The title is, of course, a playful nod to the pedigree of its director, Hironobu Sakaguchi – the creator of one of the most famous franchises in videogame history and instigator of an entire genre. A title like The Last Story, though, carries a certain weight of expectation. Is this really a game to rival his previous work on the Final Fantasy series? Is it really the last word on interactive storytelling?
Well, let’s start with that story. It’s certainly not the first time it’s been told. Boy meets girl; the boy, Elza, is from the wrong side of the tracks, a roving mercenary who dreams of a more settled life; the girl, Kanan, is a princess who yearns to see the world outside her circle of privilege. As the backdrop, we’re given a band of adventurers drawn into an epic struggle between mystical forces of good and evil. The cinematography is characteristically excellent, the pacing is typically glacial and there are times where Sakaguchi is unable to mask his penchant for saccharine scenes or leaden dialogue. Yet it’s blessed with an engaging cast and an emotional power that sweeps you along.
It’s interspersed, however, with a game that’s elusive and difficult to pin down. On one hand, it hasn’t come far from Sakaguchi’s inaptly named previous series: anybody who’s played any of the Final Fantasy titles will be familiar with the thematic concerns of The Last Story. There are countless structural similarities, too: the dungeon crawling, the character levelling, the party-based exploration, the towns, the NPCs. Even the characters look like they’ve stepped out of Final Fantasy – one of them looks like Balthier (FFXII); another like Yuna (FFX); a third, at a push, resembles Cloud (FFVII).
Contradictions abound, not least a variation in quality. The ceaseless banter and chatter between your party goes a long way towards creating a lifelike world – until the next stilted, robotic animation. A glimpse of the sun bursting through the clouds, or blossom floating on the wind, will make your spirits soar – until a grainy wall texture or jarring camera jerk brings them back to the ground with a bump. The combat system manages to combine frantic action with a decent amount of tactics and strategy; yet it’s also easy just to stumble through it. For an RPG, The Last Story is short and too easy, but also trimmed of the superfluities of many of its brethren.
But for all its inconsistencies, complexities, inadequacies and oddities, The Last Story offers an entrancing and seamless flow of interesting experiences. And surely that, in the final reckoning, is what counts.