Played it: The Last Story

Along with Xenoblade Chronicles, this is the one of the handful of innovative Japanese role playing games that have been released in the twilight years of the Wii. Where Xenoblade streamlined and opened up the traditional JRPG formula in a highly original setting, The Last Story opts for more of a stock medieval fantasy land, while also ripping out all of the gameplay you might expect and replacing it with transplants from completely different genres.

The result is something that could best be described as a spiky-haired Gears of War with an emphasis on close combat and with the ability to issue orders to your AI team mates. This form of gameplay is actually enhanced by the linear, scripted nature of each quest and side-quest, with every battle carefully crafted to give you a different challenge. The bosses in particular require a high degree of strategy, and developing effective tactics to beat them is very satisfying.

Although I did grow to like all the characters as the game progressed, the script is rather weak, relying on the cast delivering lengthy explanations of motives that fail to flow naturally from their reaction to events. These are nicely entertaining heroes to send battling through dungeons, but most attempts to develop them and embroil them in drama manage to feel both forced and predictable.

One surprising high point of the game is the setting of Lazulis City, the hub that the heroes return to between dungeon crawls in order to buy and upgrade items and find optional side quests. At first this may seem like a disappointing stock medieval city, especially compared to the more imaginative settings we often get from JPGs. As you spend time inhabiting it, though, you find a complex geography of streets and alleys, populated with plenty of people (and the odd cat). Shouldering your way through a busy shopping district, or finding a quiet courtyard where you can sit and listen to an old man's nostalgic stories, Lazulis City feels vibrant and alive where many RPG cities are static and sparsely populated.

The Last Story emphasises a narrative that should be a lot tighter, with stronger character motivation and less exposition, but it's still a solid action RPG with a surprisingly interesting setting.

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