It feels a bit odd saying this, but The Last Story isn’t the triumphant return of the JRPG we had all hoped it would be.
The Last Story is a competent game though – but without the meaty complications and excessive trappings of the genre it so desperately struggles to at both times exist in and reinvent. It’s a fast-paced action game, with some RPG elements, told in a shorter space of time and with a story that is at both times strangely compelling and yet woefully predictable.
It’s from the stables of Hironobu Sakaguchi – he who arguably popularised the JRPG in the late 80s – and it shows. It’s gorgeous, refined and extremely well balanced, but in saying that, one can argue that Hironobu Sakaguchi and his team have perhaps gone too far the other way and done exactly what Square-Enix did with Final Fantasy XIII. It’s a game that doesn’t befit the genre, that has all the budget and all the influences but doesn’t feel quite right.
It’s obvious WHY this game is the way it is, as again, it has followed the path that Square-Enix did; they’re streamlining the genre, trying to reinvent it and doing their damnedest to make it more marketable and interesting for those of us in the West. The problem here is that the genre doesn’t NEED a reinvention – it needs people to just make what has been done, be done better. The Last Story feels altogether shallow and unnecessary.
And then there is the real killer blow for this game – Xenoblade Chronicles. Which was released to much fanfare last year, it is the prime example of how a JRPG can be transitioned to the West and still feel complete and whole, without diluting the formula to the point that the whole mix lacks texture and flavour. Comparing the two side by side, Xenoblade Chronicles is more colourful, more compelling and more interesting, as well as being more enjoyable for longer periods.
So, is it a complete failure? No. The Last Story, much like FFXIII, is not a terrible game. It’s a linear but ultimately satisfying blend of ingredients that is somewhat memorable, but only for the short term. Both games have tried, in their own ways, to reinvent an unpopular genre and both have arguably strayed far from the path that would appeal to actual fans of the genre. And yet, the trappings and insistence that it is a JRPG will not make it any more popular with people outside the genre either. It doesn’t have that spark that gives it the kind of universal appeal that Final Fantasy X does.
It is, however, a disappointing game that will be compared not with its system brother Xenoblade Chronicles, but rather, Final Fantasy XIII – the two games, the many behind Final Fantasy working on it, have seemingly struggled to break free from the past and yet somehow only ended up dutifully following it. The result is a nice enough game – but with no real depth of character to make it a true classic, and nothing that would compel you to play it again and again.
It’s a real shame, but reinvention for the sake of popularity doesn’t really work. Sometimes you just need to be yourself, otherwise people just won’t know who you are or indeed, why they paid money to hang around you…