to Xenoblade as a result is awkward for both games at best. TLS in particular can seem unduly small and less accomplished when viewed in the shadow of Xenoblade. This is a conclusion which could not be further from the truth however and there should be no question it can be every bit as difficult to tell a satisfying lower-key story centered around a small group of individuals as it is one larger in scale and energy.
The Last Story may not be as flashy as some RPGs, but Sakaguchi remains a master of his craft and he knows exactly how to use the building blocks he has chosen to work with in an effective manner. Never let it be said that TLS is a game averse to taking chances. One need only look at the game’s approach to combat to see the truth of that. It is hard to describe the combat system TLS employs (especially in the space available here) but it essentially plays out like one part third-person shooter, one part traditional turned-based RPG, one part RTS, and one part stealth-action title. In theory that might sound like an unwieldy and messy mix of concepts and ideas but in practice it leads to what is hands down one of the best combat systems seen in any RPG in years. There might be areas where The Last Story comes off short in a direct comparison to Xenoblade, but combat is not one of them. Xenoblade has a great combat system of its own to be sure (and which includes enough unique elements to stand out from a crowd), but it simply cannot compare to just how daring and satisfying alike combat in The Last Story can be. To paraphrase my original review of the game, there is a reason TLS is one of the only single-player focused RPGs to include not just cooperative online multiplayer but competitive as well.
Do I ultimately think that Xenoblade is a better game than The Last Story? Yes, but then again I would say the same thing were you to put Xenoblade up against any other standalone RPG of this (or possibly even any) generation. Beyond that, there are flaws present in TLS, including a highly linear & relatively (for RPGs at least) short main quest of between 15 to 20 hours sans sidequests (which can add another ten hours or so of time to that length) and some decidedly weaker graphics. And even that first flaw might be seen as more of strength for those looking for something less time intensive or willing to let a game be what its creators want it to be. I have less of a defense for the graphical problems. The Wii is an underpowered system these days, but then again that did not stop Xenoblade from being a visual marvel.
Even so, The Last Story remains a remarkable accomplishment that its developers should be immensely proud of. It is an impressive product, especially when judged on its own merits and it also serves as another example of how Japanese RPGs can be innovate while remaining true to their past at the same time. It is funny that a system so derided by many for its casual focus would end up in its final years producing multiple examples of games that pushed the boundaries of one of the most hardcore of genres in a variety of ways. On the other hand, perhaps it really is not that surprising really. Few other companies have been more inclusive towards innovation overall than Nintendo.
The Wii was a console with its fair share of missteps and mistakes, but looking back it seems clear that Nintendo, for a time at least, got lost in the sheer ocean of money that the system was producing. Yet, ultimately the people running the company never truly lost sight of Nintendo’s long-held core values. Both the first-party games they developed and the second-party titles they supported throughout the Wii’s existence stand as proof enough of that. As I look ahead to the future of the Wii U, games like Xenoblade and The Last Story leave me feeling only confidence in regards to that future. Once again Hironobu Sakaguchi has created a game whose title speaks to a sense of finality even while the game behind that title overflows with the promise of even better things yet to come.
Come back tomorrow for the final entry in the Wii’s 25-in-25. After all, you’ve come this far.