Hello all! Last time, we checked out an obscure JRPG that was never as popular as other genre hits, even though it was pretty cool.

This week brings us another JRPG that’s a little less obscure, though it’s somewhat buried under other, more popular titles as well.

The Last Story is a Wii-exclusive game developed by Mistwalker (Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi’s studio) and AQ Interactive. It’s mostly known for being one of the three Japanese Wii titles fans petitioned for localization in a campaign known as Operation Rainfall. TLS is, in a plot and aesthetic sense, a classic JRPG. It tells the tale of Zael, the protagonist and player character, who is part of a band of mercenaries led by Dagran. Their ultimate goal is to become knights. Then they meet a princess, and bad guys, and things happen. It’s a fairly (actually, very) standard RPG plot, but there’s something that makes it greater than the sum of its parts, which we’ll get to in a bit.

TLS doesn’t play like a traditional JRPG; it’s more of a third-person hack-and-slash. You fight and cast magic in real-time, and you can even take cover behind walls during battles, which causes enemies to lose sight of you, leading to surprise critical hits. You also have a crossbow, and you can use it from cover as well, sometimes turning TLS into a cover-based shooter. Sometimes. Mostly you’ll attack with your sword; mashing the attack button works well enough for minor enemies.

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Major enemies, like bosses and whatnot, require a bit more thought, as with any great RPG. Casting magic in TLS is a litle different; generally, you’ll rely on your teammates to cast magic in the form of a circle, which Zael can then charge into and “diffuse” the circle in order to activate additional magic abilities. For example, an ally can create a healing circle which will regenerate the health of anyone standing inside it. However, diffusing the circle will heal all allies in the battle, albeit without regenerating them (just a one-time deal). That’s just one example, and it shows how TLS makes you think about positioning and split-second decisions.

There’s also Gathering, an ability that Zael has that draws all enemies towards him, reduces their movement speed, and makes allies move faster. Generally, you’ll end up leaving this on, because A) The benefits far outweigh the risks, and that’s because B) The game isn’t really all that difficult. You’re given five lives to complete every battle, and you have a large party helping you out throughout the game. While there’s strategy during battles, and you can die if you screw up badly, those looking for a Dark Souls-like challenge will be left wanting.

While the battles are easy (if fun), the main draw for TLS is its authenticity. That’s what I was talking about regarding the plot and how it’s better than the RPG checklist it first appears to be. There’s something...real, and believable, in how your band of mercenaries interacts with each other. Each character in the game is given a full personality; they may be tropes, but it’s about using tropes effectively. Zael is a bit stiff, but that’s a given considering his status as an RPG protagonist. I mean, every character in the game is a bit of a cliche, along with the plot, but the plot and characters are presented with so much more heart than a lot of similar titles. Including last week’s game.

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It’s heart that elevates The Last Story from the mediocre title it could’ve been. It’s heart that separates it from games that forget to make sure the pieces all fit together. TLS might be tropey, but like I said, it’s about using tropes effectively. And the game is unapologetic about doing so—that’s what I love about it. It commits fully to its world and setting, and as a result, the game doesn’t feel phoned in. It’s felt in the smaller moments of TLS; meeting in the pub between missions, or the back-and-forth between characters before and after a battle.

It’s a traditionally epic RPG story, but The Last Story is also grounded somewhat, and that’s why I like it. You’re more connected to the characters personally than you would be in another game that didn’t bother with the smaller moments I mentioned before. That’s what makes this okay game pretty great.

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Next week’s game is a reboot (ish) of a classic series; it takes the series into 3D while retaining its soul, and it’s just the best thing ever.