Alright, we all know that Hironobu Sakaguchi was probably the best thing to ever happen to Squaresoft, creating their massively famous Final Fantasy franchise, and the impact was felt when he finally left Square-Enix. It seems that that charm and talent he possessed in creating games for the company has been lost, and cannot be replaced.
However, that is not to say this man has stopped making video games. In fact, his legacy lives on, in two of the most amazing RPGs I've ever played. One is Lost Odyssey, a game that kept the traditional Final Fantasy gameplay style you'd come to expect from Sakaguchi. It is fucking amazing.
The other is the lesser beloved little brother of Lost Odyssey, Last Story. (Oh, nice little joke there, Sakaguchi. Nice to see your corny sense of humor is still intact.) And that is the one I want to talk about today. I recently began playing this game, after seeing it in a Gamestop. I was fixated on this game. Something, almost like instinct, drove me to it. I could feel the game calling to me, asking me to give it a chance. So for $20, I bought this game. brought it home, and...
Well, to be honest, first impressions of the game were a little mixed. It's a wii game, so it's hardly the most visually stunning game, but that's not to say it doesn't make up for it elsewhere. We start in the think of battle with our heroes, a band of mercenaries, fighting a band of goblins in a cave. Not really the greatest opening, but I do like that it didn't waste time with a boring opening and just throw us into the thick of it, establishing right off the bat what kind of work our protagonists do.
The first thing that caught me off guard was the combat system. Sakaguchi almost always uses Turn Based or ATB in his games. This one is more free form...and it's frickin' weird. The way you attack is that you point the control stick towards an enemy, and when the character is in range, he'll start comboing the enemy. Okay...that's creative, if not a bizarre way of attacking in this game...
There's also the ability of strategy, via giving your allies commands. At certain points of the game, you must rely on using archery or magic to hit enemies that your player character cannot hit himself, and other times, you must defend the mage while he's casting a spell. It forms a sense of cooperation with your team,. They can do things you can't, but at the same time, they also rely on you for assistance on occasion.
The combat in this game, while odd, is nothing you won't get used to quickly, and dare I say, it's fun. There's a particularly interesting boss fight early in the game with one of the weirdest looking creatures I've ever seen where you actually cannot damage this creature. Instead, you must lure the monster onto a bridge over a chasm by tricking it into chasing you, and once you've got it into position, have your allies blast him into the abyss below. It's that kind of team cooperation I love in a game.
There are a lot of times when this comes into play in terms of strategy. Using your allies wisely can level an unfair enemy advantage to even ground, or turn the battlefield itself against your foe.
The boss fights in this game are really creative too. There's a particularly interesting boss fight against a mirror image of yourself where you must trick the doppleganger into walking into fire traps it'll take damage from. Now that's a nice change of pace from conventional combat tactics.
However, that's not to say that this combat system isn't sometimes frustrating, because it can be. There is another boss fight where I ended up having to switch the controls to conventional "Attack button" commands, which by the way, is an option, it reassigns your basic attack to the A button. I would recommend you do that instead if this is your first time playing. The premise of this boss though is that it's 3 duplicates of your team members, and you must figure which ones are your allies and which are the enemies in the middle of an intense brawl. Now that's another clever boss fight, but with the auto-attack method, you'll more often than not attack your own ally instead even if you didn't mean to.
Which is another problem. If you don't turn off the auto attack, you'll more often than not be hitting enemies you don't want to. This can get very annoying in some of the game's more claustrophobic battle situations.
However, while it can be frustrating at times, I applaud Sakaguchi's ambitious approach to the combat system. While I don't see this as breaking any new ground, it must be said that he went for creativity, and while it doesn't always work, he was at least trying, and for the most part, when it works, it can be fun. I wouldn't mind him using this combat system again in another game, but he's really got to sort out the flaws.
I usually play a game for the story, and while I'm not to the point in the game where the plot has really done anything to impress me, (I'm honestly only a few hours in.) there are many scenes that make it a memorable experience nonetheless. And that's no less than I'd expect from Sakaguchi. One such scene that really worked in my opinion is the scene where you are attacking an enemy stronghold, and the main character is stuck on a narrow landbridge fighting against swarms of enemies that have him surrounded. Below the bridge is a river of lava, so you've got death left, right, and below you with no escape, and can only hope to hold out against a relentless wave of enemies in an increasingly hopeless seeming situation.
That scene was incredibly done. I honestly felt like I was in a no-win scenario and death could be upon me any second. Where determination was my only friend. It's a well executed scene and shows that despite the Wii's hardware limitations, this game can pull off some spectacular moments.
The game does break a cliche at one point. You're faced against a no win boss with an enemy that far outclasses you. Now, this is typical of a Sakaguchi title, but it's done in a way that really gets you into the fight. There's obvious stakes to the fight, there's a motive that makes you feel you MUST beat this guy, and the game almost looks like it will give you a chance too, but no matter how well you fight, you cannot win. They don't just resort to giving him an unavoidable instant KO attack, and finish the fight that way, they give you an honest effort to fight this guy. And that's really well done. I don't mind no win boss fights, but don't force it so hard. This game doesn't force it. It gives you a clear illusion that you can probably give this guy a decent opponent, before it finally shows you that no, you are not good enough to beat him. It didn't cop out, and I like that.
Granted, there are a few moments where the game can get a little corny, which is what I'd expect from Sakaguchi at this point. There is a moment where the character must run away from inept guards with a princess in tow, and I don't know if this was supposed to be a tense moment, but it mostly comes off as cheesy and almost Disney-ish. Although to be fair, it didn't help that I was screwing around with the game's ability to recolor your party's outfits and gave the protagonist a hot pink leather jacket.
Still, while I can't say the overall plot so far is anything I'll be raving about, I do always appreciate how Sakaguchi can take what could on paper sound boring and generic, and fill it with scenes that can easily support it. I will definitely be remembering many of this game's many well crafted moments, even if the plot itself can be more or less forgettable.
The music in this game is awe inspiring. It's Nobuo Uematsu, famous Final Fantasy composer, easily at his best here. I honestly don't know if he really wasn't putting effort into Final Fantasy, because from what I've heard in this game? Those soundtracks aren't even close to demonstrating what this man is capable of. There is one piece of music in this game that is one of the most beautiful melodies I've ever heard, even from Uematsu. Needless to say, if there's a way to buy this soundtrack? Then I'm definitely shelling out whatever price I need to pay for it.
It's almost a pity this game is overlooked, because I'm only about 3 hours in, and from what I've seen so far...this is already one of my favorite RPGs. I wish to return to it when I have time, and when I do, I'll definitely finish talking about my thoughts. For now, though? It's nice to see that the men who brought us Final Fantasy and all it's wonders, even if they're no long part of this franchise, have not failed to keep delivering amazing experiences. The combat system in this game could use a little work, but that flaw does not break what is undoubtedly as great experience. I hope you all give this game a try, because I sure as hell am glad I did.