When it comes to Japanese role-playing games, it’s easy to dismiss them as grand, lengthy stories about unlikely teens saving the world with giant swords.
But while The Last Story may have come from the creator of the renowned Final Fantasy series, this game is anything but your typical JRPG.
Set on the beautiful Lazulis Island, you play as Zael, a young mercenary aspiring to become a knight. Standing in the way of his dream, however, are the Gurak, an exiled people who want to reclaim Lazulis for themselves, and Zael and his companions must join forces with the island's ruler, Count Arganan, to try and halt the invasion.
But Zael soon learns that there's something else lurking in the depths of Lazulis Castle that could end up destroying much more than just the Gurak, and Zael must decide whether his dream or his honour is more important.
The overarching story may be familiar territory for Final Fantasy fans, but The Last Story works hard to set itself apart from its spiritual ancestor right from the get go, and within seconds you're thrown straight into the game's excellent combat system.
Taking place in real-time, strategy is absolutely key here, emphasised all the more by the top-down field overview each time a new battle begins. The variety of enemies aren't particularly extensive, but no two encounters are exactly the same, and when your party members are constantly falling in and out of attendance, there's plenty to keep you on your toes.
It’s a very dynamic battle system, and one that’s made all the more interesting by Zael's "Gathering" ability.
This allows him to draw enemy attention away from your spell-casters as well as revive downed allies, but Gathering does come with its own flaws. By making yourself the centre of attention, it's very easy to get surrounded and have several enemies attacking you at once.
While this is all part of Gathering's strategy, it's considerably more difficult to pick or switch your intended target, which occasionally makes combat feel slightly chaotic.
But it’s the game’s incredible amount of detail and added personal touches which really makes The Last Story stand out compared to other games in the genre. Lazulis City may be the game's only central location, but it's a thriving and vibrant metropolis brimming with people going about their daily business and chatting in the streets.
You'll get lost several times as you take a wrong turn or three down a winding alleyway, but when hidden items await around nearly every corner, you'll want to explore every last nook and cranny Lazulis City has to offer.
The game’s personality doesn’t stop there either. As you saunter through the island’s caves and tunnels, Zael and his companions will often share little anecdotes during the main story quests (in a range of well-executed regional accents to boot), and it’s little details like these which really help endear them to the player.
Mercenaries may not be looked upon too kindly on Lazulis Island, but you'll find it hard not to like them as you listen to their warm and friendly banter.
At the end of the day, it’s not really about whether these people save the world either – it’s whether they do the right thing and reconcile their ambitions with the world around them, and it’s been a long time since JRPGs have felt so human and down to earth.
The Last Story also has a multiplayer mode to get stuck into as well.
Deathmatches pit you against other players, while Co-op allows you to team up with five other players to take down former bosses.
Overall, it's a nice add-on , but new players may find it rather daunting as Co-op bosses are almost unbeatable unless you have a full roster of players behind you.
All in all, The Last Story is simply a delightful game to play. With its rich, lively combat system and entertaining characters, it strikes a masterful balance between engaging gameplay and heartfelt story-telling.
It makes JRPGs personal again, and while it isn't perfect by any means, this is one game you won’t want to overlook.
9/10 The Last Story is out now for Nintendo Wii.