It is always easier to write about a game when it is either amazing or terrible, shamelessly celebrating or attacking various features of the game. It becomes immensely more difficult when the game falls in between the two. Such is the case with The Last Story, which had tremendous potential on which it unfortunately failed to capitalize.
To put it bluntly, The Last Story is a game of broken promises. The opening hours of the game shine with interesting characters, unique encounters and an original storyline. As the game progresses, Mistwalker is unable to maintain this inventiveness as the best party members lack screen time, boss battles try too hard to be clever, and the plot strays into the cliché.
Although that description makes it sound like an overly bad game, there are glimpses of greatness. The Last Story excels in its character moments. From their cheeky accents to their dynamic personalities, I was always looking forward to and rushing towards cutscenes to see the wonderful characters interact.
All of this leads to a rollercoaster from the fresh to the stale, fun to frustrating, and exciting to boring; leaving me with the resounding feeling of ambivalence towards the game.
Ultimately, The Last Story was a half-finished experiment that set the groundwork for what would have been a wonderful sequel. It's a shame that there is almost no chance of this ever happening, because The Last Story 2 is a game that I would love to play.
If I had to choose one reason to replay The Last Story a third time, it would be to hear Zael's team of mercenaries bantering with one another again while traversing the in-game world. You've seen each one of the characters' quirks and personalities in other games before, but the way Mistwalker crafts their interactions with one another in The Last Story makes it worth staying to see what tomfoolery is bound to happen next. I always enjoy hearing Syrenne and Lowell fighting like a married couple, as well as Mirania easily shifting a serious conversation to what food she can shove into her mouth. Of course, the best team dialog in the game always starts with how fast they can get beer in their bellies (especially, if not mostly, Syrenne). If I had to choose my favorite dialog between any two characters in the game, my hat's off to to Zael's incredible reaction to Horace. Wow, I'd better stop now before I replay this wonderful game again. ;)
The Last Story is a unique RPG. Its chapters are structured like missions in an action game, with mostly-linear corridors and each combat encounter set in its particular place. The combat, with stealth and strategy elements baked into a real-time action system, are usually interesting. The Last Story's narrative has dramatic turns and appealing characters, including a rather sweet love story between Zael and Calista. The music is gorgeous, probably Nobuo Uematsu's finest work of the past five years (depending on your feelings on Terra Battle). There's a lot to love here.
...but The Last Story feels like less than the sum of its parts. The linear nature of its missions and the small number of major sidequests make the game's limited scope very apparent. The visuals aren't hideous, but look muddy on a modern television and occasionally get too busy for the Wii to handle without slowdown or lengthy load times. The boss battles are hit and miss, with their specific gimmicks getting frustrating by game's end, especially since the final gauntlet is something like eight straight boss fights with hardly a break. During the last third of The Last Story, I was playing to try and get to the end credits before recording the podcast, not because I was enjoying the game's final act.
With all that said, The Last Story is unlike any other RPG. I struggle to compare it to other RPGs without mentioning disparate elements of, say, four different games. For its individuality, and for how good its best parts are, I would recommend genre fans at least try out The Last Story. I didn't love it, but I'm sure it might be some unsuspecting gamer's future all-time favorite.